Two hundred years ago, in the Grand Duchy of Baden, Karl Drais tried out the "running machine" he had just invented. The date was June 14th, 1817. During the 19th century, this machine evolved in a variety of ways and developed into what we know now as a bicycle…
The mechanical mount
Frenchman Louis Joseph Dineur filed a patent for this new machine, which he called the "velocipede." However, it was poorly marketed and its users were mocked… The machine was soon subject to complex mechanical improvements, mainly involving transferring the power generated by users to the wheels via pedals.
The chain drive
In 1834, watchmaker Julien-Benjamin Roussel was the first person to try making a velocipede move using a rotating chain drive. He filed the patent on April 8, 1835 under the title "Walking vehicle with a hand-powered mechanism." Although certainly too heavy to use on the road, the idea was planted and this was the first vehicle with a chain drive to be built.
Alexandre Mercier was a mechanic from Amiens who was the first person to make use of the idea that each of a velocipede's wheels should have only one function: the front should steer and the rear should drive. Manufacturers had not previously differentiated between the 2 wheels. His mechanical mount was presented to the city mayor on the "fêtes du Roi", a festival for the king on May 1, 1843 and he filed a patent a few days later. Thus, alternate pedaling was officially invented. Indeed, today's modern bicycles are still built using the same principle as that found in Alexandre Mercier's mechanical mount.
Curiously, although the 19th century saw a boom in new inventions, it wasn't until 1853 that a mechanism for circular pedaling was developed. This allowed the smooth rotating pedaling that seems so natural to us today. It was invented by Jules Sourisseau, who filed a patent for his foot-powered crank in 1853. Sourisseau's crank was a complex mechanical metal part that was stamped, machined then assembled and mounted so it could rotate freely on bearings. It included a toe clip to stop the foot slipping off and help the user climb back on. This 1853 mechanical invention marked a key stage in the development of the bicycle.
The mechanical vehicle
In the mid-19th century, locksmith Benjamin Geslin was known for his folding iron beds and armchairs. In 1855, he was granted a patent for a mechanical vehicle. His vehicle was the first velocipede to have wheels with tension-mounted metal spokes and axles that turned on tensioners (the predecessors of bearings).
The recumbent bicycle
When it comes to what we call the horizontal, reclining, or recumbent bicycle, the trailblazers were undeniably architects Louis Alexandre Blar and François Ernest Garin. In 1857, these men filed a patent for a mechanism that used human power to drive it. The rider would sit on a reclining seat and place their feet on pedals that supported their heels and rotated around a shaft. Each pedal had a ratchet that drove a wheel fixed to the same shaft, to which the circular motion generated by the pedal was transmitted. This new mechanism was designed "for machines for raising water, threshing wheat, crushing hemp, lifting loads and cutting wood, stone, marble, etc." The horizontal bicycle as we know it was just a few steps away.
Le vélo couché by CHALLAND. Brevet d"invention de 15 ans n° déposé le pour un vélocipède perfectionné (1BB256560).Original Source: archives INPI
However, it was not until 1896 that the recumbent bicycle actually saw the light of day: on May 23, Swiss engineer Challand patented his advanced velocipede with the shape we know so well today.
The improved velocipede
Having noted the disadvantages of the pedal velocipede, now called "bicycle," École Centrale Paris graduate Charles Desnos filed a patent for "improvements to the locomotion devices known as velocipedes." He gave each wheel a unique function, as Alexandre Mercier had done. He also added 2 gears to the drive wheel (one to start off and climb hills and the other to travel at speed), and integrated the foot-powered crank. This design set the precedent for the modern bicycle with a front-steered wheel, a rear drive wheel, a step-up transmission with a belt or chain, and a gear shift in the drive.
Before becoming one of the most famous pioneers in the field of aviation, engineer Clément Ader was interested in 2-wheelers. The first in a long line of patents he filed was submitted on November 24, 1868 and concerned an improvement to the velocipede. In his application, Ader wrote: "It is currently not possible to use a velocipede at the time and place of one's choosing. We must find ways to maneuver the vehicle as easily as possible on poor terrain. I am seeking a patent of invention for a mechanism simply consisting of a band made of elastic, rubber, gutta-percha, or any other substance with similar elastic properties to be attached around the wheels of a velocipede to create a compressible layer between the ground and the vehicle." This makes Ader the first person to invent the predecessor to the modern tire.
