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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 ...

De Sivrac's Celerifere or VelocifereThen 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 Draisine (or Draisienne)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.

Baron Von Drais's Draisine Of course, the Baron found it incredibly useful for covering the large distances he travelled to collect his tenants' taxes.
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 VelicipedeMacmillan'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...

Bicycle EvolutionAll 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

Michaueux's Boneshaker VelocipedeIn 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.

Michaux Boneshaker VelocipedeIt 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 

Pierre Lallement's Velocipede 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!)

Book Jacket Cover - Colonel Albert Pope and His American Dream MachinesLallement 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 INVENTOR!!
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.

Velocipede Human Powered VehiclesTwo, 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 FarthingThe 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

The High Wheeler 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 Ariel.
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 Industry.
No small claim to fame, if I do say so myself!

Right. Back to the Penny-Farthing ...

The Penny and the Farthing coinsSurely 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 ...

Comic Penny Farthing Christmas Card

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

Rover Safety BicycleJohn 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.


Starley's Rover Safety BicycleWell 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!!

Pneumatic Bicycle TyresNow 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!!

John Boyd Dunlop riding a bicycleOH 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.

  • Inns
  • Road Signs
  • Paved Roads
  • Clothes
  • Businesses

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 ...

Salon du Cycle et de Automobile Bicycle PosterThe 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:

  • economy
  • simplicity
  • 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

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History of Bicycles

Article Submission

History of Bicycles - quote ...

... It would not be at all strange if history came to the conclusion that the perfection of the bicycle was the greatest incident of the nineteenth century.

 - Author Unknown

(but they knew what they were talking about!)

How to Mount a Penny Farthing

Matt Beckwith demonstrates his mounting technique on a Penny Farthing bicycle