From Bone Shaker To Speed Machine

The bicycle is a simple machine, used by more than 9 million Americans daily. It is one of the inventions we rely on, without really thinking how this two-wheel machine was invented.

par Joannie Desroches

Joannie desroches, a PhD candidate in biomedical optics at polytechnique school of Montreal, making a presentation on the bike path along the lachine canal in griffintown, Montréal

Joannie desroches, a PhD candidate in biomedical optics at polytechnique school of Montreal, making a presentation on the bike path along the lachine canal in griffintown, Montréal

Joannie presenting the invention of bycicle to her colleagues from polytechnique school of montreal during a creativity workshop.

Joannie presenting the invention of bycicle to her colleagues from polytechnique school of montreal during a creativity workshop.

 

Bikes have a really varied history, as they have been around for more than two hundred years now.

The invention came from necessity, as a German inventor, Baron Karl von Drais, was trying to solve a very serious problem — a dearth of real horses during a famine period. Bad harvests and a series of natural disasters occurring in the early 1810s resulted in mass starvation and the death of thousands of horses. Drais' invention was created as an alternate mean of transport. 

His machine was less like a bicycle, in a way that it had two wheels, but was propelled by walking. This is why it was called a “running machine”. Then, for the next hundreds years or so, other creators invented manifestations of this two-wheeled machine. The velocipede, or “bone shaker”, got its nickname since a wooden frame with two steel wheels, pedals and fixed gear system was used by the brave ones that were in for a bumpy ride. Other versions with a bigger front wheel, allowing the rider to travel farther with a single rotation of the pedals. Also, rubber tires were invented, leading to other versions, each one being a more rideable and useful machine. 

This invention may appear simple, but it is a simple machine that has a huge and positive impact on our lifes. One of the reason is its efficiency; up to 99 percent of the energy delivered by a cyclist to the pedals is transmitted to the wheels. Steve Jobs even used that example in an interview:

 “I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn’t look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts.”

Sources:

1-    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob_GX50Za6c&feature=youtu.be
2-    http://yeslerapparel.com/the-under-appreciated-history-of-the-bicycle/
3-    http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/Fall08/Mancone/history.html