Who Invented the Bicycle

The Common Man's Wagon: Who Invented the Bicycle?

Bicycles are the most widely-used, self-propelled vehicles in the world. If you have always wondered about who invented them and when, this article has answers for you.
Are you a cyclist? Are you a bicycle lover who appreciates the beauty and importance of this eco-friendly, self-propelled machine? Then you belong to my kind. I love cycling. In my growing up years, the first bicycle was my ticket to freedom. Since then, I have always been curious about the invention of this machine, which is the vehicle of every common man, all over the world. It has empowered millions of people.

The credit for the invention, does not belong to one person, but many. Actually, that is the case with every invention made by man. Every one of them has been perfected over time, by many brilliant minds, all over the world. So is the case of the bicycle.

Invention of the Bicycle with a Pedal

Every modern invention began as a crude ancestral version, in which the idea of the machine or process was first expressed, only in principle. With experience and experimentation, new ideas came up, that compensated for the shortcomings of these crude earlier versions and better versions appeared, that were better adapted to the real world. The invention of the modern bicycle has a somewhat similar story. Let us recount the story. Here, the names of inventors, who deserve joint credit for its development, along with their versions of the bicycle, are presented in chronological order.

Karl von Drais's Laufmaschine (1817)
The ancestor or progenitor of the modern bicycle was the Laufmaschine (German for 'Running Machine', also known as draisines, push bikes, or hobby horses) which was invented by the German civil servant, Baron Karl von Drais, in 1817. The draisine was essentially a bicycle without pedals, made up of two in line wheels, attached to a wooden frame. The rider sat and pushed the bike forward with his feet. It was something like the modern scooter toy used by kids. It was capable of attaining a maximum speed of 15 km/hr. It was in use till the 1830s and was fitted with solid rubber tires later, in 1842.

Arrival of the Velocipede (1860s)
Frenchmen Pierre Michaux, Pierre Lallement, and the Olivier brothers are credited with development of the first pedaled bicycle, the 'Velocipede', built with a large front wheel and a smaller rear wheel. The pedals were attached to the front wheel, with the addition of a crank. This French creation was made from a combination of wood and metal frame. Riding this creation was tough though, as it had an unequal weight distribution. Inspired by the Velocipede, the 'Penny Farthing' was developed, which had a steel frame and solid rubber tires, with wire spokes.

The Safety Bike 'Rover' (1885)
J.K. Starley, J.H.Lawson, and Shergold are credited with modernizing the bicycle, by introducing the now familiar chain drive and attaching the pedals to the rear wheel. These were known as the 'Safety bikes'. Starley's 'Rover' bike is the best example of the various prototypes developed during that time. The ride was still rougher on these contraptions, until the Scotsman John Dunlop introduced the first pneumatic tire in 1888.

With time, the rear freewheel got developed, along with hand-operated cable-pull brakes. These innovations created the first modern bicycle which ushered in the 'Golden Age of Bicycles' in 1890s. The 1900s saw the mushrooming of cycling clubs all over the world. The bicycle had finally arrived. The credit for invention of the modern bike was a team effort, as you can see and it spread over a time period of more than a century.
Rover bike
Ordinary bicycle
Old Bicycle