A Brief History of the Bicycle

A Brief History of the Bicycle Infographic

For many years, bicycles have been not only an efficient and environmentally friendly means of transport, but also the gateway to many adventures! However this wasn’t always the case; so we’ve been digging deep into the archives to discover where the humble bike came from. Find out more with our brief history of the bicycle!


While we could begin this history with the invention of the wheel, we decided instead to begin with the first manufactured bicycle-type machine. In 1817, Baron Karl von Drais invented the Laufmaschine, or running machine. Not a bike as we know it, it was made of two wheels connected by a frame. Riders had to walk and run to gather momentum, before raising their legs in order to glide along. An innovation? Yes. But a long term solution? No!


In hindsight, what might seem an obvious solution to the problems with the Laufmaschine would have been pedals! During the 1860s in France, the Michaux Company began manufacture of the Velocipede, featuring pedals and a crank attached to the front wheel. The frame was made of wood and the wheels of metal, making for a very uncomfortable ride!


During the 1870s, a man named Eugène Meyer, decided to make some improvements to the Velocipede. The result was the High-Wheeler cycle, or Penny Farthing. The use of a high front wheel meant that riders used fewer leg rotations in order to travel further. But it came with problems; falling from one and a half metres could mean more broken bones, and pedalling from the front wheel made it easy to take a tumble head-first if making a sudden stop!    


In 1876, Harry John Lawson invented the Safety bicycle, the model our modern day bikes are based upon! The name “Safety” came from the fact that they were ridden closer to the ground, so stopping was easier, and because they pedalled from the back, the riders’ legs were kept safely away from the front wheel. Unfortunately, its price tag at the time prevented the machine from catching on.


Originally, bicycle tyres were bands of iron that ran around the outside of a wooden wheel. While solid, this didn’t make for a comfortable ride! It wasn’t until 1888 that John Boyd Dunlop invented the pneumatic tyre, which was composed of canvas bonded with rubber and then filled with air – paving the way for the tyres of today. The invention really took off after famous cyclist, Willie Hume, began using them for racing events!


The inaugural Tour de France was held in 1903! Unlike today’s 21 stage mountainous set of races, the original consisted of just six stages and was comparatively flat. The winner, Maurice Garin, went on to win the Tour again the following year. Along with eight others, he was subsequently disqualified for cheating, including illegally using cars and trains to complete the race!


The 1970s saw the creation of the mountain bike. Unlike some other cycles in this history, it wasn’t the work of one lonely inventor, but of a group of friends including Charlie Kelly, Gary Fisher and Tom Ritchey! They began racing their bikes down rough trails, but noticed that not only did this make for an uncomfortable experience, it also wasn’t doing their bikes any favours. In order to get over this, they modified and tweaked their cycles, leading to the mountain bike we know today!


The basic concept for bikes hasn’t changed much since Lawson’s Safety bicycle, but the range of designs that have been developed since that time is huge! Additions such as gears, suspension, and the use of lighter materials such as carbon fibre have made for smoother rides. The future of bicycles looks bright, too, with increasing numbers of people ditching the car and taking to cycle lanes, and the advent of electric bikes making riding easier than ever!

Bikes have come a long way since the invention of the wheel, and if our history of the bicycle has got you longing to get out on a two-wheeled adventure, you might also want to consider taking out cycle insurance! At The Insurance Emporium, we offer Pick ‘N’ Mix Cycle Insurance with Theft, Accidental Loss Or Damage as standard, as well as a range of Optional Benefits. You could also grab a 25% discount*. So pedal your ride to The Insurance Emporium today to find out more!

* The 25% discount is made up of 15% Introductory Discount plus 5% Age Related and Security Discounts (if appropriate). The Introductory Discount is available for the first 12 premium payments on lunar and calendar monthly policies or one premium payment on annual policies.

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