Back in 1915, French filmmakers decided to revisit the evolution of the bicycle during the 19th century, moving from the invention of the bicycle in 1818, to the bikes that emerged during the 1890s. As the resulting film above shows, the bike went from being clunky, cumbersome and seemingly perilous to ride, to taking on the tried and true shape that we still recognize today.
This film was preserved by the Netherlands’ EYE Film Institute. Hence the subtitles are in Dutch. But thanks to Aeon Magazine, you can read English translations below:
1. The draisine was invented only a century ago, in 1818 by Baron Drais de Sauerbrun.
2. [This subtitle never appears in the film.
3. The vehicle that lies between the draisine and the 1850 bicycle has an improved steering wheel and a fitted brake.
4. In 1863, Pierre Lallement invented pedals that worked on the front wheel.
5. Around 1868, a third wheel was added. Although these tricycles were heavier than the two-wheelers, they were safer.
6. Between 1867 and 1870, various improvements were made, including the increased use of rubber tyres.
7. In 1875, following an invention by the engineer Trieffault, the frame was made of hollow pipes.
8. Following the fashion of the day, the front wheel was made as large as possible.
9. In 1878, Renard created a bicycle with a wheel circumference of more than 7 feet. Just sitting down on one of these was an athletic feat!
11. At the beginning of 1879, Rousseau replaced the large front wheel with a smaller one, and the chain was introduced on the front wheel for driving power.
12. The bicycle of today.
For another look at the Birth of the Bike, you can watch a 1937 newsreel that gives its own narrative account. It comes the from British Pathé film archives.
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