The First 100 Years of the Bicycle: A 1915 Documentary Shows How the Bike Went from Its Clunky Birth in 1818, to Its Enduring Design in 1890

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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via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Young Frank Zap­pa Plays the Bicy­cle on The Steven Allen Show (1963)

Watch Boy and Bicy­cle: Rid­ley Scott’s Very First Film (1965)

Watch The Bicy­cle Trip: An Ani­ma­tion of The World’s First LSD Trip Which Took Place on April 19, 1943

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