Transportation On Two Wheels: Bicycle Types Throughout History

Transportation On Two Wheels | Bicycle Types Throughout History

Bicycling is a popular pastime and form of entertainment for people of all ages and genders. This has not always been the case, however. At one time the idea of a self-propelled vehicle was mere fantasy and later it was seen as something that only people with wealth could afford to enjoy. Bicycles have since become commonplace, and now provide not only entertainment, but are also a good way to exercise. A person with a bicycle can strengthen his or her heart, lose weight, lower cholesterol levels, and take advantage of other health benefits. To fully appreciate bicycles and the journey toward the bikes of today, one must first understand the different variations of bicycles through its rich history.

The Draisine

The Draisine, which was created in 1817 and patented in 1818, was the invention of Baron Karl Von Drais. Originally named the Laufmaschine, which is the German word for running machine, the Draisine was a two-wheeled vehicle that included a saddle, but did not have pedals. In order to move the Draisine forward, the rider was required to push with his or her feet. This bicycle received some small measure of popularity in Europe and eventually in the U.S. when it arrived in 1818. The drawbacks, however, were numerous and curiosity associated with the draisine did not last long, therefore its production came to an end in 1820. The bicycles had to be made specifically for the riders to accommodate their height and stride. Because of its high cost and impractical nature, it was little more than a novelty or toy for those who could afford it. Despite its limited run, it had an enormous impact on the future of bicycles. It was one of the first non-animal powered vehicles to be widely available and it was the first two-wheel, personally propelled vehicle. The Draisine raised curiosity and showed that these types of vehicles were possible.

The Michaux

The Michaux bicycle is most commonly known as the Michaux Velocipede, or the “bone-shaker.” It was created in 1860 by a French locksmith by the name Ernest Michaux and his father Pierre Michaux. They came up with the design for the Michaux bicycle while doing repairs on a Draisine. Unlike the Draisine, this bicycle used pedals and crank arms that were positioned on the front wheel. This bicycle would retain its popularity until roughly 1870. It was given the name “boneshaker” because it was a rough riding vehicle that was known to shake. In the history of bicycles, it was the first mass-produced bicycle in the world.

The High-Wheel

The high wheel bicycle, also known as the penny-farthing, is one that has a large front wheel and a smaller rear tire. The larger the front wheel, the further the rider could travel. The size of the tire was determined by the length of the rider’s leg. This type of bicycle had pedals that were attached to the large front wheel, as was the saddle. High wheel bicycles were made of metal. Riding this bike provided the rider with a smoother journey than the boneshaker. This was because of the spokes in the front wheel and the rubber tires. They were a favored bicycle for wealthy men, particularly wealthy young men. When riding the bicycle there was a certain amount of risk. Because of the unusually large front wheel, their was a the risk of throwing the rider off if the bike came to an abrupt stop. To help reduce this problem the front wheel was moved to the back and the back wheel to front. This version of the high wheel bicycle was called the Safety High Wheel bicycle. In the history of bicycles, the high wheel is the first be recognized as an actual bicycle.

The Safety Bicycle

Many believe that the first safety bicycle was created in 1874 by H.J. Lawson. They were called safety bicycles as they were considered safer than the high-wheel bicycles that were also popular at the time. This was because the seat was situated lower to the ground and between two tires of near equal size. They were also the first bicycles to be rear wheel chain driven. The safety bicycle began the period of increased popularity for the bicycle in general. They were easier for women and played a role in women’s increased mobility and the women’s rights movement. Safety bicycles eventually also evolved into the bicycles that are common today.

Cruiser Bicycles

The Cruiser bicycles were originally named the balloon tire bicycles. This name was given to them because of the rubber tires that they used. They had a single gear, a coaster brake and were both heavy and sturdy. Originally they were popular for people living in areas that were flat and without hills, because of the lack of gears made the bicycle unsuitable for mountainous areas or going uphill. They did, however, do well over uneven, bumpy surfaces. Cruiser bikes were also known for the wide saddles and the comfort that they provided. They were the most popular during the 1940s and into the 1950s, although they were originally invented in the 1930s. Many bicycle enthusiasts consider the cruiser bicycle of the 30s to the 50s to be the ancestor to the mountain bike because of the balloon tires that were used. Original cruiser bicycles are often sought by bicycle collectors today.

The Roadster

The Roadster is a utility bicycle that was predominately made in England, where it was most popular. As an ancestor to modern touring bikes, this utility bicycle’s primary uses were for commuting, transporting goods or running errands. This three-speed bicycle was suitable for riding on country roads or on unpaved, minimally maintained roads. Following World War II, Roadsters made their way to the United States; however, they were never highly popular in the U.S. Today this type of bicycle is still in use, and is typically found in places such as Africa, China, and in many developing nations.


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