There are over 2 billion bicycles in the world today. Over 60 percent of these were made in China. The first bicycle ride was taken on a Laufmaschine or draisienne on 12th June 1817 at Mannheim in Germany by Karl Freiherr von Drais, a prolific inventor who also developed the earliest typewriter. The apparatus would later becaome known in England as the hobby horse (after the children’s toy). In 1839 a Scottish blacksmith called Kirkpatrick Macmillan recognised it was possible to balance on two wheels mounted consecutively whilst in motion and he developed the first mechanically propelled bicycle. During this time the earliest bicycles (including more-than-two-wheel machines) were limited in their use by the condition of the roads which were still pitted and potholed by horse-drawn traffic despite the advances in road construction introduced by John Loudon Macadam and Thomas Telford.
By the 1860’s two Frenchmen, Ernest Michaux and Pierre Lallement had developed the first pedal driven bicycle. The 1870’s saw the introduction of the high-wheel bicycles (including the ‘penny farthing’) which could thus generate a little more speed. The 1880’s saw the development of the ‘safety’ bicycle – so called because they were the first bicycles that could be ridden comparatively safely – all that had gone before being considered dangerous toys for flashy young me. The first of these, the ‘Rover’ was built by John Kemp Starley in 1885 and this changed the whole outlook for the bicycle thereafter. By the 1890’s another Scotsman, John Boyd Dunlop, had invented the pneumatic tyre in Belfast.
The twentieth century saw the introduction of the Roadster and bicycles that ladies could ride without their skirts catching in the chain drive; the use of bicycles declined dramatically in the US in the first half of the century whilst the opposite happened in Europe and elsewhere. In China, the Flying Pigeon brand was selling 3 million units in 1986 and there was still a waiting list for several years. During the last 50 years the explosion in cycle popularity has been phenomenal to the point that there are now probably more cyclists on the road in Britain than at any time since the Second World War – and most of those cyclists today are cycling for pleasure rather than necessity. The development of advanced materials and computer aided design (CAD) has led to the greatest advance in cycle design and efficiency and this in turn has led to people enjoying cycling as a sport or recreation rather than a necessity to get to work or to the local shop. We have seen the introduction of lightweight racing bikes, BMX bikes, mountain bikes, balloon tyre cruiser bikes, recumbent bikes folding bikes, electric bikes and many other types.
Whilst in the less developed world today the bicycle is not only a vital and affordable means of transport for millions but also a means of carriage of goods for sale or to market for some of the poorest. The bicycle has also become articulated to provide a form of fee-paying passenger conveyance in many poorer countries.