May 19, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

May is Now Bike Month in Memphis

2 min read

Drais' dandy horse


On my commute into work today, I noticed a rather large influx in bicyclists–I mean, a lot more! There were enough cyclists on the road that–in my natural curiosity–I got online to see if I could ascertain as to what the hubbub was all about. It turns out that today is National Bike to Work Day. In the last few years Memphis, Tennessee, has become a much friendlier city to bike riders. In fact, as of today, a joint proclamation has been issued by Mayor A.C. Wharton, Jr. of Memphis and Mayor Mark Luttrell, Jr. of Shelby County declaring that May will officially be National Bike Month. In doing so, the city hopes to bring awareness to the health benefits of biking and to remind motorized vehicle operators of the “rules of the road”.

 So with this current news, you know that I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to give you a brief history lesson on bicycles!

I mean, the history lessons are what brings you, the readers, back, correct?

In 1818, Baron Karl Drais, from Mannheim, Germany, invented the dandy-horse. The dandy-horse was no bicycle, but it was the first invention that used the concept of a human using a two-wheeled object to propel himself, by exertion of  his own energy. There is a picture below, but imagine if you will the Flintstones. No doubt everyone is familiar with the part of the television show where Fred gets in his prehistoric car and moves it along with his feet. Now, imagine that–but on a motorcycle. That would be the dandy-horse.

Drais’ dandy horse

With slight modifications on this idea, the world would soon see the first official bicycle. In 1839, the first official mechanically-propelled, two-wheeled vehicle was built by Kirkpatrick MacMillian. Over time the bicycle received many “upgrades” starting in the early 1860’s with the addition of pedals on the front wheel, usage of rear-wheel drive in 1869, lowering of the seat height and ensuring better weight distribution in 1885, installation of pneumatic tires and the rear freewheel, which enabled coasting, in 1888, and lastly the invention of coaster brakes in 1890. For the last 120 years, the mechanics of the bicycle seem not to have changed much; however, bike manufacturer are continually trying to make their products quicker, lighter, and more efficient.

Whether you choose to attribute the recent increase of bicyclist because of the gradual increase of gasoline prices or that riding them is just the trendy and retro thing to do again, there are definitely more and more bicycles on the road. As my city continues to make cycling a safer and reasonable approach as a transit option once again, I hope that everyone else will fall in line.

Bicycle Types: Finding the Right Bike | Bicycle Adventures Infographic
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