Engineering the Bicycle

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?

original pedal-driven bicycle
The original pedal-driven bicycle (velocipede) as it appears in Pierre Lallement’s U.S. Patent No. 59,915 of 1866.

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.



Bicycle Design book coverBicycle design : an illustrated history / Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing ; with contributions from Nick Clayton and Gary W. Sanderson. Cambridge, Massachusetts : The MIT Press, [2014] (eLibrary)

Bicycle Design by Mike BurrowsBicycle design : the search for the perfect machine / Mike Burrows with Tony Hadland. London : Snowbooks Ltd., 2008. (Engineering Library TL410 .B8 2008)

Bike, Scooter and Chopper Projects book cover

Bike, scooter, and chopper projects for the evil genius / Brad Graham, Kathy McGowan.  New York : McGraw-Hill, c2008. (Engineering Library TL400 .G689 2008)

TThe Racing Bicycle book coverhe racing bicycle : design, function, speed / foreword by Robert Penn ; general editors, Richard Moore, Daniel Benson. New York : Universe, 2013. (Engineering Library TL437.5 .R63 2013)

Racing Bicycles book coverRacing bicycles : 100 years of steel / David Rapley ; [photography by Susie Latham]. Mulgrave, Vic. : Images Publishing Group Pty, 2012. (Engineering Library TL410 .R37 2012)

Cyclepedia book cover

Cyclepedia :
a century of iconic bicycle design
Michael Embacher ; foreword by Paul Smith ; photographs by Bernard Angerer.  San Francisco : Chronicle Books, 2011. (Engineering Library FOLIO Tl410 .E43 2011)


LaFrance, Adrienne. “How the Bicycle Paved the Way for Women’s Rights.” The Atlantic [serial online], June 26 2014.

Lallement, Piekre. Improvement in velocipedes. U.S. Patent 59, 915, November 20, 1866 (Google Patents)

Cycles — Safety requirements for bicycles —

Part 1: Terms and definitions — First Edition, ISO 4210-1 July 1, 2014 (14 pages)

Part 2: Requirements for city and trekking, young adult, mountain and racing bicycles — First Edition, ISO 4210-2 July 1, 2014 (42 pages)

Part 3: Common test methods — First Edition, ISO 4210-3 July 1, 2104 (16 pages)

Part 4: Braking test methods — First Edition, ISO 4210-4 March 20, 2014 (36 pages)

Part 5: Steering test methods — First Edition, ISO 4210-5 July 1, 2014 (20 pages)

Part 6: Frame and fork test methods — First Edition, ISO 4210-6 July 1, 2014 (32 pages)

Part 7: Wheels and rims test methods — First Edition, ISO 4210-7 March 20, 2014 (14 pages)

Part 8: Pedal and drive system test methods — First Edition, ISO 4210-8 July 1 2014 (16 pages)

Part 9: Saddles and seat-post test methods — First Edition, ISO 4210-9 March 20, 2014 (14 pages)