The bicycle has come a long way

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I normally write about things that mostly interest the older generations. This week I think the younger generations will also find this article interesting. Have you ever stopped to think about how the bicycle got started?

Well, the year was 1817, and Barron Von Drais invented a walking machine that would help him walk around in his royal gardens. It looked like a bicycle but did not have pedals. You would just get on it and push yourself around with your feet. The device was made entirely of wood and was called Draisienne or hobby horse.

The next appearance of a machine similar to this came in 1865 when pedals were added to the front wheel. It also was made mostly of wood and later metal tires were added. In large cities, there were indoor riding places with the bikes similar to roller skating rinks.

In 1870, the first all-metal machines appeared. The pedals were on the front wheel, and a rubber tire was added. The bicycle was very tall and had pedals on the front wheel. This was the first machine to be called a bicycle. The maker of this bicycle said with the large front tire, the faster you pedal the faster you would go. The bicycle had no brakes, and since it was so high, women seldom rode them. It would take a working person about six months to buy a bicycle.

Women and gentlemen were often seen riding on what was called a high wheel tricycle. It had two large wheels on the back and a smaller one on the front. It could hardly ever be turned over.

Bicycling was so popular in the in the 1880s and the 1890s that people formed the League of America Wheelman, which is still on existence today. It is now called the League of American Bicyclists.

As you know, bicycles have come a long way. Today, some racing bicycle can sell for as much as $20,000. In 1897, a new bicycle sold for $11.

The Louisiana Treasures Museum does not have any antique bicycles, but I am searching for a high front wheeler built in 1870. If you have one or know of someone, please give me a call. For more information and hours of operation call me at 225-294-8352.

Wayne Norwood is a lieutenant with the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Department and owner and operator of the Louisiana Treasures Museum.