The bicycle’s first century

4 minutes

From ‘running machines’ to penny-farthings – the wild ride that gave us the modern bicycle

This short French film from 1915, seen here with Dutch intertitles, charts the development of the bicycle over the course of the 19th century. The film begins with a man riding a draisine – invented by the German Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun in 1818, this was a forerunner of the bicycle that was propelled by walking. From there, we take a wobbly ride through bicycle history, showcasing the evolution to modern, pedal-driven contraptions that have remained mostly unchanged since the 1890s.

The following are translations of the intertitles as numbered in the film:

1. The draisine was invented only a century ago, in 1818 by Baron Drais de Sauerbrun.
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.

Editor: guy jones

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