A Short History of the Bicycle

By Stacy Nelson

So you have been riding your bicycle for years, or perhaps only for a few months, or perhaps just started riding. No matter how long it has been, you know your bicycle, but do you know where bicycles came from and how they evolved into the steed you ride today? Who invented the bike? What were the first bicycles like? To answer these questions, I’ve assembled a short history of the bicycle, a little peak into where your favorite mode of transportation came from.


There is still some debate as to where the very first bicycle came from, but many sources attribute an early bicycle to Baron von Drais. He created The Walking Machine, mainly to help him get around faster. It was a two-wheeled moving device with a frame, which was propelled around by placing your feet on the ground and pushing yourself along.


The next appearance is a bicycle, called the Velocipede and more commonly known as the Boneshaker. In this model the pedals were put onto the front wheels. The frame was made of wood and the tires made of metal.


The Phantom was released by The Reynolds of Great Britain. This was a revolutionary new design because of the light-weight metal frame.

1870 – 1890’s

The first all metal machine was introduced in 1870 and called The High Wheel Bicycle. The pedals were still on the front wheel, but the big difference was how large the front wheel was. It kept getting larger during this time because inventors realized that the larger the wheel was, the further you could get with one turn of the pedals. This style of bicycle continued into the 1890’s with variations of the frame and wheels:

The High Wheel Tricycle had three wheels, with the two in the back being the largest. The High Wheel Safety had one really large back wheel, with one small one in the front to prevent tipping over. The Hard-Tired Safety went back to the previous design, and the one we have all now come to know, two wheels that are the same size. The Pnuematic-Tired Safety brought about the pnuematic tire and is the first glimpse of the design that we know today.

1950’s – 1970’s

This is when the first Kids’ Bike entered the scene. During this exciting time the bicycle that we know today came about with the introduction of the English 3-speed, popular in the 1950’s. Later came the 10-speed derailleur, which was popular in the 1970’s, and finally the mountain bike which is the same as those we use today.

For more information on a history of bicycles check out: Pedaling History, Cycle Info and Outdoor Lab.

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