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« My Parkinson’s | Main | The Outspoken Cyclist: Podcast »

We owe a lot to the bicycle

Modern road and air transport owes a great deal to the bicycle and to those who experimented on perfecting it.

Some thirty years before the first automobile was built, innovations appeared on bicycles, many of which are built into the design of powered transport today. A few of them are:

  • Pneumatic tires
  • Cable control brakes and other units
  • Ball Bearings
  • Free wheels
  • Differential gears
  • Chain drives
  • Shaft drives
  • Variable gears – the foundation of the transmission

Equally important contributions were improvements in the specifications of metals, also changes came about in machine tools, engineering techniques, and in production methods.

Many of the people who designed and manufactured bicycles went on the design and build the first automobiles. American aviation pioneers Orville and Wilber Wright designed bicycles in their Dayton, Ohio factory that subsequently became a proving ground for airplane components.

Today, bicycle advocates lobby governments to maintain the cyclist’s rights to be on the road. Many forget it was similar bicycle advocates who were instrumental in getting roads paved in the first place at the turn of the last century. Paved roads that were suitable for the introduction of the automobile.

The bicycle came into being as a viable form of transport and for many years was recognized and accepted as such. Somehow over the years the bicycle became relegated to the status of a recreational toy.

The next time you are sitting on an airplane, or you see an eighteen-wheeler truck hauling the nation’s supplies along our highways, you might do well to remember it all began with the humble bicycle.


Previously posted May 2010 

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Reader Comments (3)

If you haven’t done so, I recommend reading Roads we’re not built for cars by Carlton Reid.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYoav

And then there is the human part of riding a bike. Before bikes we rode horses, involving two species brains working together to even attempt such a thing.

Then along comes the bicycle, removing horses and only involving humans on a mechanical contraption. An intelligence, the horse, was taken away, but we still had to obey the laws of physics and learn how to ride the bike.

Now it was all up to the rider how well (and terrible) he did so.

Well, it seems since the introduction of the automobile, there has been an effort to use less of that remaining intelligence, the human. We are in the habit of thinking we can make driving safe, roads safe, and prevent accidents by designing “Safety Features” into cars, and lately “Driving Assistance” and even “Autopilot” and “Autonomous Driving”. All forgetting most accidents are caused by Driver Error. Not Road Error, and not Automobile Error either.

It isn’t a lack of intelligence but an attack on having intelligence, or using it that has gotten us into trouble.

Hmmm, something to think about, if anyone cares.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Interesting stuff!

Tech has flowed the other way a little bit too. A friend once noted to me that a long time back he wondered why bikes didn't adopt disc brakes and suspension from the auto/motorcycle industry? Now those are both standard on mountain bikes (and disk brakes ever more standard on gravel and other road bikes).

Also, I read somewhere that the bonded (rather than welded) frame of the Raleigh Technium came from the aerospace world

August 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

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