Bicycles: Old, New & Recycled!
Since the early 19th century inventors have been coming up with ideas for man-powered wheeled vehicles. Now, with our sophisticated, well-designed, safe bicycles some of these early efforts really make you smile! The “Running Machine”, also known as “The Dandy Horse” or “Hobby Horse”, was propelled along by the rider pushing himself along with his feet on the ground. Invented by Karl von Drais in 1818, it was difficult and dangerous to manoeuvre having no steering mechanism or brakes. However, it was a start! Pedals seemed to be the answer – if only to save on shoe wear! And during the next few years pedals were introduced and also safer ways of travelling along. In 1850 a three-wheeler was produced for a more stable ride. However, the search for a real bicycle, as opposed to tricycle, was still on and in 1860 the first true bicycle was invented. The inventors, Ernest Michaux and Pierre Lallement, called it the Velocipede. It included crank and pedals, but still no brakes!
BHM The Velocipede
The Velocipede seemed to be on the right track (as it were), but then in 1870 for some bizarre reason British engineer James Starley invented the Penny Farthing. Named after two coins, it was extremely difficult to get on and off and very unstable. Even though a failure as far as forwarding bicycle design was concerned, this is the early bicycle that most people know about as it was so distinctive, quite popular (and crazy!).
The famous Penny Farthing
But what about brakes? Finally, in 1873 James Kean invented a front wheel brake and then bicycles became even safer with the suitably named Safety Bike invented by the nephew of James Starley, John Kemp Starley. This unlike the Penny Farthing, had two wheels the same size and therefore more efficient and safer. It also had a rear wheel connected and driven by a chain.
Until towards the end of the 19th century cycling had been very much male-dominated. This was mainly because women’s long, heavy skirts at that time made it extremely difficult. Then the Betty Bloomers were invented! Named after Amelia Bloomer, an advocate of women’s rights, they were a style of clothing that utilised a shorter skirt worn over a pair of “Turkish trousers” or pantaloons. This was the answer to women’s cyclists’ prayers but caused the clergy to pray even more fervently and to denounce women cycling as unladylike, unchristian, and a disgrace to the church. And it wasn’t only the clergy who were horrified: it was generally thought that women riding bicycles were indecent and vulgar, particularly those who wore Betty Bloomers! Times have certainly changed!
And the future? Electric bikes were pioneered at the beginning of the 21st century and now solar powered bikes, invented Miroslav Miljevic, are found to be perfect for commuters: they can leave their bike outside all day and won't have to pedal home.
Cycling is undoubtedly becoming more and more popular. People are aware of the health benefits and the fact it is a pollution-free mode of transport. There are more bike races and sponsored bike rides than ever, and the Tour de France grows in popularity every year. People certainly love cycling!
People also seem to love our recycled bicycles! Two of our best-selling products are the Racing Bike and the Classic Bike handmade from tin cans by artisans employed by the Fair Trade organisation Bezalila in Madagascar. Check them out and other product made from bike parts!