The History of the bicycle design
There are several unverified claims on the origin of the bicycle design dating from as far as the 1500s. The first verifiable and reputable claim to a practically used bicycle was by Baron Karl Von Drais, a civil servant from Germany, in 1817. It was dubbed ‘draisienne’ by the press, Karl got his bicycle patent in 1818.
It was the first commercially made machine with two wheels that were connected by a central bar. The rider would straddle the frame while steering and propelling themselves along by pushing their feet against the ground. Commonly referred to as the velocipede or dandy horse, it was constructed mostly of wood and brass. Initially manufactured in Germany and France, the draisienne weighed 22kg with a 152mm trail of the front wheel for better-centering effect.
However, it became unpopular due to associated accidents and such quick wear and tear of shoe soles. The current design we all know is due to the slow evolution of Drais' design. It moved from being human propelled to being mechanically propelled, most notably in 1839 by adding a mechanical crank driven system to its rear wheel. This first two-wheeled vehicle was designed by a Scottish blacksmith called Kirkpatrick Macmillan.
Around 1863 a simpler design than Macmillan's was made. It was more commercially successful as it had rotary cranks and pedals which were mounted on the front wheel. Around the same time in France, it was claimed that Pierre Lallement created the pedal bicycle. He filed the earliest and only front peddle driven bicycle patent in 1866. His bicycle patent art shows the rotary and pedal mounted to the front wheel hub and a thin piece of iron over the top of the frame that acts as a spring supporting the seat for a comfortable ride. The bicycle was made of metal frames to reduce its overall weight and give it a more elegant design with easier mass production.
Propelling the machine at a high speed was made easier by the pedals, however, it was difficult to pedal the wheel used for steering. This led to rotational speed limitations and stability concerns. In 1868 Michaux et Cie (Michaux and Company) was the first company to mass produce bicycles. They replaced the wooden frame with two irons cast together. These cast iron frames tended to break leading to complaints due to the expensive prices of bicycles. These frames were replaced by diagonal ones that were more sturdy.
Later improvements such as solid rubber tires and ball bearings and hollow section steel frames were made. In 1885 John Kemp Starley created his first ‘safety bicycle’ which – surprisingly - he never patented. This design is the most similar to the common pedal bikes we see today.
In 1889, Isaac R. Johnson lodged his patent for a folding bicycle. This has many aspects that we recognize in modern day - with its modern diamond frame, a drive mounted on the non-steering rear and pneumatic tires. These improvements allowed for better comfort and speed, smooth injury free pedaling and easier rotation. Its frame design was also simpler to construct hence lower priced.