Bicycle, History Of
BICYCLE, HISTORY OF. the clipped term now given comprehensively to the sport or exercise of riding a bicycle (q.v.) or tricycle (q.v.).
Suggestions of vehicles having two or more wheels and propelled by the muscular effort of the rider or riders are to be found in very early times, even on the bas-reliefs of Egypt and History. Babylon and the frescoes of Pompeii; but though sporadic examples of such contrivances are recorded in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was apparently not till the beginning of the 19th century that they were used to any considerable extent. A " velocipede " invented by Blanchard and Magurier, and described in the Journal de Paris on the 27th of July 1779, differed little from the celerifere proposed by another Frenchman, de Sivrac, in 1690; it consisted of a wooden bar rigidly connecting two wheels placed one in front of the other, and was propelled by the rider, seated astride the bar, pushing against the ground with his feet. The next advance was made in the draisine of Freiherr Karl Drais von Sauerbronn (1785-1851), described in his Abbildung und Beschreibung seiner neu erfundenen Lauftnaschine (Nuremberg, 1817). In this the front wheel was pivoted on the frame so that it could be turned sideways by a handle, thus serving to steer the machine (figs, i and 2). A similar machine, the " celeripede," also with a movable front wheel, is said to have been ridden by J. N. Niepce in Paris some years before. In England the draisine achieved a great, though temporary, vogue under various names, such as velocipede, patent accelerator, bivector, bicipedes, pedestrian curricle (patented by Dennis Johnson in 1818), dandy horse, hobby horse, etc., and for a time it was popular in America also. The propulsion of the draisine by pushing with the feet being alleged to give rise to diseases of the legs, arrangements were soon suggested, as by Louis Gompertz in England in 1821, by which the front wheel could be rotated by the hands with the aid of a system of gearing, but the idea of providing mechanical connexions between the feet and the wheels was apparently not thought of till later. Pedals with connecting rods working on the rear axle are said to have been applied to a tricycle in 1834 by Kirkpatrick McMillan, a Scottish blacksmith of Keir, Dumfriesshire, and to a draisine by him in 1840, and by a Scottish cooper, Gavin Dalzell, of Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, about 1845. The draisine thus fitted had wooden wheels, with iron tires, the leading one about 30 in. in diameter and the driving one about 40 in., and thus it formed the prototype, though not the ancestor, of the modern rear-driven safety bicycle.
For the next 20 years little was done, and then began the evolution of the high " ordinary " bicycle with a large driving wheel in front and a small trailing one behind. About 1865
Pierre Lallement in Paris constructed a bicycle in which the front wheel was driven by pedals and cranks attached directly to its axle, but it is doubtful whether the origin of this idea must be attributed to him or to Ernest Michaux, the son of his employer, who was a carriage repairer. Lallement took his machine to the United States, and in 1866 was granted a patent which had an important influence on the subsequent course of the cycle industry in that country. This machine, consisting of a wooden frame supported on two wooden wheels (Fig. 3), soon became
popular in England, as well as in France and America, and came to be called bicycle (or bysicle) by those who took it seriously and " boneshaker " by those who did not. Improvements quickly followed, chiefly in England, for in America the popularity of the machine was. short-lived, and in France the industry was checked by the Franco-German war. Rubber tires, in place of iron ones, appeared in 1868, and in two or three years were made very large, 2 in. or more in width. Suspension wheels, with wire spokes in tension, were seen at the Crystal Palace, London, on the " Phantom " (Fig. 4) of W. F. Reynolds and J. A. Mays in 1869, and early in
the same year the manufacture of bicycles, at first for export to France, was begun in England by the Coventry Sewing Machine Company, till then makers of sewing machines. There was a rapid growth in the size of the front wheel, which in the boneshaker normally measured 36 or 38 in. in diameter, with a corresponding shrinkage in the rear wheel (Fig. 5), until by 1874, the date of the invention of the tangent wheel by J. K. Starley 54-in. wheels were being made. The high bicycle was now fairly established in form, and the changes made in the subsequent 10 or 15 years during which it retained its supremacy were chiefly in the details of construction, such as the adoption of steel tubing for the frames, the use of hollow rims in the wheels and the application first of cone and then of ball bearings to points of friction. The weight of a 54-in. bicycle, which in 1874-1875 exceeded 50 or even 60 Ib, was thus reduced to well under 40 Ib in machines intended for use on ordinary roads, and to not much over 20 Ib in the case of racers.