The velocipede with independent pedals
Since Baron Drais had invented his running machine in 1817, velocipedists had been obliged to lift their legs up whenever their vehicles gathered speed, mainly when going downhill. This wasn't very practical… Nothing changed with the invention of the pedal, and in fact, matters became even worse, as the pedals spun dangerously. The first person to consider freeing the wheel by disengaging a velocipede's axle or axletree was mechanic François Nicolet. He filed his patent on May 14, 1869 for a "Velocipede with independent pedals and 2 ratchet systems installed in a bronze box fitted into the hub."
The velocipede becomes a bycicle
In business and industry, the velocipede or bicycle owed its rise to the Olivier brothers: 3 École Centrale Paris graduates from Lyon. In 1868, they founded a company with another famous velocipede manufacturer, Pierre Michaux, and called it Michaux et compagnie. Their innovations were used by most other manufacturers of the time.
The electric bicycle
Today, e-bikes or electric bicycles have started to appear on the roads, especially in major city centers. However, the idea of the electric bicycle has been around for a long time… On April 28, 1869, Joseph Marié filed a patent for a magneto-electric velocipede. Despite this, we had to wait over a century for his work to be reflected in developments in the cycling, motorbike, car, and heavy vehicle industries. Only now, in the 21st century, has the electric bike finally become a reality.
Bicycles for women
"But men think only of themselves! If a woman wanted to engage in such exercise, even in rural solitude, she would make a fool of herself by riding on such a mount." With these gentlemanly words, Emile Viarengo de Forville, Italian consul to Nantes, came up with the idea of creating a new velocipede for women. It was 1871.
The sidesaddle bicycle
With his first patent for a women's bike granted, Emile Viarengo threw himself into making several improvements. In 1874, these led to a new patent for a sidesaddle bicycle with rear-wheel drive.
The Peugeot speed bicycle
"We need to look at making velocipedes and tricycles!" Thus spoke Armand Peugeot, one of the directors of the "Les fils de Peugeot frères" company, as he brought his board meeting to a close on June 6, 1885. Later that year, on December 12, Peugeot filed its first patent in this area, and an important one at that. A 2-speed gearshift was integrated into the bicycle hub, which operated directly via the bottom bracket or indirectly via 2 endless chains and a set of step-up sprockets.
Des pieds et des mains Des pieds et des mains by James VALÈRE. Brevet d'invention déposé le 28.03.1892 pour un système de propulsion des vélocipèdes au moyen des pieds et des deux mains, permettant une augmentation de vitesse; le tout combiné avec un dispositif de direction par les deux mains (1BB220459).Original Source: archives INPI
Hands and feet
The original 1818 velocipede was designed to make running easier and more efficient by supporting the user's weight. This optimized the action of the legs, however, there was no way to use the arms to help with propulsion. In 1892, James Valère filed a patent for a velocipede propulsion system that used both feet and hands to increase speed, and had a mechanism for steering using both hands. During testing, he met cyclist and future automobile and aviation pioneer Henri Farman and suggested a race. After 330 yards, Farman had fallen behind and couldn't catch up… Although this was big news, the new machine was too complex and expensive, did not achieve the success expected, and never made it into industrial production.
A chainless transmission is, as its name suggests, a system that transmits movement without a chain. By extension, a bicycle using this system is called a chainless bike. A company called Malicet et Blin, founded by Paul Malicet and Eugène Blin, patented the principle on October 22, 1895. The system was protected from mud and dust by a casing, which also kept the cyclist's clothing and calves out of the terrible rotating jaws. Although stronger, the chainless system was heavier, more complex, and needed more energy than a chain to power it. It did not achieve the success expected. That said, today's manufacturers are taking a renewed interest in the idea.
From 1886, velocipedes used endless chains to convert the rider's power into movement, resulting in the first speed bikes. However, there was no mechanism to move the chain from one sprocket to another. The first person to make a derailleur that enabled the chain to move sideways was Jean Loubeyre, who filed a patent on February 15, 1895 for a bicycle that could change gears while in motion. A simple rotating fork with springs operated by a double lever and 2 rods moved the chain sideways from one sprocket to another and back again. Later, Jean Baptiste Panel (known as Joanny) and Louis Bouiller, who were both associated with Saint-Etienne, modernized the Loubeyre derailleur and filed a new patent in 1912. This system endured and lead to the creation of modern derailleurs.
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in collaboration with Bernard Gougaud, Didier Mahistre and Claude Reynaud