Is the bicycle an invention of the ancient Greeks?

03 March 2023 By shamim kordbache History

Where did our bicycle come from?


The history of the bicycle is one of the most interesting and inspiring stories in the world of transportation. The bicycle has been an important part of human history for centuries. There are several ancient but unproven claims about the invention of the bicycle. 

The ancient Greeks were the first people to engage in sports, think Olympics in Olympia. But did they also do bicycle racing? No, they never saw a bicycle, so chief god Zeus never took a bike ride.

Oppergod Zeus maakt een rondje

Supreme god Zeus makes a tour

Perhaps it was Gian Giacomo Caprotti, a student of Leonardo da Vinci, who invented the bicycle. He appeared to have created the sketch below around the year 1500. Carlo Pedretti, an art historian, discovered this sketch in 1961. But, sadly, scholar Hans-Erhard Lessing discovered it was a hoax in 1997.

Fets van Hans-Erhard Lessing anno 1950

Bicycle of Hans-Erhard Lessing, 1950

The baron's balance bicycle

On July 12, 1817, some farmers on the cart track between Mannheim and Schwetzingen were amazed to see a distinguished man seated on a device with two wheels "walking" along the cart track. He goes fast, as much as four times faster than the stagecoach, it is the German inventor Baron Karl von Drais on his homemade walking bicycle. The first bicycle is a fact.

1817 - Baron Karl Draiss op zijn loopfiets

Karl Drais on his invention

So in 1817, Baron Karl von Drais invented the modern bicycle or rather, the first human-powered vehicle that did not use a horse. His invention, "Laufmaschine" or "Draisine," was ridden in a slightly different way than today's bicycles. It was propelled by pushing your feet against the ground instead of pedalling. Although it was a successful invention, it had limited uses and was not very practical. But it did make Karl's bicycle the predecessor of the modern bicycle.

Moving toward the modern bicycle

There is a big difference between the German baron's first primitive running bicycle and today's racing bicycle full of technical gadgets. The development of the bicycle went faster and faster, in 1861 the French inventor Michaux added pedals to the bicycle, making it easier to ride. This invention was called a "Velocipede" and became a very popular means of transportation in Europe.

The safety bicycle was created in 1885 by English inventor John Kemp Starley. This was an improved version of the velocipede and had a chain drive, two even wheels and a triangular frame. In doing so, John laid the foundation for today's modern bicycle. His design made the bicycle much safer and easier to ride than its predecessors. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, bicycle factories gained the ability to mass-produce bicycles, allowing them to reach even more people.

John Kemp Starley op de Rover safety, de basis van de moderne fiets

John Kemp Starley riding the Rover safety, his invention

Improvements over time have had a major impact on our society; transportation became faster, cheaper and a lot more environmentally friendly. Several inventors and engineers have perfected the bicycle, making it still one of the most popular modes of transportation in the world.

History of the road bike

It is incredible to see how fast the development of the bicycle has gone since Baron Karl von Drais invented the running bicycle in 1817. In this development, cycling caused a demarche, the desire to win increased the demand for faster, professional bikes. Races were held on cycling bikes, with longer and longer distances being covered in the process.

The first real cycling race was probably on May 31, 1868, at the Parc de Saint-Cloud in Paris, France. It was won by James Moore, an English expatriate in France who rode a wooden bicycle with solid rubber tires. More and more bicycle manufacturers developed better and better racing bicycles; these bicycles were light, aerodynamic and had rigid frame construction. The racing bicycle made important contributions to cycling culture and sports performance.

James Moore, (rechts) winnaar van de eerste officiële wielerwedstrijd

James Moore, (right) winner of the first official cycle race

An important development in the history of the racing bicycle was the introduction of the derailleur. In 1895, Frenchman Jean Loubeyre patented a device to deflect the chain from one sprocket to another. He called it the Polyceler (more speed), the forerunner of today's derailleur. "La Polyceler" was a 2-stage system with a fork accelerator operated by a rod controlled by a lever at the seat tube.This mechanism made changing gears easier and faster, which had a great impact on the performance of the bicycle and, consequently, the rider. It was not until the 1930s that the derailleur was allowed to be used in cycling races.

"La Polyceler" van de Fransman Loubeyre

"La Polyceler" by Frenchman Loubeyre

In the 1960s, road bikes became increasingly popular among recreational cyclists   and many new designs and technologies were introduced. In the 1980s and 1990s, cycling became increasingly popular. Manufacturers experimented with new materials and techniques to make bikes faster, lighter and more aerodynamic. This resulted in bikes that became increasingly sophisticated. To this day, the road bike is an important part of cycling culture and technology continues to evolve.

We have a large collection of replica retro cycling jerseys that have the look of the past but the comfort of today. So, if you'd like to ride on the historic cycling legends, check out our shop. 

Are you, like us, a big fan of cycling? Then be sure to keep an eye on our blog. We regularly post new stories about cycling facts, remarkable events and updates of our product range which are definitely worth reading!

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