The Bicycle is Born

220px-Drais

Like many of the world’s greatest inventions, the machine that gave rise to what we know as the bicycle was born of necessity. A string of poor harvests in Europe from 1812 led a German civil servant to develop a human-powered form of transportation to counter the reliance on horses, which were in short supply due to a scarcity of animal fee. Karl von Drais christened his 1817 invention the Laufmaschine (running machine), after the swift walking movement required of the rider in order to propel it forward.

Although his invention lacked pedals, Drais’ breakthrough was the realization that forward motion and balance could be maintained on just two wheels, an idea that he attributed to watching ice skaters. The Laufmaschine – also call the draisine, velocipede, or dandy horse –  quickly caught on, sparking a craze across Europe. By the 1820s, however, it had died out because of safety concerns.

The idea was revived in the 1860s, when pedal cranks were added to the front wheel of a velocipede in Paris. The inventor of this revolutionary improvement is not known – several claims were made in subsequent decades, none were proven beyond a doubt – but the first manufacturer to produce such machines on a organized scale was  Pierre Machaux, in 1867. Like Drais’ Laufmaschine before it, the pedal velocipede – soon named the “boneshaker” after its jarring ride – was instantly popular. For the first time, people could propel themselves while balancing on two wheels, with their feet off the ground. The bicycle was born!

-From Bicycle, The Definitive Visual History