200 Years of Bicycle History
The first cycling tour in the world was nearly 8.5 miles long and took place 200 years ago. On June 12, 1817, Karl Freiherr von Drais rode on his new invention, the running machine, from Mannheim almost to Schwetzingen and back again. This excursion on the predecessor to the bicycle is regarded as the birth of personal mobility. Until then, traveling anywhere without riding or being pulled along by an animal was impossible. With his running machine, Drais—who was only 32 at the time—had invented something that has proved invincible to this day. To mark the 200th anniversary of this maiden voyage, until June 25, 2017, the TECHNOSEUM is hosting the Baden-Württemberg Federal State Exhibition entitled 2 Wheels—200 Years. Freiherr von Drais and the History of the Bicycle.
walking machine (1986) by Elser, Tilmann, Landesmuseum für Technik und Arbeit, MannheimTechnoseum - State Museum of Technology and Work in Mannheim
Did Drais have any idea of how his invention of the running machine would develop, when he set out on his maiden ride from Mannheim on June 12, 1817? We will never know. But what we do know today is that the 32-year-old had made a groundbreaking discovery.
Drais was ahead of his time and he and his running machine encountered a great deal of opposition. One reason why the running machine did not become widely established was that it was very expensive to buy. Drais was an inventor with ideas for which there was hardly a market and a marketing expert with brilliant notions for which the 19th century was not yet ready.
The running machine was frequently copied without Drais gaining any benefit. Without any effective patent protection, his efforts were largely useless.
Running machines patented by Johnson were built in considerable numbers. However, unlike the original, they had neither the self-stabilizing caster mechanism nor brakes.
Running machines were frequently copied without Drais gaining any benefit. Instead, he faced a great deal of opposition. Even in Mannheim, use of the Draisine, an early form of bicycle, was banned, first on sidewalks and later throughout the city. It was to be nearly 70 years before he was recognized as a brilliant inventor.
Both a Piece of Sports Equipment and a Mode of Transport for the Masses
It was not until about 40 years after they were invented that the running machines were further developed. Treadle-driven bicycles began their takeover of the world in 1867. Bigger front wheels meant you could go faster and faster. High-wheel bicycles or penny-farthings were elegant but dangerous. The alternative was a safety bicycle. The bicycle in the basic form in which it survives to this day, with equally sized wheels, a chain drive, and a four-sided frame, emerged in 1888. A product which had been crafted by hand began to be manufactured on an industrial scale. At first, it was still expensive, and was used for sport by young bourgeois men and a few bold women. After 1900, prices began to come down and it became a mode of transport for the masses, the subject of a wave of enthusiasm. Cycling clubs had many members and organized meetings and excursions, with races being extremely popular.
A heavyweight with a cast iron frame and wooden wheels. Even the long spring under the saddle did not make the ride particularly comfortable. There was good reason why it was called the boneshaker.
Metal wheel rims and spokes reduced the weight and the moving mass of the front wheel.
Rubber tires had better road-holding capability than the iron tires of the earlier treadle-powered bicycles.
A handcrafted product began to be manufactured on an industrial scale. At first, the safety bicycle remained expensive, used for sport by young bourgeois men and a few bold women. After 1900, prices began to come down and it became a mode of transport for the masses, the subject of a wave of enthusiasm. Cycling clubs had many members and organized meetings and excursions, with races being extremely popular.
In structure, this bicycle is still treadle-driven, but the proportions are like those of a penny-farthing. With the larger front wheel and solid rubber tires, it was faster and more comfortable to ride than its predecessors.
For anyone who found penny-farthings too dangerous, tricycles offered a safer option. They were also a welcome alternative for women who loved cycling. It was not so much about lack of spirit, more that their clothing did not allow anything else.
The Eagle was the last attempt to reduce the risk of falling from a penny-farthing by altering its design. It is also the only American model with a rotating pedal system.
The Swallow, with its semicircular frame and curvaceous handlebar, was an early designer bicycle that also boasted impressive suspension.
Air-filled tires were one of the most important inventions for all road traffic. They were first used on bicycles, then motorbikes and cars followed suit later.
Hickory is a North American tree in the walnut family. This elegant bicycle is made from hickory wood, including the wheel rims and handlebar grips. Metal was only used where it was structurally necessary.
