Two hundred years ago, Karl Freiherr von Drais, a notable inventor of his day, perfected what is recognised as the first bicycle to the point that he had a patent granted in 1818.
History of the bicycle since that moment has been somewhat contentious with various names being associated to similar devices, various journeys and the occasional accident giving rise to the folklore that surrounds this wonderful machine.
Our list of bicycles is just a taster of the development of the machine that has enabled humans to travel vast distances and experience the world with only the tranquil swish of the tyre and sometime click of the freewheel hub.
These and more amazing examples of this “best invention of all time” are available to view at Glasgow’s Riverside Museum
The Riverside Museum is only 4 km west of the city centre (on the NCN 7/75) and is the home of the former Transport Museum’s extensive collection of all things pertaining to transport. Free to enter, you can get there by Nextbike at a leisurely pace in under 30 minutes.
Karl Frei von Drais was the inventor of what is recognised as the first bicycle.
His invention, called the Laufmaschine (Running Machine) was also commonly known as the Dandy Horse. The design did not feature pedals, making it similar to a modern “balance bike” used to teach preschool children to cycle, and required the rider to run whilst supported by the machine. With no brakes and wheels constructed from wood with steel rims, safety and comfort were not a feature of the first “bicycle”. Whilst the first use of the invention was recorded in June 1817, the patent was granted in Germany and France in 1818.
The next stage of the development of the bicycle has been attributed to Kirkpatrick Macmillian (Dumfries) in 1839 and Gavin Dalzell (Lesmahagow) in 1846, who many claim appropriated Macmillian’s design. Regardless, the invention saw the introduction of pedals and of rear wheel drive to the bicycle with a mechanism of push rods linking to the rear wheel.
The design was a major step forward however the action of propelling the machine was still quite similar to a walking motion. Safety and comfort had not quite been introduced with no brakes and wooden wheels with an iron rim.
French inventor Eugene Meyer introduced what has now become commonly known as the “Penny Farthing”. The design featuring one large wheel with one small rear wheel was actually known as the high wheeler or Ordinary Bicycle, making it the first to be formally called a bicycle. An important advance, which made the design possible, was the invention of wire spoked wheel for bicycles (although the design for other uses predates this) for which Eugene Meyer was granted a French patent. The large wheel had the action of a top gear and made longer distances and higher speeds by bike a reality. Thus, cycling as a sport was born.
The Rover Safety Cycle was created by John Kemp Starley and William Sutton. According to many, this was the design that kick started the cycle manufacture industry.
The design was the first that has most of the recognisable features of a modern bicycle. The frame shape is recognisable as the ubiquitous triple triangle arrangement, it was chain driven to the rear wheel, had two wheels of similar size, and had the luxury of a brake, albeit only at the front. The wheels were still equipped with solid rubber tyres however the rider position made the design safer and also more efficient for pedalling.
Invented by Mikael Pedersen the unusual frame was actually conceived in the 1890s, with a patent granted in Britain as early as 1893. The configuration was inspired from bridge design, and was improved upon over the course of manufacture with hub gears being introduced in 1903. Another innovation in the design was the incorporation of a suspended woven seat. This gave a more comfortable ride and combined with pneumatic tyres, which was finally facilitated by the invention of the inner tube by J.B. Dunlop in 1888, gave a machine that was pleasant to ride. Enthusiasts for the design still organise events across the world.
David and Agnes Rattray opened their first cycle shop in Glasgow in 1900. Business grew over the years and developed from cycle hire and sales to the production of limited quantities of light weight frames, built to demand for local riders. “The Scot” began production in 1928. The racing version of The Scot was built from lightweight Reynolds 531 tubing and badged “The Flying Scot”. This was the favoured race frame of many professional, semi-professional and enthusiastic club cyclists over the years and continued as a frame of choice until closure of the business in 1983.
BMX – Bicycle Moto Cross has its origins in the 1970s and the name derives from type of riding, which was emulating Moto-Cross. If anything, the early stages were very much a precursor of mountain biking. The bikes developed into various disciplines including: Street, Flatland, Park, Dirt, Vert and Freestyle.
Depending on the type of riding, the geometry of the bike varies slightly with changes to fork angle, tyre clearance and material of construction to maximise strength or minimise weight.
Recognised by UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) in 1993 and introduced to the Olympic games in 2008 BMX has become one of the most accessible cycle based sports world wide.
The development of mountain biking has been a long process and easily dates from the beginnings of cycling itself. Gradually, the mountain bike as a specific item came into being with the introduction of all terrian tyres, front and then rear suspension, disc brakes and an assortment of geometries which helps define the purpose of the bike all the way from cross country (off road, rough terrain) to downhill (steep gradients with extreme terrain). With the ability to ride up the hills with (relative) ease and ride the roughest terrain normally the preserve of a downhill bike. Enduro mountain bikes offer the best of both worlds.
Glasgow’s bike hire scheme was introduced in 2014 to link in with the Commonwealth Games which were hosted in the city that year. The scheme started with 400 bikes spread across 30 stations. The scheme has grown and is now one of the most successful of its type in the UK. The bikes are easy to use with a simple step through frame and hub gears. They can be accessed using multiple methods including smartcard, app and telephone. To date, over 17,000 Glasgow citizens have registered to use the bicycles. Expansion of the scheme in 2018 will increase the number of bikes to 600 available over 60 locations, covering additional areas of the city.