There may be few things truly as GREEN as a bicycle, and May just happens to be National Bicycle Month.
Early designs of a bicycle appeared in 1817 when Baron von Drais enjoyed his royal gardens while using the "Walking Machine" (according to www.pedalinghistory.com). The contraption had two in-line wheels of the same size with the front one steerable and a person simply straddled the frame.
The walking machine was propelled forward by the pushing of feet against the ground, thus rolling the person forward in a sort of gliding walk; much like a Flintstones cartoon car. The machine became known as a Draisienne, or hobbyhorse. It was made entirely of wood deeming it very uncomfortable.
In 1865, pedals were applied directly to the front wheel. This was called a velocipede, for “fast foot.” Riding this vehicle on cobblestone roads was extremely uncomfortable, since it was still made entirely of wood. The fancy name fell off quickly as it became known as “The Boneshaker.”
Entering the Victorian era in 1870, the vision of the first bicycle with the large front wheel and small back wheel appears. Metal is now strong enough to make small parts and this is the first all metal machine. The pedals remain on the front wheel; however, now rubber tires replace wooden wheels.
During the 1880s, the front wheel was made as large as a young man's leg was long, as makers realized that the larger the wheel – the smoother the ride. Young men found the bicycle a wonderful way to show their grace and wealth to the young ladies. Bicycles were expensive and cost an average worker six month's pay. To put that in perspective, if the average salary in Kansas City is now $50,000 per year, this would translate to the equivalent of a $25,000 bicycle!
Ladies and gentlemen began riding safer tricycles that had a small wheel either in the front or back, and two large wheels opposite. These models were safe, fast, and quite comfortable. Ladies could ride these three-wheeled versions in their long dresses and corsets.
Then in 1898, there was a history-making change: an Irish veterinarian first applied the pneumatic tire to the bicycle. He was trying to make his son's tricycle more comfortable. The doctor's name was Dunlop. (Sound familiar?)
The safety of the tricycle and the comfort of the tire now came in one package; and the package kept getting cheaper as manufacturing methods improved and everyone wanted a bicycle with pneumatic tires.
Bicycling was so popular in the 1880s and 1890s that cyclists formed the League of American Wheelman which is still in existence today, now called the League of American Bicyclists. It was this group that helped to designate May as National Bike Month in 1956. The special designation for this month is an opportunity to celebrate the bicycle and the many reasons we ride. Bicycling can save you time and money; it can preserve your health and the environment. It can be a great way to spend time with family, friends, or just by yourself.
Reach Lynn Youngblood at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.