The high " ordinary " bicycle (Fig. 6) gave unquestionable pleasure to many riders, and very fast times were made with it both on the road and on the racing path. In 1882 H. L. Cortis rode 20 m. 300 yds. in one hour, and in April 1884 Thomas Stevens started from San Francisco to ride round the world, a feat which he accomplished in December 1886. But it had various disadvantages. The vibration set up by the small back wheel was very trying, and in spite of the size of the front one the rider had to move his pedals at an uncomfortably rapid rate if he wished to maintain a good speed. Moreover his seat was placed in such a position that he was liable to be pitched over the handlebar if his wheel encountered a comparatively small obstacle. Attempts were made to remedy these inconveniences in various ways. From the early 'eighties much attention was devoted to tricycles, and these were produced in innumerable designs, whether for a single rider, or for two in the form of "sociables," in which the riders sat side by side, or of " tandems," in which one sat behind the other. But their weight, and consequently the exertion of propelling them, was Fig. 6. Rudge Racing Ordinary, 1887. necessarily greater than
in the case of the bicycle, and by the end of the decade, the demand for them had fallen off, though they are still made to a certain extent, chiefly for carrying purposes. The two-track dicycle (Fig. 7), invented by E. C. F. Otto about 1879, in which the rider balanced himself between two equal wheels placed abreast, also failed to secure lasting success.
The improvement of the high bicycle was attempted in two directions. On the one hand it was modified by placing the rider farther back, his position " over his work " being ensured by arranging the pedals immediately below him and connecting them to the front wheel, which was usually reduced in size, by levers and cranks or by chain-gearing, often with a multiplying action. On the other, the rear wheel was enlarged and made the driving wheel. The " ' Xtraordinary " (Fig. 8), "Facile" (Fig. 9) and " Kangaroo " were examples of the former kind, which were often spoken of as "dwarf-safeties"; but though a good many of them were used about 1880 and following years, both they and the "ordinary" bicycle ultimately disappeared before machines of the second kind, which developed into the modern rear-driven safety. There are numerous claimants for the invention or rather the reinvention of this type, but it appears that the credit for its practical and commercial introduction in substantially its present form is due to J. K. Starley in England. His " Rover " (Fig. 10), brought out late in 1885, had two nearly equal wheels, the driving wheel 30 in. in diameter and the steering 32 in., and the rider sat so far back that he could not be thrown forward over the handles. The
motion imparted by the pedals to a sprocket wheel mounted between the wheels was transmitted by an endless chain to the rear wheel, and by sufficiently increasing the size of this sprocket wheel the machine could be made to travel as far or farther than the " ordinary " for each complete revolution of the pedals. From about 1890 the " safety " monopolized the field. At first it was fitted with the narrow rubber tires customary at the time, but these gave way to pneumatic tires, invented in 1888 by J. B. Dunlop, a veterinary surgeon of Belfast, whose idea, however, had been anticipated in the English patent taken out by R. W. Thomson in 1845. The result was a great gain in comfort, due to reduction of vibration, and a remarkable increase of speed or, alternatively, decrease of exertion. Subsequent progress was mainly in the details of design and manufacture, tending to secure lightness combined with adequate strength, and such was the success attained, by the application
of scientific principles and of improved methods and materials to the construction of the frames and other parts, that while the weight of the original " Rover " was about 50 Ib, that of its successors 20 years later with 28-in. wheels was reduced by 35 or 45%, or even 60% in the case of racing machines. The beginning of the 20th century saw the introduction of two innovations: one was the " free-wheel," a device which allows the driving wheel to rotate independently of the chain and pedals, so that the rider, controlling his speed with powerful brakes, can " coast " down a hill using the stationary pedals as foot-rests; and the other was the motor-cycle, in which a petrol-engine relieves him, except at starting, from all personal exertion, though at the cost of considerable vibration. A third contrivance, which, however, was an idea of considerably older date, also began to find favour about the same period in the shape of two-speed and three-speed gears, enabling the rider at will to
alter the ratio between the speed of revolution of his pedals and of his driving wheel, and thereby accommodate himself to the varying | gradients of the road he is traversing (see also BICYCLE, TRICYCLE and TIRE).
