Monday, February 8, 2016

Evolution of the Bicycle

Roger St. Pierre.  The Book of the Bicycle.  London: Triune Books, 1973.

According to the author, in 1839 Kirkpatrick Macmillan, a 29-year old Scottish blacksmith, designed the first crank-operated bicycle, using stirrup pedals attached to long cranks to drive the rear wheel.  It worked so well that, 3 years later, he was the first person to be convicted of reckless riding when he ran down a small child at the end of a forty-mile ride to Glasgow.  The idea of having the cranks attached directly to the front wheel didn't occur until 20 years later when this arrangement was tried by Pierre Michaux in France.  One of his employees, Pierre Lallement, claimed that this was his idea, and he left for America in 1863 where he filed the first American bicycle patent.  Chain drives didn't appear until 1885, when James Starley of Coventry introduced this on his "safety" bicycle.  Interestingly, his invention was actually predated by a full decade by AndrĂ© Guilmet, a French clock-maker who was killed in the Franco-Prussian War before he could demonstrate his breakthrough.  His contribution would have gone unknown, had not his abandonned bicycle been discovered years later in a loft.  Another Coventry inventor, H.J. Lawson, designed a chain-driven bicycle in 1873 but took another eleven years to perfect it before bringing it to the attention of BSA, which declined his design before quickly marketing a very similar machine of their own.

To read Mr. St. Pierre's full history of the bicycle, I've scanned and uploaded the chapter here.

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