This is How Bicycles Looked Like 200 Years Ago

In 1818, Baron Karl von Drais of Germany patented the design of a two-wheeled running machine or “Laufmaschine,” with two in-line wheels under a seat and handle bars, and was propelled if the rider push off the ground with his feet.
 

Also called the “Draisine,” the machine was created out of necessity – Drais wanted a ride to substitute for the horses that have starved to death during a volcanic winter in 1815 caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora.

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His invention inspired manufacturers from other parts of Europe, like England and France, to create their own two-wheeled contraptions, calling them velocipedes or “dandy horses.”

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The contraptions became an instant hit but their popularity was short-lived as many cities passed regulations against the use of velocipedes. The regulations were mainly because of the state of the streets at the time which was rough, so riders took to the sidewalk plowing startled pedestrians aside.

Over the next few decades, numerous innovations popped out — three- and four-wheeled machines propelled by cranks and pedals.

1850: A four-wheeled “pedamotive carriage.”
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Photo: SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

But it wasn’t until the 1960s that people became courageous enough to take their off the ground and balance on two wheels.

Once that fear was conquered, riders wanted to ride faster. The simplest way to achieve that was to increase the diameter of the front wheel. So wooden wheels were replaced with tensile wire-spoked wheels to accommodate the increase in diameter. The size of the front wheel was only limited by the length of the rider’s legs.

c. 1880
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Photo: HULTON-DEUTSCH COLLECTION/CORBIS

1881
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Photo: HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

1888: A tricycle with inflated rubber tires built by John Boyd Dunlop, founder of the Dunlop Rubber Company.
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Photo: JACQUES BOYER/ROGER VIOLLET/GETTY IMAGES

The new bicycles, with massive front wheels and small rear wheels, were called “penny-farthings,” after the coin and its smaller cousin.

Penny-farthings were used in races by daredevils, but the height of the rider’s seat led to falls. Naturally, there was high demand for a fast bicycle that can still be ridden safely.

1889: The first world cycling championship in Berlin, Germany.
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Photo: ULLSTEIN BILD/GETTY IMAGES

c. 1890: “Wheelmen” pose with their penny-farthing cycles.
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Photo: CORBIS

1890: A lady mounts a safety bicycle.
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Photo: HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

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