By Divya Rajagopal
Recent technological updates always tend to replace the original vintage designs. But even though many advances in transportation have evolved, the bicycle still prevails today. Paying respect to one of the greatest inventions on its 200th birthday, it is worth looking at the legend of the bicycle.
The valiant ancestors of the bike
Almost two centuries ago, animals like horses were primarily used for transportation. In 1816, a crop failure hit Europe hard, causing the starvation and death of many horses. With this as the motivation, the first design of bicycle was patented in 1817 by a German, Baron Karl von Drais. His running machine—also known as the velocipede—had a straight wooden frame, a rear-brake system with brass bushings, and wooden wheels. The ‘dandy horse’ (an alternate name for velocipede) was wobbly and heavy. The legs of the driver were used to propel the motion and stop. As anyone might expect, the inefficiency of the dandy horse led to several accidents. Some countries even banned its use.
Failed and banned, it still wasn’t a lost cause. A British Cartwright by the name Denise Johnson found his jar of gold with his improvement on the design in 1818. His velocipede had a serpentine shape wooden frame instead of a straight one. During the summer of 1819, the velocipede became the craze and fashion in London society. One can look for themselves at the Glasgow Museum of Transport, London, which proudly exhibits the ancient bikes.
The bicycle goes global
It wasn’t till early 1860’s that the bicycle got its first pedal, thanks to a French blacksmith. The blacksmith Pierre Michaux caused a renaissance of the velocipede in France with his small scale production. The wealthy Olivier brothers Aimé and René were students in Paris at this time, and these shrewd young entrepreneurs adopted the new machine. They recognised the potential profitability of producing and selling it. The velocipedes were costly and the customers complained of the cast-iron of the serpentine frame breaking. With these complaints, the competition grew along with the industry with the diagonal frame.
Speed, danger, and women’s rights
There were two main faults with the invention: the speed limitations and the danger. The dangers increased with the speed-driven designs, such as the high bicycle. It had an enlarged front wheel, a shrunk read wheel, and a lighter frame. This design caused the load to fall less on the rear wheel, thereby enabling faster speeds. The perilous feature made cycling a past time for adventurous young men.
In late 1880’s, the bicycle was finally developed to be safe. The wheels of this new safety bicycle were chain-driven, thereby producing considerable speed while retaining safety precautions. The safety bicycle brought not only safety but also freedom. The impact of the bicycle on female emancipation should not be underestimated. The safety bicycle gave women unprecedented mobility, contributing to their larger participation in the lives of Western nations.
“Bicycling is no longer a mere fashion that may fall into disuse and give way to a new one. It is a wholesome and inspiring exercise, and has provided of practical value as a means of rapid locomotion.“
—Dr Henry J. Garrigus, in the January Forum, from Public Opinion, 30 January 1896.
From high bicycle to hi-fi bikes
The future technologies in bikes are fascinating, to say the least. The intelligent bike concept features a solar-powered backup motor, an onboard computer, a fingerprint security scanner and a spokes-free wheel design. It has a sleek look and is expected to be light-weight. The Artikcar is a four-wheeled recumbent-style bike with a bubbly rider profile that is laced with bright neon lighting. Beyond its bold design sensibility, Wilson’s Artikcar is as much about safety as it is about style. That neon wrapping ensures that the drivers will be well aware of the bicycle.Victor Aleman’s Eco 07 Bike Concept is designed not only to fold down to size but to be completely disassembled and fit into a box no larger than a briefcase.
The velocipede was the past but the future of bikes lies with the psychology of people towards adventure and exercise. A study by Beth Savan et al., states that the social, psychological, and social practice insights into behaviour change show significant benefits from using cycles for transport. It explains that the bicycle helps in improving mental strength as acts as a great stress-buster. The study shows that the use of bicycles is reducing over the years. The tradition of teaching the children to ride a bike might become the sole saving factor in a few years!
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