The History of Bicycles
The History of Bicycles

Before we begin describing the history of bicycles, I have to note that for some, the question of “who invented the bicycle” may have no clear answer. The main reason for this is that there is no solid agreement on the question of what bicycles can we call “the first bicycles”.

Tip: The book Bicycle: The History gives a great overview of the bicycle’s illustrious history.

The History of Bicycles

In this widely acclaimed historical study, author David Herlihy not just discusses the technological innovations and talented engineers involved in the invention of the modern bicycle, but also gives some fantastic insight into the social impact of the bicycle’s introduction.

It’s a well-rounded, balanced study of this machine’s glorious past and is a must-read for anyone hoping to learn more about the history of bicycles.

The First Bicycle

History of Bicycles

The history of bicycles started in France during 1790 by Comte Mede de Sivrac. At that time, the earliest bicycles were invented: It was a wooden scooter. In 1816, a steering bar was added to the front wheel by Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun, of Germany, Still no pedals, but it had 2 similar wheels.

The first bicycle with actual foot pedals was designed by Kirkpatrick MacMillan from Scotland in the 1830 to 1840’s, but he never patented it and his idea did not catch on locally.

Many early bicycles (Starting 1860 by Pierre and Ernest Michaux from France) had huge front wheels. During 1880’s some modern components, such as chain with sprockets and air-filled tires were invented.

The derailleur gears were added only about 100 years later, in the 1970’s.

Mountain Bikes

History of Bicycles - Mountain bicycles

Although the term “mountain bicycle” first appeared in print in 1966 (a major step forward in the history of bicycles), the first mass-produced mountain bikes did not appear until the early 1980s.

Early versions of mountain bikes were actually heavy modified cruiser bikes used for riding down mountain trails.

Downhill Mountain Bikes

History of Bicycles - Downhill Mountain Bikes

The first downhill mountain bike time-trial race took place in Fairfax, California in 1976. By 1979, a company was founded which named the sport Mountain Bikes.

As mountain biking grew during the 1980s, downhill riders continued to use rigid or limited suspension bicycles. Bicycles specifically made for downhill mountain biking were not made until the 1990s.

BMX Bicycles

History of Bicycles - BMX bicycles

BMX mountain biking started in the early 1970s as children raced their bikes on dirt tracks in Southern California to imitate motor cross superstars popular at the time. BMX racing was a phenomenon by the mid 1970s and the first BMX world championships were held in 1981.

Folding Bicycles

History of Bicycles - Folding bikes

Military interest in folding bicycles began in the 1890s and in 1900 a folding version was developed. Folding bikes were used by British paratroopers during the Second World War between 1939 and 1945.

Tandem Bikes

History of Bicycles - Tandem bicycles

Patents show that two-rider tandem bicycles were first developed in the late 1890s. They became trendy rather quickly, but their popularity started to decline after World War II.

In the 1970s, Santana Cycles, the world’s leading manufacturer of tandem bicycles, instigated a tandem revival.

Cruiser Bicycles

History of Bicycles - Cruiser bicycles

Cruiser bicycles were first developed during the Great Depression when sales of other bicycle declined drastically. Cruisers remained popular during the 1930s and 40s and gained even greater post-World War II success in the 1950s.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a resurgence of popularity for collecting vintage cruisers began, and reproductions of classic cruisers hit the market in the mid-1990s.

Chainless Bicycles

History of Bicycles - Chainless bicycles

No doubt, within several years, the invention of the Chainless Bicycles will also add to the history of bicycles.

There are several types of chainless bicycles, including: Shaft-driven bicycles (first developed in the 1890s), Belt-driven bicycles (first introduced in the early 1980s and mass-produced in the late 1980s) and Hybrid bicycles (patented in 1975 as a prototype).

Triathlon Bicycles

History of Bicycles - Triathlon bicycles

Although triathlons are considered by some to have started in France in the 1920s, the first modern swim / bike/ run event to be called a ‘triathlon’ was held in San Diego, California in 1974

In recent years, special triathlon bicycles were introduced, revolving from their ancestors, the road racing bicycles.

Electric Bicycles

History of Bicycles - Electric bicycles

Electric bicycles were first seen in the 1890s: a patent was granted for a battery-powered bicycle in 1895 and by 1897 an electric bicycle propelled by a double electric motor was developed.

A rear wheel drive electric bicycle was invented in 1898, and improvements continued to be made. By the late 1990s, approximately 50 different commercial electric bicycles were on the market.

Books About The History of Bicycles

More information about the History of Bicycles can be found on several informative books. Take a look:

The History of Bicycles
The History of Bicycles
The History of Bicycles
History of Bicycles

“Everyone makes mistakes. The trick is to make them when nobody is looking.”
(Unknown Author)


The History of Bicycles – Where it All Began? — 1 Comment

  1. I have a Hawthorne/Montgomery Wards open roads three wheel/three speed that I’m restoring. The problem is that I can’t seem to find any info and pictures of what this bike looked like new. Can anyone help me out here?

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