Flashback Friday: 10 Inventions That Changed Cycling

In this week’s Flashback Friday we bring you an article from Road.cc. Written by cycling journalist John Stevenson, the article covers several inventions from the past 200 years that have combined to give us the modern bicycle.

Cycling Revolutions: 10 Brilliant Inventions That Changed The Bicycle Forever

by: John Stevenson

The Design Museum ran an exhibition in 2016 called ‘Cycle Revolution’ that celebrated major steps in cycling technology. But its selections, while unarguably interesting, didn’t really represent the revolutionary stages in the history of the bike. Here are the inventions that truly revolutionised cycling.

The Laufmaschine

The spark of genius that started it all landed in the head of German inventor Karl Drais in about 1817. (Technically he was Baron Karl Von Drais at the time, but his radical political leanings meant he later dropped the title.)

Europe had had several years of poor harvests, pushing up the cost of oats and making it prohibitively expensive to keep horses for transport.

Searching for a replacement that didn’t need feeding, Drais hit upon an idea he called the Laufmaschine (running machine), later known as velocipede, draisine, hobby horse or dandy horse. The rider sat astride a crossbar between two wheels and pushed along the ground to go forwards. It was exactly like a modern kid’s balance bike.

Drais’ genius was in realising – or discovering – that two wheels in a line would not simply fall over if there was a steering mechanism for the front wheel, but would be relatively stable once in motion. To demonstrate his device’s merits, he completed the 15km round trip from Mannheim to Schwetzingen and back in a little over an hour.

Unfortunately, early 19th century roads were too rutted for the Laufmaschine to be practical for any distance, even though Drais had shown it to be quicker than walking on good surfaces. Riders used the sidewalks instead, and governments reacted to pedestrian anger at the influx of fast-moving dandies by banning the machine.


The idea of two-wheeled transport slept for about forty years until the 1860s when bicycles with pedal-driven front wheels appeared in Paris and the Eastern USA. Exactly whose idea this was is still a subject of research among cycling historians but it’s clear that Rene Olivier and his brothers, and a young French mechanic named Pierre Lallement were among the pioneers.

Pedal drive meant the rider didn’t touch the ground at all while riding, a phenomenon that amazed contemporary onlookers. With the blacksmith Pierre Michaux as figurehead, the Olivier brothers orchestrated a craze for bicycles in Paris, while American makers of bikes based on Lallement’s design struggled to keep up with demand.

Pedals freed riders from the cumbersome action of pushing along the ground and allowed speeds of 12 mph, and more with larger wheels. A vehicle we’d recognize as a bicycle had arrived.

The Tension-Spoked Wheel

Wheels with wire spokes under tension were invented in 1808 by aeronautical engineer George Cayley, but their first successful commercial use was on bicycles, an application for which Eugene Meyer was awarded a patent in 1869.

Wire wheels were substantially lighter than solid-spoked wheels, which made bicycles a compelling application, especially as wheel sizes grew to provide riders with a higher gear for faster riding. As with bearings, chains and high-strength steel, cycling applications drove the development of wheel technology.

For the rest of the article visit: Road.cc