A luxury model of a ladies' bicycle: the rear wheel is driven by a shaft rather than the usual chain. Striking features of the bicycle include its external band brake, wooden wheel rims, and decorative stickers on the elegant frame.
Pneumatic bicycle with single-tube frame. The wide handlebar makes it easier to ride slowly or to maintain balance when carrying children.
A folding bicycle used by the Italian army: the wheels are interchangeable, the tires are solid rubber, and the front wheel brake is on the inside. It has metal rings for fastening a carrying strap and carbine to the frame.
Legendary racing bike from the 1920s. Features include a Torpedo backpedaling brake hub with two gears. The chain is moved by hand.
The agricultural machinery manufacturer Lanz, based in Mannheim, began making bicycles at its Schwarzwaldwerke company in Vöhrenbach in 1927. Production came to an end in 1937.
This ladies' bicycle already has a freewheel. However, it has no chain guard, an essential item in view of the long skirts.
From Guarantee of Mobility to Car Accessory
During the later years of the Second World War, bicycle manufacture in Germany came to an almost complete standstill. After the end of the war, the purchase and use of bicycles was subject to controls by the occupying forces. However, they were still in great demand. By 1949, production was back up at over a million bicycles. Soon, though, consumers' preferences began to shift from push-bikes to motorized two-wheelers and then, in the 1960s, to cars. Only children's and teenager's bicycles sold in significant numbers. Numerous manufacturers disappeared from the market. Two special models brought about an upturn for the bicycle. The folding bike introduced at the end of the 1960s was more or less a car accessory, while a short time later the Bonanza bike was popular with young people who were not yet old enough to ride a scooter.
Even in the 1960s, tradesmen and shopkeepers still liked to deliver their goods quickly and cheaply by cargo bike. Normally it would be the apprentice who would perform that task.
It is thought that only 43 examples of this motorized bike were made. The cylinder capacity is 2 cubic inches (34 cm3), and the output 0.9 hp. Because the motor weighed 14.3 pounds (6.5 kg), it took some time to get used to riding and steering the bicycle.
The desire for a mechanical tailwind for bicycles goes back a long way, and the solutions were often bizarre, as shown by this suspended, flexible auxiliary motor. The maximum speed was 15.5 mph (25 km/h).
This model, made of aluminum alloy, reverted to the cross-shaped frame used in the early years of the safety bicycle.
This fully chrome-plated men's bicycle with aluminum wheel rims cost 302 German marks in 1951 and was therefore only sold in small numbers.
It could hardly have had a more suitable name. The Auto Velo (Car Bike) folded up to fit in the car's trunk. However, riding it was a challenge, even over short distances.
This folding bike made by the English designer Alex Moulton came on to the market in 1962. With a trellis frame, high-pressure tires, and 10 gears, the model met the highest technical standards.
The name Bonanza came from the manufacturer and was used by Neckermann, a German mail order company, for marketing purposes. In around 1970, it was the dream bike for all young boys, but the euphoria evaporated as quickly as it had come.
The history of the bicycle is characterized by constant fluctuations in its popularity. Motorization and the Economic Miracle after the Second World War sidelined it and many bicycle factories had to close. To ensure its survival, the bicycle industry relied on making folding bikes or bikes for children and teenagers such as the Bonanza bike. However, the oil crisis in 1973 brought about another change: in the light of the recognition that fossil fuels are finite and that city centers were at risk of gridlock, new social and political movements like the Green Party were established. In the 1980s, the fitness trend reached Europe from the USA and the bicycle became a popular mode of transport once again. It is now also highly valued as a fashionable accessory and an expression of an individual lifestyle. At the same time, it is the focus of attention for city planners and ecologists looking for a solution to heavy traffic in urban centers.
This sporty model from Bianchi is remarkable for its simplified, lightweight construction. The racing bike is painted in the color Celeste, a pale turquoise that is inseparably linked with the Italian bicycle manufacturer.
In the early 1980s, children and young people in particular loved the colorful BMX bikes. They were so sturdily constructed that they could withstand even jumps from quite a height and the boldest of stunts.
Roadworthiness reduced in favor of minimalist design. Composed of various components from racing bikes, single-speed bikes reflect the individualist personalities of their owners.
Technoseum— State Museum for Technology and Labor in Mannheim