Iowa is known for many things: the butter cow, John Wayne, ethanol, and the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). On July 20th, 8,500 riders will mount their two-wheeled pedal machines to cover more than 400 miles in one week. Would this have been possible without the engineering feats of light-weight carbon fiber materials, multiple-speed performance gears, durable traction wheels and brakes, and ergonomically adjustable handle bars and seat posts?
The earliest sketch of a bicycle-like machine was drawn in 1493 by a student of Leonardo da Vinci. However, the earliest claim to a two-wheel “running machine” was called the Draisine, named for its inventor, Karl von Drais. who patented his wood-built, steerable design in 1818. Soon after, Denis Johnson of London patented a similar version called the “velocipede” or “pedestrian curricle.” The rider walked or ran on top of the two-wheel machine. It commonly was referred to as the “hobby-horse” since it was an alternative to riding a horse as a means of transportation.
In 1863, a French metalworker, Pierre Lallement, introduced the first crank and pedal-operated serpentine-frame velocipede. His 1866 U.S. patented design became the basis for the first popular and commercially successful “bicycle.” By the 1890s, continued improvements had been made to the steering, safety, comfort and speed of the bicycle design, as well as the addition of the chain-drive from the front wheel hub to the rear.
By the start of the 20th century, cycling had become a viable and popular means of transportation. Mass production increased its affordability and recreational riding clubs formed. Susan B. Anthony coined the phrase “freedom machine” because the bicycle gave women unprecedented mobility. It also reshaped the women’s fashion industry since corsets and angle-length skirts encumbered riding.
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Lallement, Piekre. Improvement in velocipedes. U.S. Patent 59, 915, November 20, 1866 (Google Patents)
Cycles — Safety requirements for bicycles —