Cycles - Then and Now

This page looks at some of the cycles produced in our time. The term "cycles" is used in the broadest sense, to refer to any transport device not intended for multi-passenger use.


Picture of first bike, the "boneshaker" velocipede
Picture of a penny-farthing bike
Picture of a typical bike a few years ago
Typical 1950's bike
Picture of modern bike with shock absorbers
Modern mountain bike

The first bicycle, the "boneshaker" was built around 1860. Bikes were referred to as velocipedes.
Around 1866 the "penny-farthing" was built, with a huge front wheel and a tiny rear wheel. The intention was to cover more distance per rotation.
In 1869, solid rubber tyres were fitted, giving a degree of comfort to riders.
In 1870 the unicycle (one-wheeler) was made. It mainly featured in circus acts as it was difficult to ride.
In 1879 chain-driven bikes were produced. Prior to this, pedalling was done on the front wheel only, in a similar manner to childrens tricycles today.
In 1888 inflatable tyres were fitted, giving much greater comfort.
In 1898 the "free-wheel" was invented, allowing the rider to cruise downhill without pedalling.
In 1937, derailleur gear-changing was invented. Prior to this, gears were changed manually after dismounting.
In 1994 disk brakes became available. These were more efficient than block brakes, and because they were inside the wheel hub, were less affected by rain.

Motorcycles and scooters

1868 Roper
1884 Butler petrol
1922 Triumph H
BMW bike

The first "motorcycle" was Roper's steam velocipede, in 1868. Roper died of a heart attack while riding it a few years later.
Bernardi's 1882 motorized tricycle is reported as the first motorcycle powered by an internal combustion engine.
The British company Triumph Motorcycles sold more than 30,000 of its Triumph Type H model to allied forces during the war. With the rear wheel driven by a belt, the Model H was fitted with a 499cc air-cooled four-stroke single-cylinder engine.
Modern motorcycles are of course much more powerful and are designed for higher speeds. Wind-drag becomes significant and fairing is fitted to reduce this.
There are some designers now producing cycles that blur the distinction between bicycles and motorcycles. "Hybrids", with pedal-assisted electric drive, regenerative braking, lightweight fiberglass shell, and computerised control panel are becoming progressively more common.

Skates and skateboards



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