Who Invented the Bicycle ?

I know many of you here tonight are dying to find out 'Who Invented The Bicycle'?

So ladies and gents, boys and girls, Now is the moment you've all been waiting for...

Lights, drum roll please ...

The shocking truth is that ...

NOBODY actually invented the bicycle - as we know it today.

WHAT!! I hear you gasp down there at the front row. IMPOSSIBLE!

No madam not impossible.
Because - this mighty machine is a product of over 200 years of spectacular EVOLUTION. Let me explain...

But first let me ask you this so I know where to start.

When is a bicycle, a bicycle?
Does a hand or foot propelled plank of wood with two wheels and a cushion, count?


If your answer is YES ...

Then we must consider that the prototype of the bicycle was invented by French craftsman, Comte Mede De Sivrac,
back in the 1790's.
His vehicle was called a Celerifere or Velocifere.

However, ladies and gentlemen, if your answer be NO ...
(and I must say I myself am inclined to vote this way)

Then we must regard the great-granddaddy of the modern bicycle to be the German nobleman, Baron Karl Drais
Von Sauerbronn.

Draisienne 1817 - Baron Karl Drais Von Sauerbronn

The good baron patented his DRAISINE (named after his good self) in 1817.

The Draisine (or Draisienne) had two wheels and a wooden frame with a rotating handlebar attached, which
permitted the front wheel to be turned.

It was powered by pushing with your feet along the ground.

Of course, the Baron found it incredibly useful for covering the large distances he travelled to collect his tenants'
Ah yes... even back then they were coming up with better ways to get those taxes out of you.


But I digress...

The Baron's invention caught on across Europe and England.
Other inventors began to tinker with his design.
They added arm-rests, adjustable seats and gave them fancy names like the hobby horse and dandy horse (a
reference to their expensive price tags).

In 1818, back in England, the enterprising Denis Johnson, patented his own invention - Johnson's Hobby Horse ...
It was essentially a modification (read - rip-off) of the Baron's Draisine and with great marketing became very
popular for a while.


Then in 1839 a Scottish blacksmith by the name of Kirkpatrick Macmillan, came up with an ingenious way of making
it possible for the Draisine to be ridden with your feet OFF the ground.
Guess how ladies and gentlemen? Go on take a stab.

That's right sir. PEDALS!

MacMillan Velocipede 1839 - Kirkpatrick Macmillan

Macmillan's velocipede had pedals.
Well... technically they were known as a Foot Treadle - but who am I to quibble...
The foot treadle was connected to the back wheel.

Many claim MACMILLAN to be the true inventor of the bicycle.

But ask yourself this...

Was Macmillan The Man Who Invented The Bicycle ?

If all the chaps before him hadn't invented their primitive bikes first, would young KirkPatrick come up with the idea
for a bicycle prototype or would he still just have been pumping the billows and hammering iron in his forge?

I'm not judging one way or the other - just throwing the question out there.
You decide...

All I'm going to say is ... EVOLUTION, folks, EVOLUTION!!

Pedalling right along now...

Macmillian Kirkpatrick's pedal bicycle triggered a craze for bicycle riding.
It is interesting to note, friends, that no one had a serious crack at improving this design for another 6 years until the
development of the Dalzell by another Scotsman, Gavin Dazell.

The new improved Dalzell became rather popular with the Brits.


Two decades later came the next big EVOLUTION of the bicycle. This time it was a French man PIERRE MICHAUX
and his son Ernest.

Michaux Velocipede 1863 - Michaux et Cie

In 1863 the Michauxs came up with the idea of attaching the pedals to a cranked arm, which would then propel the
FRONT wheel.

Pierre joined together with the enterprising Olivier Brothers to form a velocipedes company called Michaux et Cie
(Michaux and Company).

The Michaux velocipede was the world's first mass-produced bicycle. It caused a sensation across the continent and
the craze lasted two years until the next big fad came along.

By all accounts it was an INCREDIBLY uncomfortable bike.

It had a wooden frame and wooden wheels. Those wheels were then encased in iron ... IRON!!
The front wheel was slightly higher than the back.
And the pedals were attached to the front wheel.
And, I must say the seat looks TINY.

I imagine the size of the average bottom must have been vastly smaller in the 1800's than they are today. Just
looking at that seat makes me feel uncomfortable!! In England they called it...

