The bicycle was not invented by one individual or in one country. It took nearly 100 years and many individuals for the modern bicycle to be born. By the end of those 100 years, bicycles had revolutionized the way people travel from place to place.
Bicycles first appeared in Scotland in the early 1800s, and were called velocipedes. These early bicycles had two wheels, but they had no pedals. The rider sat on a pillow and walked his feet along the ground to move his velocipede forward.
Soon a French inventor added pedals to the front wheel. Instead of walking their vehicles, riders used their feet to run the pedals. However, pedaling was hard because velocipedes were very heavy. The framework was made of solid steel tubes and the wooden wheels were covered with steel. Even so, velocipedes were popular among rich young men, who raced them in Paris parks.
Because of the velocipedes were so hard to ride, no one thought about using them for transportation. People didn’t ride velocipedes to the market or to their jobs. Instead, people thought velocipedes were just toys.
Around 1870, American manufacturers saw that velocipedes were very popular overseas. They began building velocipedes, too, but with one difference. They made the frameworks from hollow steel tubes. This alteration made velocipedes much lighter, but riders still had to work hard to pedal just a short distance. In addition, roads were bumpy so steering was difficult. In fact, most riders preferred indoor tracks where they could rent a velocipede for a small fee and take riding lessons.
Subsequent changes by British engineers altered the wheels to make pedaling more efficient. They saw that when a rider turned the pedals once, the front wheel turned once. If the front wheel was small, the bicycle traveled just a small distance with each turn. They reasoned that if the front wheel were larger, the bicycle would travel a greater distance. So they designed a bicycle with a giant front wheel. They made the rear wheel small. Its primary purpose was to help the rider balance. Balancing was hard because the rider had to sit high above the giant front wheel in order to reach the pedals.
This meant he was in danger of falling off the bicycle and injuring himself if he lost his balance. Despite this inherent danger, “high wheelers” became very popular in England.
American manufacturers once again tried to design a better bicycle. Their goal was to make a safer bicycle. They substituted a small wheel for the giant front wheel and put the driving mechanism in a r larger rear to wheel. It would be impossible for a rider to pedal the rear wheel, so engineers designed a system of foot levers. By pressing first the right one and then the left, the rider moved a long metal bar up and down. This bar turned the rear axle1. This axle turned the rear wheel and the bicycle minimized the dangers inherent in bicycle riding, more and more people began using bicycles in their daily activities.
The British altered the design one last time. They made the two wheels equal in size and created a mechanism that uses a chain to turn the rear wheel. With this final change, the modern bicycle was born.
Subsequent improvements, such as brakes, rubber tires, and lights were added to make bicycles more comfortable to ride. By 1900, bicycle riding had become very popular with men and women of all ages. Bicycles revolutionized the way people worldwide ride bicycles for transportation, enjoyment, sport, and exercise.
'axle the center bar of a wheel