As many other inventions that nowadays are ordinary and indispensable, the bicycle is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s creations. The Italian inventor’s sketches showed traction through a chain similar to the one used nowadays. However, this was not one of the projects that rendered successful and it is now considered as an exhibition piece.
In France, Count Mede de Sivrac, three centuries after Leonardo, created an apparatus much more primitive that the one created by his predecessor, which was used as an entertainment item by the Parisian royalty. The first ancestor of the current bicycle was born in 1790 and it consisted of two wooden wheels aligned set at the ends of a one-meter beam. This device did not have a handlebar or pedals and, in order to move, it had to be pushed. Later on, German Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr Drais designed a device that had a steering system which allowed for changing the direction without stopping or pushing it in the other direction; and it also had a saddle which provided greater comfort as opposed to the previous model. This vehicle was named Draisine after its inventor and it was accepted as an entertainment item by the noble people of those times who used it.
In 1819, an Englishman named Denis Johnson modified the Draisine and made it of iron instead of wood. This change transformed the idea of bicycle and gave it greater resistance, endurance and the possibility of increasing its speed.
In 1838, in Scotland, ironworker Kirkpatnck MacMillan decided to add cranks which through two rods started working with two pedals situated in the frame and thus the first traction bicycle was created. Ernest Michaux, in 1861, added some pedals to the front wheel of the draisiana. As you may notice, this modification was extremely important for bicycles as we know them today. Nevertheless, the use of pedals in the front wheel made balance impossible. Thus, people were obliged to learn how to ride a bicycle.
The French mechanic Víctor Renard designed a bicycle with a 2.5 diameter front wheel. These are the bicycles that nowadays we consider absurd and totally disproportional due to its big front wheel.
On 31st May 1889 the Olivier brothers, associated with the factory Michaux, gave birth to competitive cycling by organizing a race in Saint Cloud Park in Paris. It was a 1200 meter race and seven persons took part in it. From that moment on, bicycle manufacturers were forced to increase their mechanical research in order to obtain faster, lighter and easier to ride bicycles. At first, manufacturers wanted to increase the bicycle’s speed a lot and they decided to increase the size of the front wheel diameter up to three meters. They got rid of this change as soon as possible due to the extraordinary weight of the bicycles.
An exceptional contribution was the one of J. B. Dunlop in 1888 by creating the pneumatic tire, which replaced the solid rubber. This invention made sliding possible, making it more comfortable and faster. In France, Michelin brothers and, in Italy, Giovanni Battista Pirelli created a dismountable tire. These last two inventions made it possible for riders to go anywhere they wanted with their bicycles without any risk of being stranded anywhere.
In the 20`s, and in order to optimize bicycles to go through different surfaces that since 1903 were part of the Tour of France, the gear change was created. From then on, the bicycle structure has not changed that much up to now. Nowadays, manufacturers aim at changes to make them lighter, faster, and to have less resistance to wind.
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