No actually you guess. Go on. No idea?

It was called the BONESHAKER.

Don't you love it?!! Can't you just imagine some poor bloke's teeth rattling as he judders over the old cobblestone
roads on his Boneshaker. PRICELESS!

Despite this the old Boneshaker was immensely popular.
Unfortunately for the poor old working men and women, Michaux's velocipede was expensive. This meant that only
the folks at the high-end of town could afford it.

Aren't we lucky, ladies and gents to live in a time where, I bet just about every one of you here tonight, has their
very own bicycle?


Now at this point we should also mention PIERRE LALLEMENT.
Pierre has big supporters at the ICHC who claim it is indeed HE who invented the bicycle.

Ahh... so MANY claims for such a humble machine! OK so this is Lallement's story...

Lallement Velocipede 1862 - Pierre Lallement

In 1862 Pierre took a dandy horse and modified it.
In his design he attached a transmission to the front-wheel hub.
The transmission was made up of a rotary crank device and pedals.
Lallement then travelled to Paris (and excuse the pun), pedalled his invention about...

While he received some interest from those enterprising Olivier Brothers, he had no REAL success and he moved
to the USA.

Sadly, for Lallement, despite patenting his design in America in 1866, it never really took off. He couldn't secure an
investor or a manufacturer.

So... poor Pierre returned to Paris JUST in time to see the Michaux Velocipede craze sweep across Europe AND
ironically... AMERICA!!

(That must have been rather galling don't you think folks? Talk about bad timing!)

Lallement stuck around for a few more years then returned to America. He sold his patent to Boston entrepreneur
Calvin Witty. Eventually the bicycle importer Albert Pope (left) bought the patent and made squillians of dollars from
it. Lallement died in obscurity at the young age of 47 ...

Talk about TRAGIC. You can see now why I thought we should give the poor chap his dues. Who would be an
Honestly, ladies and gentlemen, it seems to be all hard graft and heartache. With somebody ELSE reaping the
financial rewards... Uh huh... no way. Not for me. I'd rather run away with the circus...


Velocipede .n

Velocipede was a term coined to describe the whole bang lot, of these new types of bicycles.
If it was HUMAN-POWERED then it was a velocipede.

Two, three or four wheels? Didn't matter. VELOCIPEDE.
(I'm really starting to like the way that word sounds in my mouth now. Try it. Kinda sounds like the word velocity don't
you think?)

Yes madam? Yes - you over there in the stalls? What does velocipede mean, did you ask?
Well, velocipede is the Latin way of saying fast foot.

Interesting huh!


Under the umbrella of the velocipede came a new bicycle commonly known as the Penny-Farthing or High Bicycle.

Penny Farthing or High Bicycle

The Penny Farthing was manufactured in about 1870.
Debate rages whether it was Frenchman Eugene Meyer or Englishman James Starley who invented the Penny-
Farthing bicycle.

However, tonight, for the sake of impartiality, let's just say they both made a major contribution, did a sterling job
and leave it at that ...

Phew. I think I handled that diplomatically...
(Although I suspect the boss going to have a few vigorous objections to handle tonight after the show.)

No good? Too impartial? OK then, here goes...


Father of the High Bicycle

(sorry James)
Frenchman Eugene Meyer, is now OFFICIALLY considered the Father of the High Bicycle by the ICHC.
In 1869 Eugene invented the classic High-Bicycle design and fashioned the wire-spoke tension wheel.
Apparently James Starley LATER added the tangent spokes and the mounting step to his famous bicycle named
Ah well England.
You win some.
You lose some.


Mr Starley continues to hold the distinguished position of being considered as the Father of the British Cycling
No small claim to fame, if I do say so myself!

Right. Back to the Penny-Farthing ...

Surely you have all seen one of these.
It has a great big wheel at the front and a tiny wheel at the back.
It was named - as you of course will have already deduced - after the British coins the Penny and ... you guessed it
... the Farthing

OK so you knew that, but did you know this ...

Ordinary Bicycle ?

The Penny-Farthing was also called the High-wheel, High-wheeler, and the Ordinary?

What WERE they thinking?

To name it ORDINARY! Ordinary? Ordinary?

