Thursday, August 04, 2005

Story of the Bicycle

Lance Armstrong had brought a dream end to his cycling career by winning his 7th Tour de France title on 24th July, 2005. The tour is an ultimate test for a cyclist’s skill, ability and endurance. Watching Armstrong in television had aroused my interest on bicycle. The cycles they use for normal riding cost at least $3000 a piece. The cycle used in time trial stages cost at least $10000 a piece. The costliest cycle was used by team Phonak in time trial stages, which is believed to be worth $20000 a piece. Our cars are not that much worth. What a piece of machine these will be to ride. I stumbled upon a nice bit of information as to how the machine in question – the Bicycle was invented. Though some form of bicycle had been reported in 19th century itself, the credit actually goes to Karl Drais, the German inventor for inventing the bicycle. Read on.

In the year 1816, extreme weather conditions were experienced across the world due to the Mount Tambora volcano eruption. This massive eruption in Indonesia in April, 1815 killed nearly a lakh people and threw so much ash into the atmosphere that the average global temperature dropped by 3 degrees. There was no summer in Europe in 1816. This led to poor harvest and prices of horse oats had increased so much that Drais got into thinking of replacing the horsepower with manpower. So he developed the first bicycle, the velocipede. This machine was in fact a four-wheeler driven by a treadmill or cranks attached to the rear axle. They were designed for two; a servant pedaled at the rear while the owner steered and supervised the operation from the front. He demonstrated this piece of machine in his hometown Baden on 12 June, 1817. This however did not catch the fancy of masses and so he diverted his attentions to other inventions.

However, prices of oats kept rising and Drais once again had to get into the idea of a machine to replace horses. This time he developed a two wheeler bicycle that indeed used the key principle of modern bicycle: balance on two wheels. This machine was called the Draisine. The Draisine pioneered other features of today's bicycle. It had brass bushings - elementary bearings - in the wheels to cut friction, and its frame of well-seasoned ash weighed only 20 kilograms, making it as light as a modern bike. This also had a brake though not that effective. He won royal support for this machine and was granted a kind of patent in Baden. However, some people in Britain and the US pirated his idea and got copies developed by them patented by different names. In Britain it was called the Hobby-horse. However, these copies did not have any brakes and so resulted in many accidents. Further, balancing act on two wheels was a new concept which people found difficult to adopt. This disillusioned people and a campaign against velocipedes was started. A change of guard in his home state Baden also saw a campaign by Drais’s enemies starting a campaign to malign him by trying to prove him as mad. He lost the royal favor and eventually died penniless in 1851. His idea of replacing the horsepower by manpower went a long way.

Want to know more about bicycles. Read on this link Bicycle

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