The safety bicycle, with Fig. io. Starley's " Rover," 1885. pneumatic tires, rendered cycling universally popular, not merely as a pastime but as a convenient meansof locomotion for everyday use. Made with a drop-frame, it also enabled women to cycle without being confined to a heavy tricycle or compelled to assume " rational dress." In consequence there was an enormous expansion in the cycle industry. In England the demand for machines had become so great by 1895 that the makers were unable to cope with it. Numbers of new factories were started, small shops grew into large companies, and the capital invested advanced by millions of pounds. The makers who had devoted their mechanical skill to perfecting the methods of cycle-construction were swallowed up by company promoters and adventurers, bent simply upon filling their own pockets. The march of mechanical invention and improvement was arrested, and machines, instead of being built by mechanics proud of their work, in many cases were merely put together in the shortest possible time and in a few standard patterns. For these the world clamoured, and for a year they could not be produced fast enough. Then the demand fell off, the British market became over-stocked, and as the British makers declined to consider the wants of foreign customers, their store-rooms remained crowded with machines that could not be sold. Speculative finance, such as was exemplified in 1896 by the flotation for 5,000,000 of the Dunlop tire company, which had been started in 1889 with a capital of 25,000, had its natural effects. There ensued widespread and continuing disorganization of the trade, which had to be met by extensive reconstructions of over-capitalized companies. English makers too had lost the commanding international position they once enjoyed, when they supplied almost the entire demand for bicycles in many parts of the world, including the United States. In America the manufacture of bicycles was not begun until about 1878, when it was introduced by A. A. Pope (1843-1909), and even by 1890 the value of the products barely exceeded 25 million dollars, while for several years later much of the steel tubing required for bicycle manufacture continued to be imported from Great Britain. The industry, however, thanks to automatic machinery and perfect organization, grew rapidly, and in 1900 the value of its products was nearly 32 million dollars. In the two years 1897 and 1898 the exports of cycles and cycle parts alone were worth nearly 14 million dollars, though they fell off in subsequent years, and English makers had to contend with an American invasion in addition to their domestic troubles. B ut the competition was short-lived. The American makers sent over machines with single tube tires and wooden rims which did not secure the approval of the British purchaser, and so they too lost their hold. In the opening years of the 20th century the industry in Great Britain gradually recovered itself. More attention was paid to the production of cheap machines which were sound and trustworthy, and sales were further stimulated by the introduction of systems of deferred payments. In 1905 about 600,000 machines were made in Great Britain, and 47,604 were exported, the total value of the home-market for cycles and their parts being about 35 millions sterling, and of the export trade about one million. In the same year the number of machines imported was only 2345.
Cycle tours were taken and cycle clubs established almost as soon as the cycle appeared, the Pickwick Bicycle Club in London, founded in 1870, being the oldest in the world. The organization of these clubs is chiefly of a social character, and a few possess well-appointed club-houses. To a great extent they have been superseded by the large touring organizations. The Cyclists' Touring Club, organized in 1878 as the Bicycle Touring Club, has members scattered through Europe, America and even the East. Many other countries possess national clubs, as for instance the League of American Wheelmen, founded in 1880, and the Touring Club de France, founded in 1895, of whose objects cycling is only one, though the chief. The aim of these national associations, which have formed an international touring league, is the promotion of cycle touring. To this end they publish roadbooks, maps and journals; they recommend hotels, with fixed tariffs, in their own and other countries; they appoint representatives to aid their members when touring; and they have succeeded in inducing most governments to allow their members to travel freely across frontiers without paying duty on their machines. In all countries they have erected warning-boards at dangerous places; in France the best route is suggested by a sign-post, and cyclists who meet with accidents in lonely places find repair outfits provided for their free use. Another important part of the work of these clubs, "either directly or indirectly, is the improvement of the roads. France has done more for the cyclist than any other country, owing to the fact that she possesses the best roads, kept up to a certain extent by the cycle tax, whereby the cyclist acquires a certain official position and right; moreover cycles accompanied by their owners are conveyed without extra charge on the railways, and aid is given to the sport and pastime from public funds. In Belgium the cycle has worked a veritable revolution in the national life. The surface of the greater part of the country being loose and sandy, the roads have been paved, and this paving is so bad as to be impossible for light traffic. The cycle tax has consequently been devoted, first, to the construction of paths on which cyclists have equal rights with pedestrians, and secondly to the replacing of the paving by macadam. In this way alone cycling has proved of inestimable benefit to Belgium and Luxembourg. In the United States measures for securing good roads and side paths have been introduced in various states, mainly at the instigation first of cyclists and then of motorists, and in Great Britain the Roads Improvement Association has worked for the same end.
