Framing the bike

Old green steel bike in a row of more modern bikes

Diamonds are forever: the basic shape of the modern bicycle has been around a long time.

As far back as 1490, Leonardo da Vinci had envisioned a machine remarkably similar to the modern bicycle. Unfortunately, da Vinci did not attempt to build the vehicle, nor were his sketches discovered until the 1960s.

In the late 1700s a Frenchman named Comte de Sivrac invented the Celerifere, a crude wooden hobby horse made of two wheels and joined by a beam. The rider would sit atop the beam and propel the contraption by pushing his or her feet against the ground.

In 1816 the German Baron Karl von Drais devised a steerable hobby horse, and within a few years, hobby-horse riding was a fashionable pastime in Europe. Riders also discovered that they could ride the device with their feet off the ground without losing their balance. This style of bikes are still available and are recognised as a method of introducing young children into balance and co-ordination to progress to riding a bike without training wheels.

In 1840, a Scottish black-smith named Kirkpatrick Macmillan made a two-wheel device that was operated by a treadle. Two years later he travelled as many as 40 miles (64 km) at a stretch during a record 140-mile (225 km) round trip to Glasgow.

A couple of decades later, a Frenchman, Ernest Michaux, designed a hobby horse that utilised cranks and rotating pedals connected to the front axle. The Velocipede, made with wooden wheels and an iron frame and tires, won the nickname of the “boneshaker.” The 1860s proved to be an important decade for bicycle improvements with the inventions of ball-bearing hubs, metal-spoked wheels, solid rubber tires, and a lever-operated, four-speed gearshift.

Around 1866 an unusual version of the Velocipede was created in England by James Stanley. It was called the Ordinary, or Penny Farthing, and it had a large front wheel and a small rear wheel. The Ordinaries were soon exported to the U.S. where a company began to manufacture them as well. These bicycles weighed a hefty 70 pounds (32 kg) and cost $300—a substantial sum at the time.

By 1885, another Englishman, John Kemp Starley, created the Rover Safety, so called since it was safer than the Ordinary which tended to cartwheel the rider over the large front wheel at abrupt stops. The safety bicycle or low safety is a type of bicycle that became very popular beginning in the late 1880s, and is now the most common type of bicycle. The most popular form of the safety bicycle frame, consisting of two triangles, is known as a diamond frame. A similar but different frame used in safety bicycles is the step through frame made popular for women and their long dresses.

Other important developments in the 1800s included the use of John Boyd Dunlop’s pneumatic tires, which had air-filled inner tubes that provided shock absorption. Coaster brakes were developed in 1898, and shortly thereafter freewheeling made biking easier by allowing the wheels to continue to spin without pedalling. With the centre of gravity low and between the wheels, rather than high and near the front hub, the Safety greatly diminished the danger of “taking a header” or long fall over the handlebars. This made braking more effective and cycling, previously the reserve of spry, daring young men, safer, and therefore much more popular, especially for women.

Bicycles are one of the world’s most popular modes of transportation, with some 800 million bicycles outnumbering cars by two to one. Bicycles are also the most energy-efficient vehicle—a cyclist burns about 35 calories per mile (22 calories per km), while an automobile burns 1,860 calories per mile (1,156 calories per km). Bicycles are used not only for transportation, but for fitness, competition, and touring as well. They come in myriad shapes and styles, including racing bikes, all-terrain bikes, and stationary bicycles, as well as tandems.

Sometime we like to think we have come a long way with innovation and while many have tried to develop alternate style frames they have not yet surpassed the safety frame design principal.  Steel of many gauges and metallurgy Titanium, Aluminium and Carbon are the most common frames. Some frame builder use a combination of all these to gain strength and rider ability comfort. The choice is yours.

See you on the road soon, God willing.


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