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200 years in the making

 

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A couple of weeks ago I went for a quick road ride to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the invention of the bicycle.

In 1815 the eruption of Tambora created an ash cloud that lowered global temperatures by as much as 3 degrees. Summer didn’t happen in Europe, crops failed, and horses became part of the menu rather than a means of transport. German inventor Baron Karl von Drais needed some way of getting around, and may have been influenced by the catastrophe when he came up with his Laufmachine (running machine) to replace his horse.

On 12 June 1817 von Drais mounted his wooden beast and rode it on a return journey of 9 miles, covering the distance in about a quarter of the time it would take a pedestrian. His device was barely a bike, but it did have two wheels in line and became popular for both riders fairly quickly after that, lawmakers. The wooden wheels were hard to manage on rutted roads, and pedestrians didn’t like sharing footpaths with riders.

By 1820 Laufmaschines were outlawed in major cities from Paris to Calcutta, which shows that there were people everywhere who wanted to ride bikes, and there were people who didn’t like bike riders as soon as they became a thing.

Bike riding languished for half a century, and then became popular again through a series of improvements that made bicycles the most efficient means of transport ever created.

Inventions made to improve bikes have improved life generally.

Inflatable rubber tyres. Ball bearings. Roller chains. Tension spoked wheels. All great ideas developed to make bike riding better.

And since last century, Nzo Dobies.