On June 12 cyclists across the globe celebrated the bicycle’s 200 birthday. It’s exactly 200 years since Karl Drais set out on his so-called ‘running machine’ in Mannheim, Germany. Karl Drais rode a two-wheeled vehicle of his own invention from Mannheim to a coaching inn about five miles away. It took him a little more than an hour and used no horses.His invention formed the basis of the bike as we now know it.
The problem Karl Drais set out to solve that led to the bicycle
For most of Europe 1816 had been a bad year. Mount Tambora had exploded a year earlier in April 1815 causing a volcanic winter.
Europe suffered in the aftermath of an Indonesian phenomenal volcanic eruption that caused chaos across the world.
Crops failed, livestock died or were eaten for food. Horses became lunch rather than the easiest way to get from your home to the Relaishaus.
As famine led to horses being eaten in Europe, there was a severe shortage of horses for people to move around with.
Karl von Drais saw a lovely young girl ice skating, and he saw how fluently she moved across the ice. And his idea was, if he was to put wheels under himself, he could move as gracefully as her. The bicycle was born
The invention of Baron von Drais became a hit overnight because it wasn’t a horse, it didn’t need feeding. All it needed was you, your legs, a bit of energy, and you were away. The invention quickly became popular, mainly with affluent young men.
However, poor road quality meant they would often ride on the footpaths, which led to the machine being banned soon after it was created.
Cyclists celebrated the 200th anniversary of the world’s first bicycle ride many with replicas of original bicycle
Today marks 200 years since inventor Karl Drais rode a bicycle for the first time, in the German city of Mannheim.
“Everything we have today … came from this machine. It’s as simple as that,” said vintage cycling enthusiast Stewart Clissold at a celebration in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick.
Other celebrations have been held in Sydney, Darwin, Bendigo and Geelong.
Charlie Farren of the Vintage Cycle Club:
“It started a total revolution. We’ve got to thank this nutcase inventor. You just glide along’: riding a replica”
Vintage cycling club members were proudly showing replicas to keen onlookers today, and explaining the machine had its limitations.
“I think not only was it the first carriage that went underneath a human, it was also the first natural contraceptive,” Mr Clissold said.
“I can assure you, after riding one a short period of time on rather rough cobblestone roads, you were not going home for anything other than a hot bath.”
However, Ms Farren said the replica was a delight to ride on flat surfaces, likening it to ice-skating.
“It’s a little bit like roller-blading,” she said.
“You get a beautiful stride going, and you glide along.”
Bike design has changed a lot over the years
It was not until the 1860s that some Frenchmen attached rotary cranks to one of the wheels to allow the riders to go faster and further.
This got a little extreme in the 1870s as high-wheel cycles appeared that had wheels up to about 1.5 metres in diameter. Very fast, but you probably didn’t want to stop in a hurry.
In 1885, one John Kemp Starley produced the safety cycle, with a chain. This allowed the wheels to get back to reasonable sizes and spurred another wave of cycling.
The humble bicyclette did more than just give people the freedom to move around. It made women’s clothing more practical and spurred on some really good movements, such as the suffragettes.
It also saw mass production of vehicles, decades before a cyclist in Detroit decided to move to four wheels and dinosaur-juice power. Henry Ford could have just stayed on two wheels. Actually he did at least until he was 77 years old. A motor company run by a cyclist.
The bicycle is still the most efficient mode of transport ever invented by humans
And instead of being powered by rotting dinosaurs it is powered by breakfast cereals and coffee. More efficient than cars, more efficient than a fully loaded diesel bus, in fact more efficient than a fully loaded electric train powered by solar panels and wind farms.
Some people have predicted the end of the bicycle many times. Many of these people just happen to have worked for the motor industry, or other areas. But the bicycle refuses to disappear.
Happy birthday bicycle. And may you provide freedom, happiness, and longevity for many centuries to come.