How Bicycles Helped Women's Rights and the Advent of the Automobile

  • Reading time:3 mins read
  • Post category:Cycling

Although one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s students made plans for a bicycle in the 1490’s, it was never built because it was considered a ridiculous way to get around.
The first bicycle was invented in 1816 by Baron von Drais of Germany to help him get around the royal gardens faster. It was two wheels in a wooden frame, with the front one steerable. There were no pedals. You just pushed the ground with your feet to get around. It worked great on pathways, but not much else.  It was known as the ‘Draissines’.
Frances Benjamin Johnston, self-portrait, dressed as a man with false moustache, 1890In 1865 there was the addition of pedals to the front wheel. This bicycle was called the velocipede, meaning “fast foot”, but most people called it the Boneshaker because riding over the cobblestones with the metal tires, well, shook your bones! Riding this bike became a fad and arenas similar to roller rinks sprang up in the big cities.
In 1868 the first bicycle race took place with a bike that had solid rubber tires and ball bearings that were a new invention which made the bicycle go faster. Over the next decades many changes would take place, adding gears, making rubber tires, improving the frame.
Copenhagen Bicycle Teacher with Student ca. 1890
By the 1890s everyone was riding bicycles, including women. It is said that the bicycle is accredited with doing away with bustles and corsets so the women could ride, as well as improving the streets which made the advent of the automobile much easier.
But, with the invention of the car, bicycles remained relatively the same until the 1967 when the banana seat came out, followed by mountain bikes & BMX bikes in the 1980s for performance.
1972 Raleigh Chopper Ten Speed Bicycle - Polaroid 1974 Stolen in Brooklyn

Want More?

Visit the Bicycle Museum of America.



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