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The History of Bicycles

vintage bicycle

The bicycle is one of the most ubiquitous and vital modes of transportation in the world. With nearly two billion bicycles in use globally, its simplicity, affordability, and versatility make it a favored choice for people across societies. Yet, what is the history behind this two-wheeled machine that revolutionized the way humans travel?

Early Inventions

The first primitive bicycle, known as a 'celerifere', was an invention of a Frenchman named Comte Mede de Sivrac in 1790. This contraption was a wooden scooter-like device with no pedals or steering. It was more akin to a balance bike of today.


The term 'bicycle' was not created until the 1860s. The first device to be called a bicycle was the 'boneshaker' because it was so uncomfortable to ride. This contraption had iron-shod wooden wheels and an iron frame. This early bicycle was propelled by the rider pushing off the ground with their feet. The boneshaker represented an important step towards the modern bicycle as it introduced the use of metal and the configuration of two wheels in line. Its full development came into being with the advent of pedals in 1863, linked directly to the front wheel, a fundamental innovation credited to Pierre Lallement.

The High Wheel Bicycle

High wheel bicycle

In the 1870s, the 'high wheel' or 'penny farthing' bicycles were introduced. These bicycles had a large front wheel and a small rear wheel. The large front wheel provided greater speeds and the small rear wheel reduced the weight. However, these bicycles were difficult and dangerous to ride, leading to their eventual decline in popularity.

Birth of the Modern Bicycle

By the 1880s, the 'safety bicycle' was introduced, marking a pivotal moment in bicycle history. The safety bicycle featured equally sized wheels, a chain drive to the rear wheel, pneumatic tires, and a front wheel with a steerable fork. This incarnation is very much what we would recognize as a bicycle today. With its ease of use, bicycle riding became more popular and accessible to the general public, including women and children.

safety bicycle

The 20th Century and Beyond

In the 20th century, bicycles underwent further technical refinements such as the introduction of derailleurs, allowing for gear changes and increased speeds. During the two World Wars, bicycles served as critical vehicles for transportation, messaging, and even warfare.

In recent years, the bicycle has seen renewed popularity as a greener, healthier alternative to motor vehicles, particularly in urban areas. Advances in technology have introduced electric bikes, folding bikes, cargo bikes and bike-sharing programs, testament to the enduring versatility and relevance of the bicycle.

modern bicycle

The history of bicycles is a fascinating journey of innovation and evolution. As we move forward in the 21st century, it is exciting to envision how this humble and vital mode of transportation will adapt and continue to shape the human experience.



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