Bicycle Inventor “Baron Karl Von Drais”

Bicycle Inventor “Baron Karl Von Drais”

Baron Karl von Drais, a German inventor, is credited with the invention of the bicycle. His scooterlike contraption, appearing about 1817, was basic in design. The draisine, as it was called, consisted of two wheels, a seat, and a handlebar for steering—but no pedals. Self-propulsion appeared in 1839 when a Scottish blacksmith, Kirkpatrick Macmillan, attached treadles connected by levers to cranks on the rear wheel. Then came a turning point in the popularity of two-wheeled transport. A French father and son, Pierre and Ernest Michaux, fitted pedals to cranks on the front wheel and made the velocipede (from the Latin velox, “swift,” and pedis, “foot”), a faster and more manageable machine.

Speed increased as the front wheel size grew. The ordinary bicycle, also known as a penny-farthing, was developed in England and had an enormous front wheel with a diameter of five feet [1.5 m], which contrasted sharply with a small rear wheel. It was called a penny-farthing bicycle, based on the contrast between a large penny coin and the much smaller farthing.

Next was the safety bicycle, a cycle that offered riders the versatility of the ordinary but with a lower center of gravity and wheels of equal or nearly equal size. In 1879, Englishman Henry Lawson exhibited a machine in Paris that had a rear wheel driven by a chain. This model was eventually known as the bicyclette.

Most modern bicycles have a front wheel the same size as the rear one. Thus, the basic design has changed little. Today’s family of utility, touring, racing, and mountain bicycles offers riders comfortable mobility on two lightweight wheels with rubber tires.

Healthy Fun

Noiseless, pollution free, often quicker than motorized traffic over short distances, bicycles are transport workhorses in many lands. In Africa, Asia, and elsewhere, bicycles have become “carryall” transportation, as their riders—or pushers—use them to take their wares to market. Not infrequently, the bicycle carries more than one rider, as relatives and friends straddle the crossbar or perch on an uncomfortable luggage pannier.

In Western lands, where the automobile holds pride of place for personal transport, growing health concerns coupled with a desire to escape the urban treadmill have renewed cycling’s popularity. Specially reserved bicycle lanes or paths have sprung up along numerous thoroughfares. In Britain, for example, many local government authorities pride themselves on the miles of paths they reserve for cyclists.

Discounting possible pollution from exhaust fumes, cycling can be healthy. It “is a protection against cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death and premature death in the UK,” observes transport consultant Adrian Davis. Cycling requires a higher intensity of effort, some 60 to 85 percent of a person’s maximum capacity, compared with the 45 to 50 percent used when walking. With minimal weight on a cyclist’s limbs, the risk of damage to the bones is also less than when pounding the streets on foot.

Yet another health benefit of cycling is the good feeling it gives the rider. Research reveals that the exercise involved triggers the release in the brain of chemicals called endorphins, which can enhance mood. Apart from a feel-good factor, cycling certainly offers a look-good factor. How so? “At a moderate speed the pedaller [of a bicycle] will burn off roughly seven calories [30 joules] per minute, or 200 calories [800 joules] in half an hour,” reports The Guardian newspaper. The consequences? Maybe a trimmer waistline and an end to flabby thighs.

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