Little is known that the first bike was invented 200 years ago, by German aristocrat Baron Karl von Drais. On this day, 200 years ago, Baron von Drais appeared in public presenting his invention:
A wooden frame with two wheels, a saddle, and an upholstered armrest. There were no wheels, and the ‘running machine’ was to be operated by sitting and gliding with your feet on the ground. The wheels accelerated the movement and made it easier for a person to ‘run’ long distances without getting tired.
Following the Year Without a Summer, caused by a volcanic eruption of Tambora in 1815, many of the horses starved to death due to the lack of crops.
This calamity inspired the baron to think of a way that would allow people to get from one place to another faster, just like with a horse. He named his invention ‘laufmaschine’ (running machine) and translated it as ‘velocipede’ in French. (Fun fact: Many languages still use the term ‘velocipede’ for bicycle).
His new bicycle, and the only of its kind recorded by then, was soon known as Draisine, hobby-horse, or dandy horse. Baron von Drais described the benefits of his “laufmaschine” as similar to those of a horse, and it gained instant popularity.
In fact, several thousand copies were made and used since it was patented in 1818 by the baron, but its popularity faded quickly when some authorities prohibited its use. The drop in popularity may have been partly because of the accidents involved around its use.
However, Baron von Drais set the foundation for the bicycle we all know and love today. In fact, it was the Draisine which inspired a French metalworker to create the first pedal-operated bicycle, by adding cranks and pedals to the front wheel hub, some 50 years later.
It may not be the best idea to run with two wheels accelerating, but the idea soon became the bicycle and it now celebrates 200 years of riding those 2 wheels that were to replace people’s need for horses.