I ask you ladies and gentlemen, is there anything remotely ordinary about that bicycle?

Did you also know that ...

In America they called riders of the Penny-Farthing Wheelmen.
This name stuck for a 100 years until the term was replaced with Bicyclists.

The Penny-Farthing was built with a large front wheel, essentially for purposes of SPEED.
It was, however, NOT renown for its safety.
In fact they had quite a reputation for being accident-prone. Which, ladies and gentlemen, creates a nice little
segway for us into the introduction of the SAFETY BICYCLE.


Rover Safety Bicycle 1885 - John Kemp Starley

John Kemp Starley was the English chap who is credited with pioneering the shape of our MODERN-DAY bicycle.
Yes... another Starley.
And Yes. Related... Nephew I believe.

So Starley was the man who invented the ROVER SAFETY BICYCLE...

Rover as in the car and motorcycle - but of course they came much later.

The Rover Safety Bicycle was an instant success. It pretty much wiped out the old velocipede industry overnight.


Well for a start it was much more stable that the old Penny-Farthing. It had two smaller, similar-sized wheels ...
(A great start already I'd say, ladies and gentlemen, wouldn't you?)
It was a rear wheel drive.
It had a diamond frame connecting the wheels.
The pedals were attached to a sprocket through gears and a chain.

AND the best thing - Drum roll please ...

TYRES. PNEUMATIC TYRES. Air-filled tyres!!

Now some people argue that Starley's addition of the CHAIN was the best thing...
but I'm voting for the tyres myself.
Pneumatic tyres are much less bone-shaking and bottom bruising!!

OH and just to set the record straight ...
Those pneumatic tyres were developed in 1887, by John Boyd Dunlop - founder of the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co.
(NOT by Starley)
Note folks I said DEVELOPED not invented.
Yes indeed. Another controversy ...


The emergence of the safety bicycle was a SOCIAL REVOLUTION.
■Ordinary folk could travel further
■Explore their little corner of the world
■Meet new and interesting people
■Encounter new ideas
■Expand their pool of potential spouses
■And for women it was a major boost to the SUFFRAGETTE movement.

The idea of cycling for HEALTH took a hold.

INCREDIBLE! What would they come up with next!!

New industries sprung up around the cycling enthusiasts.
■Road Signs
■Paved Roads

Bicycling suddenly took the world by storm!
■Bicycle clubs formed.
■Competitive cycling took off.
■Sporting champions were made.
■Cycle tracks were built.
■Bicycle shows were held.
■Mass production blossomed.
■Bicycle tourism emerged.
■Entire newspaper columns just DEVOTED to cycling were written ...

The GOLDEN AGE of BICYCLING had arrived ....

In 1896, The New York Evening Post proclaimed:

As a social revolutionizer the bicycle has never had an equal.

It has put the human race on wheels, and thus changed completely many of the ordinary processes and methods of
social life.

It is the great leveller. For not until all Americans got on bicycles was the great American principle that every man is
just as good as another man realized. All are on equal terms, all are happier than ever before.

WOW! What a wrap for the little old bicycle, wouldn't you say, ladies and gents? Of course nobody stopped
tinkering with the Safety Bike.

Nothing is THAT perfect ...

Modifications were made. New features introduced.
■The hand brake
■The coaster brake
■The variable drive gear
■Adjustable handlebars
■The free-wheel

And so the future shape of our modern bicycle began to emerge ...
like a butterfly from a chrysalis.

Ahh ... so poetic - and OK I'll admit just a little cliched. A novelist I aint.

Moving right along folks ...


The safety bicycle phenomenon continued to grip the Western world until ...

The development of the MOTORCYCLE and AUTOMOBILE!!

Sadly after that, the beloved bicycle gradually became relegated to the category of a child's plaything.

One only rode them until they were old enough to get their driver's licence.

This is one of the greatest TRAGEDIES to befall our planet, ladies and gentlemen!!


If only we had stuck with the BICYCLE!!

To quote that most eloquent of authors - Elizabeth West ...

When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments.
Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man.
And (unlike subsequent inventions for man's convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became.
Here, for once, was a product of man's brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or
irritation to others.
Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.

Pretty much sums it up wouldn't you say friends?

Of course I am rather biased ... working here and all.


