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From food preservation processes to military style watches. There have been some incredible technological advances in recent years. The humble bicycle is no exception. With bikes of today looking almost unrecognizable from how they were in the beginning.

The are several early but unverified claims of the bicycle before the 1800’s. The earliest comes from a sketch said to be from 1534 and attributed to Gian Giacomo Caprotti, a pupil of Leonardo de Vinci. 

However, these through tests these images were revealed to be a hoax and led to a debate over who the original inventor of the bicycle was. The first verifiable claim for a practically used bicycle comes from a German named Baron Karl von Drais who invented the Laufmaschine (German for the term “running machine”).

In 1817 the bicycle was born although in those days, it was called the Draisine (English for the term Laufmaschine).Karl von Draus patented his design in 1818 making it the first commercially successful two-wheeled, human-powered machine. 

The machine was commonly called the velocipede and nicknamed the hobby-horse. 

Interestingly the reasoning for the velocipede was to find an alternative to horses after the starvation and death of horses caused by crop failure the year before. 

The first recorded ride on a velocipede was 13kms and took less than an hour to complete. Constructed almost entirely out of wood the velocipede weighed 22kg, had brass bushings within the wheel bearings, and it even had a rear wheel brake!

The front wheel was steerable, and this was the first ever appearance of two-wheeled vehicle principles. The design was welcomed with open arms by mechanically mined mine who dared to balance upon it. Several thousand copies were built and used, with the majority of them in Western Europe and North America. 

However, it’s quick popularity faded due to accidents, and then some authorities prohibited its use after they took up space on the sidewalks. 

Luckily this wasn’t the end to the of the bicycle as we know it and they were improved further. Noticeably the “Bone Shaker” was created in 1863. Getting its name from the difficulty in which people bounced over the cobbles!

After that the memorable Penny Farthing had it’s day, although this was short lasted after the obvious safety issues from the height of the seat. Other than it’s obscure design the Penny Farthing is iconic as it was the first machine to be called an actual “bicycle.”

From the death of the Penny Farthing came the Rover Safety Bicycle and at the same time, John Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire. Combing these two together had the basic version of how we know a bicycle to be.

Today we are consistently pushing the boundaries of bike technologies to give us the fastest and most efficient machines possible. 

With such progress who knows that the future will bring?

About the Author:

Mike McLeish is the owner of the bicycle blog Pinch-Flat. He’s currently taking full advantage of the of the warm weather in SE Asia. You can find him cycling through traffic in Kuala Lumpur, attempting to drink coffee from a plastic bag, or eating Nasi Lemak at a local corner shop. Follow him on Twitter at @Pinch_Flat.