No inventor or country can single-handedly claim to have invented the bicycle; it was invented and reinvented in many places over a period of many years.
In 1817, Germany’s Baron von Drais de Saverbrun invented the Draisienne, (also “draisine” or “hobby horse”) a steerable bicycle. It was almost completely made of wood, and had no pedals. Riders propelled it by pushing their feet against the ground. In 1860, a model called the Michaux Velocipede became the world’s first mass-produced riding machine. Designed by France’s Pierre Michaux, he came up with his design when a customer brought a Draisienne in for repairs. After his son tried riding it and had difficulties with his feet on downhill roads, Michaux came up with the idea of connecting crank arms and pedals directly to the front wheel as a means of propelling the bike. In 1865 in Connecticut, Pierre Lallement rode a distance of several miles and performed the very first “header” (flipping over the handlebars) on his bicycle. He was granted the first bicycle-related U.S. patent in 1866.
It seems that people have always held a special place in their hearts for sports stars of the day; history has seen an ongoing cycle of esteemed athletes.
In a time long before the names Jordan, Gretsky, or McGuire were associated with greatness, people began to idolize a group of athletes who were fun to watch and enjoyable to cheer for. These athletes were bicycle racers, and they became some of America’s earliest sports heroes.
Since the automobile didn’t catch on until the beginning of the 20th century, it is easy to understand how and why the bicycle became so popular. Throughout the late 1800s, new models and materials were constantly being designed and tested. Bicycles provided people with a means of travel, recreation, sport, and newfound freedom. The League of American Wheelmen, or L.A.W., was established in 1880 as a national chapter of bicyclists. Known then as “wheelmen,” cyclists were challenged by gravel and dirt roads, and sometimes given problems by horsemen, wagon drivers, and pedestrians. In order to improve conditions for themselves, the early leaders of bicycling came together and lobbied the government for more paved roads and assistance in ending the antagonistic acts of other road-users. Formally united in 1880, the League’s mission has continued for more than a century. Today, the L.A.W. is called the League of American Bicyclists.
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The late 1800s ushered in a huge bicycle boom, and people began to experiment with bicycle shapes and styles to suit the varying needs of the rider. Will this bicycle be used for racing or for recreation? How fast will the rider want to go? How comfortable should the rider be while riding? Is this bicycle safe to ride? These questions and much more led people to develop new technologies that would help evolve the bicycle from the high-wheel models seen in early pictures to some of the high-tech racing machines we have today.
In the last decade of the 19th century, at least one-third of all new patent applications at the U.S Patent Office were bicycle related. People focused the changes and improvements they made on what they thought bicycle riders wanted or required. Despite a varying degree of styles and models, four major focuses stood out from the rest: speed, safety, comfort, and endurance. When considering speed, people thought about how fast they wanted to ride their bicycles: is this bike for serious racing, or will it only be used for leisurely riding? Safety and comfort came under scrutiny, and soon after brakes, spokes, and cushion seats were incorporated into the anatomy of the bicycle. Later, the use of handbrakes, adjustment of handlebars, and development of special male and female seats added to safety and comfort features. When endurance or durability mattered and long races or distances were involved, the materials used to build the bicycle were retested or it was rebuilt with lighter material to better withstand wear and tear.
Many materials were experimented with so a bicycle would have just the right feel to it. Wood was used in most early models, but then people began fashioning bikes out of metal. When racing and traveling faster became more important, manufacturers began using aluminum piping for the frames, which was much lighter. Even though automobiles didn’t catch on until the 20th century, people kept experimenting with how to make bicycles better, faster, and more powerful. The very first automobile was a tricycle that put a steam engine to use.
These pictures show a front and a back view of the very first automobile and people enjoying a ride on it. The vehicle was a tricycle equipped with a Lucius D. Copeland steam engine of 2600 R.P.M. and Silsby Type Boiler operating at 100 lbs. It used kerosene for fuel, and was built in Camden, New Jersey in 1887 by the Northrop Manufacturing Co.
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