Who Invented The Bicycle? The History Of The Bike

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The true inventor of the bicycle depends on what you consider to be the first true bicycle.

For some, Karl von Drais is the bicycle’s inventor, with his “Laufmaschine” designed in 1817. Others credit Pierre Michaux as the inventor of the bicycle with his pedal-powered “boneshaker” velocipedes, designed in 1864.

The inventors of the penny-farthing and safety bicycles respectively may also claim to be the true geniuses behind the bicycle.

Clearly, the answer to “Who invented the bicycle?” is a subjective one. So, to help you understand the backstory behind the bicycle’s invention and evolution, we’ll be covering:

  • Who invented the bicycle, and when was the bicycle invented?
  • Talk about how the bike evolved
  • Cover how cycling became so popular

Are you ready to learn the origin of the bicycle?

Who Invented The Bicycle The History Of The Bike

Who Invented The Bicycle? 

And when was the bicycle invented?

The first steerable two-wheeled personal vehicle was developed by a German baron called Karl Von Drais. He brought it into the public in 1817, and it went by several names, including the “velocipede,” “hobby-horse,” “draisine,” and “Laufmaschine” (running machine)

Many people believe that this contraption made Drais the father of the bicycle. However, Drais wasn’t the first person to put two wheels in line with each other, but he was the one that added steering.

Ever since then, the baron’s invention has been developed and refined into an affordable mode of transport that has given independence to millions of people all over the world.

How The Bicycle Evolved

Drais’ format is still used today in the form of balance bikes. These are the pedal-less bikes that allow young kids to develop basic riding skills.

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As people started using the Laufmaschine for mobility, ingenious minds developed improvements to it, which is a trend that continues. For example, bikes are becoming lighter, more robust, faster, and even have electric motors.

In 1864 carriage maker Pierre Michaux added pedals to the Laufmaschine’s front wheel in his Paris workshop. However, his employee, Pierre Lallement, claimed that he came up with the idea and moved to the USA to develop the design further.

These new pedal-powered bikes were known as velocipedes and were the first machines called bicycles. But their rough ride gave them the nickname ‘boneshakers.’

The Search For High Speed And Comfort

The boneshakers were fine for low-speed commuting (all be it, uncomfortable), but people wanted something faster and more stable. Inventors such as Eugène Meyer and James Starley developed new models with an oversized front wheel.

This spawned the Penny Farthing, also known as “ordinaries,” in 1870. These bizarre-looking machines became incredibly popular during the 1870s and 1880s.

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The wheel size determined how the Penny Farthing was geared. Riders with longer legs could have higher gearing, allowing them to ride faster. These fast riders were often called ‘scorchers’ as they burned along the roads and paths, terrifying pedestrians and horse riders.

During the 1870s and 1880s, many bicycle clubs and competitive races were established, thanks to the Penny Farthing. In 1884 Englishman named Thomas Stevens famously started an around the world journey on a high-wheeled bike.

Let’s Make Something Safer

The increased speed and comfort of the Penny Farthing brought cycling to the masses. However, they were lethal, thanks to their four-foot-high saddles. You needed to scoot the bike forwards and jump onto the saddle via a foot peg at the rear to get onto it.

You also need your wits about you when it comes to slowing down or stopping, as Penny Farthings are too high to put your foot down.

Check out this video of someone trying to master the Penny Farthing for the first time:

With the horrendous accidents caused by riding Penny Farthings, Englishman John Kemp Starley developed the safety bicycle in 1885. This design had equally sized wheels and a chain drive. It also had improved brakes and tires. This iteration of the bike would pave the way for the modern bicycle we know today.

These two-wheeled machines became incredibly popular by the 1890s. They kicked off a bike craze all over Europe and the United States. 

Biking Down-Under

The popularity of cycling exploded all around the world, but it took until 1893 before the potential of the bike was realized in Australia.

This was demonstrated by Percy Armstrong and R Craig when they rode their bikes from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Melbourne. They completed the incredible 4,131km journey in less than 50 days.