Each country also possesses an organization for the government of cycle racing; and although these unions, one object of which usually the main one is the encouragement of cycle racing and cycle legislation, boast an enormous membership, their membership is often composed of clubs and not individuals. Among the most important are the National Cyclists' Union of England and the Union Velocipedique of France. These bodies are also bound together by the International Cyclists' Association, which is devoted mainly to the promotion of racing and legislation connected with it all over the world. The National Cyclists' Union, originally the Bicycle Union, which was the parent body of all, formed in February 1878, was the first to put up danger-boards, and also was early instrumental, alone and with the C.T.C., in framing or suggesting laws for the proper government and regulation of cycle traffic, notably in establishing its position as a vehicle in securing universal rights, in endeavouring, again in conjunction with the C.T.C., to increase facilities for the carriage of cycles on the railways, in securing the opening of parks, and in promoting many other equally praiseworthy objects. For a number of years, however, it has been more prominent as the ruling race-governing body. But cycle racing has fallen upon evil days. At one time cycle racing attracted a large number of spectators, but gradually it lost the public favour, or rather was ignored by the public because it became mainly an advertisement for cycle makers. The presence of the man, directly or indirectly, in the employ of, or aided by a maker, and the consequent mixing up of trade and sport, lowered racing not only in the public estimation, but in that of all genuine amateurs. There have always been a few amateurs who have raced for the love of the sport, but the greater number of prominent racing men have raced for the benefit of a firm, so much so that, at one time, an entire section of racing men were classed as " makers' amateurs." They did not confine themselves to the race track, but appropriated the public roads until they became a danger and a nuisance, and road-racing finally was abolished, though record rides, as they are called, are still indulged in, being winked at by the police and by the cycling authorities. The makers' amateurs at least rode to win and to make the best time possible. But the scandal was so great that a system of licensing riders was adopted by the N.C.U., and if this did not effectively kill the sport, the introduction of waiting races did. There probably is considerable skill in riding two-thirds of a race as slowly as possible, and only hurrying the last part of the last lap, but it does not amuse the public, who want to see a fast race as well as a close finish. The introduction of pacing by multicycles and motors next took from cycle racing what interest was left. A motor race, in which the machines are run at top speed, is more exciting than the spectacle of a motor being driven at a rate which the cyclist can follow with the protection of a wind-shield. In America this system of proving what cyclists can do with racing machines was carried so far that in 1899 a board track was laid down on the Long Island railway for about 2 m. between the metals, and a cyclist named Murphy, followed a train, and protected by enormous wind-shields, succeeded in covering a mile in less than a minute in the autumn of 1900. Other cyclists have devoted themselves, at the instigation of makers, to the riding of 100 m. a day every day for a year. It would be difficult to say what advantage there is in these trials and contests. They are not convincing records, and only prove that some people are willing to take great personal risks for the benefit of their employers. E. Hale, during 1899-1900, covered 32,496 m. in 313 days. For many years also long-distance races, mostly of six days' duration, have been promoted on covered tracks, and though condemned by all cycling organizations, they find a great deal of pecuniary support.
The cycle has also been taken up for military purposes. For this idea the British army is indebted to Colonel A. R. Savile, who in 1887 organized the first series of cycle manoeuvres in England. Since then military cycling has undergone a great development, not only in the country of its origin but in most others.
Cycling has produced a literature of its own, both of the pastime and of the trade. Owing to the enormous profits which, for several years, were obtained by cycle makers, a trade press appeared which simply lived by, and out of, its advertisers; and though each country has one or more genuine trade journals, the large proportion of these sheets have been worth, in a business aspect, as little practically as from a literary standpoint. On the other hand a vast mass of practical and unpractical, scientific and medical, historical and touring treatises and records have appeared, but mostly of a rather ephemeral character.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)