It gladdens my heart to say that cycling is starting to make a come back, ladies and gentlemen! Its WORTH is
starting to be re-appreciated.

It is being VALUED for its:
■health benefits
■environmental friendliness
■The free-wheel

And best of all ... the simple PLEASURE it brings.

I think American President John F. Kennedy was right-on-the-money when he said:

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.

On that succinct note I think my work here is done.

You leave the show tonight knowing WHO INVENTED THE BICYCLE ... and then some.

And the next time your kid comes home from school and asks you 'Who Invented The Bicycle'?, you can look her in
the eye and say ...

(Altogether now)

NOBODY invented the bicycle.


Ahh ... such a smart group! You've been a real delight.
That's it for now, ladies and gentlemen.

I hope you will the stick around for our HISTORY OF THE BICYCLES- Quiz Show.

But firstly we will have a short Intermission break.

So... Go and grab yourself a hot dog, and a drink.
Take a walk down our Sideshow Alley and MARVEL at our gorgeous bike-stalls.
Play some games.
TREAT YOURSELF to a new bicycle. A helmet or perhaps even BOTH!!

Back to the History of Bicycles Page Back to Bicycle and Bikes Homepage

Love to hear your comments in the box below ...

History of Bicycles
      A Discussion Of The Bicycle
The bicycle is a two wheeled, human powered machine or as it was
called back in the day (Velocipede). It is very strong and can withstand
the enormous pressures that are placed on all of it's parts. Having said
that, the bicycle is made to be light weight so it  has many delicate parts
made with a variety of different metals and parts that have to be
checked frequently and maintained.

Nobody knows when or what could have been the first bicycle. We do
know that walking boards were used in the 1700's.  A walking board or
balance board,was a board with two wheels under it to hold the riders
weight. The rider simply walked and leaned the walking board left or
right to give it some steering. The rider was able to walk faster and for
longer distances than walking without it. I believe that I saw Friar Tuck in
the Robin Hood TV series riding one of these many years ago.

Draisienne 1817 - Baron Karl Drais Von Sauerbronn made his walking
board or Velocipede with handlebar steering.  Improvements over the
decades, like steering, spokes and  peddles,  brought about the
Penny-Farthing or High Wheelers in France and England
Rover Safety Bicycle 1885 - John Kemp Starley is credited with coming
up with our modern day bicycle. The Safety Bicycle was rear wheel
drive with sprockets and a chain, it was strong with a diamond frame
and two smaller wheels of similar size and pneumatic tyres. The reason
that it was called a safety bicycle was because it had wheels about the
same size both front and rear which prevented the rider from being
thrown over the front wheel. Much more has happened in the evolution
of the bicycle since 1885.

In 1892 Horace Huffman made his first bicycle for the Davis Sewing
Machine Company,  The Huffman Manufacturing Company was officially
founded in 1924 that made equipment for gas stations and made
bicycles.  Horace Huffman Jr. came into the company and converted the
production process into an assembly line. In 1934 Huffman mass
produced bicycles during the Depression as an alternative to the
automobile . Because of the assembly line Huffman was able to fill
contracts with Firestone and Western Auto thus was the selling of
bicycles by retail stores.  Bicycle production slowed during the last years
of WWII. In 1949 Huffy introduced the Huffy convertible that was the first
Huffy bicycle to have the Huffy nameplate on it's frame.  The Huffy
convertible instantly made Huffy a household name.  Huffy put the first
training wheels on children's bikes that same year. In 1955 Huffy made
the radio bike that had a radio installed in it's tank and a battery pack
and antenna on it's carrier. As of 2011 by company records, Huffy has
sold over 100 million bicycles.

This article is just a sample of the stories about the history of bicycles
and the people that make them and ride them. A bicycle today is as it
has always been, a human powered machine that is used for people to
socialize, transport themselves, improve their health, and entertain
themselves. The bicycle continues to evolve as people try to make
improvements to them.  Maybe one day, someone will come up with a
really good tire or inter tube that will not get stickers in them.  

                                                                               Don Graves

Use these links to read more about the history of bicycles

"Ye" Olde Bike Shop
Bicycle History timeline
Pedaling History
Jim Langley" Bicycle History"
All Rights Reserved
Ye Olde Bike Shop
     217 N Main St.          
(719) 688-8593
Lamar, Co 81052