London got on its bike & the world followed
In this day and age of the bicycle it’s hard to conceive of a time when there were none, or at least just a few rudimentary versions wobbling along and shaking the brave riders until their teeth loosened and internal organs shifted.
Cycling today is a massive sport and a huge leisure pursuit, not to mention a practical means of transport for millions, but it was not until 1817 that two wheels in front and back alignment were deployed and put to practical use. This was by Baron Karl Von Drais in Germany.
Draisine, also called Laufmaschine (“running machine”), from around 1820.
Source: Wikipedia
His ‘Draisine’ was powered by straddling the bike and running with it to provide momentum. It was in fact known as a ‘running machine’. It was a simple and monumentally uncomfortable device but it did dramatically alter the speed at which people could travel – the first reported ride was over 13km and was covered in less than an hour.
So where does London enter the picture?
`Johnson’s Pedestrian Hobby Horse Riding School’ – published by R. Ackermann 1819.
Source: Science Museum
British cartwright Dennis Johnson of London latched onto the concept and introduced a significantly more refined version of the Draisine. The better built, more comfortable and elegant version ended up with the rather feeble and childish name ‘Hobby Horse’, but it was this version of two-wheeled transport that caught the imagination of society. During the summer of 1819 Johnson’s Hobby Horse became the craze of London society and for the first time placed the notion of a ‘bicycle’ into the public consciousness. And it has stayed there ever since… There are known to be over a billion bikes in the world with around 130 million produced each year. In 2010 there were 19.8 million new bike sales in the USA and, if songstress Katie Melua is a reliable source of statistic, study and census – the are 9 million bikes in Beijing (and if not it was a nice enough song anyway). In the Netherlands there are 16.5 million bikes to 16.65 million people! As for Johnson’s summer craze back in 1819 – 610,000 a day and 23 million people a year in London have followed in his wheel tracks.