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Invention Mysteries TM
Self-syndicated weekly newspaper column

Take a ride back to the 1800s to see how bicycles were invented and reinvented

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By Paul Niemann

[JULY 17, 2003]  This year marks the 100th anniversary of several historic events: Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903, the Wright brothers successfully flew for the first time, the first World Series was played between Pittsburgh and Boston, and bicyclists competed in the first Tour de France.

Today we look at the development of the invention that made the Tour de France possible, beginning with the first bicycle, which was invented 86 years earlier.

In this article, you'll see how bicycles played a role in the development of the airplane, motorcycles and automobiles. But first, we take a ride back in history to see who invented the earliest versions of the bicycle and how they've evolved over time.

The walking machine -- just like the Flintstones did it

In 1817, Baron Karl von Drais of Germany invented the first version of the bicycle, called the Draisienne. It came complete with a steering bar, but it had no pedals or brakes and was made entirely of wood. Riding it required you to push your feet along the ground one at a time to propel yourself forward.

 

Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a blacksmith from Scotland, invented the first bicycle with foot pedals in the 1830s to 1840s, but he never patented it and it didn't catch on.

The velocipede 100 percent all-natural ingredients

Making its debut in 1865, the velocipede had pedals applied directly to the front wheel. Like its predecessor, it was made of wood and gave a very rough ride.

The high-wheel bicycle -- the first one to be called a bicycle

In 1870, the first all-metal frame appeared. With rubber tires and front-wheel spokes, it gave a much smoother ride. This is the version with the huge front wheel. It was believed that the bigger wheel would allow you to go faster, and it actually did allow you to go farther with each rotation of the tires.

The high-wheel bicycle was the first kind to be called a bicycle, and they cost an average worker six months' worth of pay.

In 1864, the roller drive chain was invented, which is still used on bicycles today. Ball bearings were first used on bicycles in 1877. Other innovations included the use of a chain with sprockets and air-filled tires, in the 1880s. The pneumatic tire was invented by an Irish veterinarian named John Dunlop (as in Dunlop tires) in 1888.

In the 1880s the high-wheel bicycle was replaced with the "safety bicycle," which involved the use of a chain with sprockets and had two wheels of the same size.

The high-wheel tricycle

The adult tricycle contained two large rear wheels and one normal-sized front wheel. It was popular with women and with men who had to wear formal clothing to work.

 

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Some of the mechanical innovations used in cars today were originally invented for tricycles, such as rack and pinion steering, differentials and band brakes.

Gottlieb Daimler, of Daimler-Benz fame, mounted his gas engine on a bicycle to create the world's first motorcycle. The Duryea brothers, Charles and Frank, were among the first to build a successful automobile in 1896 and, like the Wright Brothers, they were bicycle mechanics.

Recent models

Three-speed bicycles were popular from the 1950s through the 1970s, until the 10-speed version began to replace them. Today, the latest models are mountain bikes and 24-speed bicycles, and the high-tech bicycles that race in the Tour de France have aerodynamic frames and ultra-lightweight carbon fiber wheels.

How did bicycles play a role in the Wright brothers inventing the first airplane?

The bicycle shop that the Wright brothers ran before they began flying produced enough income to afford the brothers the opportunity to build and test their airplanes. They learned many of the basics of flight from their experiences in working on bicycles, such as how to transmit power with a chain and sprockets and how to steer. They also used a bicycle when testing wing designs for their airplanes.

So there you have it -- a brief story of the long history of bicycles, from the earliest version made of wood, which had neither pedals nor brakes, all the way up to the current 24-speed version and the high-tech bicycle that American Lance Armstrong is using to drive the French crazy with his attempt at a fifth Tour de France victory.

You can see pictures of the early bicycles mentioned here by following a link from www.InventionMysteries.com.

Sources: "The Picture History of Great Inventions," "Inventions: A Library of Congress Book," "How Things Work," EnchantedLearning.com, PedalingHistory.com.

[Paul Niemann]

Paul Niemann is a contributing author to Inventors' Digest magazine and he also runs MarketLaunchers.com, helping people in the marketing of their new product ideas. He can be reached at niemann7@aol.com.

Copyright 2003 Paul Niemann

Last week's column in LDN: "Test your knowledge of inventors and their inventions with a pop quiz"

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