From this point, Australia was considered to be the long-distance cycling center of the world. There were many distance records set by Australian cyclists, including the 4,300km ride from Perth to Brisbane. This was completed in 60 days by William Virgin.

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Bikes were also recognized as effective modes of transport. They were used by many Western Australian goldfields and the postal service. Bikes were favored over horses, as it was easier than keeping them fed in the harsh environment. In addition to this, the bicycle was faster and could go further.

Women Could Ride Too!

The world wasn’t as inclusive as in the old days as it is now. But the bike gave women independence from some of the inequalities of the 1890s.

Pioneering women adopted the safety bicycle as their primary mode of transport and recreation. To do so, they ditched their long, flowing skirts and bloomers, exposing their ankles. This phenomenon divided opinion, as some newspapers devoted pages to it, while others regarded bare ankles as scandalous.

The safety bicycle gave women never-seen-before freedom of movement. This allowed women to broaden their social networks, improve their health, feel more confident, and have more of a sense of purpose.

The bike was one of the main contributors to the development of the ‘New Woman’ of the time. These women could now work outside the home, and raise awareness of women’s suffrage and social issues.

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Improved Roads Across The World

Even though the bike had come a long way since the Laufmaschine, the roads were still pretty poor. Therefore, The League of American Wheelmen was established in 1880.

Their job was to organize rides and promote the needs of cyclists when it comes to road quality. A great example of this is the Good Roads Movement. This came from the League of American Wheelmen’s advocacy for building roads that were suitable for bicycle riding.

Versions of the League of American Wheelmen were established worldwide, including many of Australia’s developing towns.

Bikes In The Twentieth Century And Beyond

At the start of the twentieth century, the bike was responsible for enabling the most significant scientific innovation of the century. 

Albert Einstein said that he conceived his General Theory of Relativity while riding his bike. So what other innovations is the bicycle responsible for without credit?

The bike became a symbol of independence, enterprise, and health throughout the twentieth century.

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People used their bikes (and still do) to access health care, schools, and colleges. They allow people to get involved with their community and make money, as they are affordable modes of transport. The many different bikes available make cycling a fast and efficient way of traveling.

You can travel twice as far on a bike than walking, twice as fast. You can even carry four times the load over pretty much any terrain.

Some countries rely on bikes, as they are far more effective at moving millions of people around in busy cities. While bikes are used more for recreation and fitness in other countries.

There are many benefits of cycling, but putting aside the economic and environmental advantages bikes bring, they are especially good for our health. Bikes are regarded as vital tools for fighting diseases and issues caused by modern-day life.

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Lack of exercise makes people unwell and sad, and these problems are becoming worse in the developed world. Therefore, getting out on your bike will improve your life in many ways, no matter what your circumstances are.

In more recent years, bike manufacturers have made some incredible innovations to enhance our riding.

Previously exotic materials such as carbon fiber are now used for frames and components. The lightweight nature of these components makes it easier to ride further and faster more efficiently, perfect for road and cross country riding.

Mountain bikes can take on any terrain due to enhanced durability and rugged suspension components. Now riders can take on big alpine terrain in remote places.

With the development of electric bikes, people have access to the terrain they could not previously get to. This isn’t just for hardcore riders but for people from all walks of life. 

Electric bikes give people with mobility issues independence and a means of staying active.

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Who Invented The Bicycle? – Answered!

The bicycle has come a long way since the Laufmaschine, and it is exciting to see how they

When answering the question of “who invented the bicycle?” It all depends on what you regard as the first bike. Was it the Laufmaschine or the velocipede?

Whichever way you see it, the bicycle has come a long way since the Laufmaschine, and it is exciting to see how they will develop in the future. But we can expect lighter, more comfortable, and faster bikes. Maybe everyone will be riding electric bikes one day, with alternative power sources? Only time will tell.

But if you want some inspiration for cycling, check out the blogs below:

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Tom is an experienced freelance cycling journalist and mountain biking expert who competed nationally in the junior ranks. Now based in the world-famous mountain biking destination of Morzine in the French Alps, Tom spends his summers shredding off-road trails by bike and his winters on the same mountains on a snowboard.

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