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Milestones in Bicycle Evolution

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In now days we have a various type of bicycle. What do the following have in common : a derailleur gear, an aluminum frame, the freewheel, disc wheels, anatomical saddles, clipless pedals, suspension, folding bikes? Answer: they were all ideas that originated in the late 1800s. The late English cycling historian, John Pinkerton, once remarked, “Think of a new idea in bicycle design and someone will have already invented it, probably in the nineteenth century.”

Below is a milestone in bicycle evolution.

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1817GermanyBaron von Drais invents the “running machine” or Laufmaschine. Patented the following year. Known in various forms as: Draisine, Draisienne, Vélocipède. English version was the Hobby Horse (Denis Johnson). All have two, in-line wheels and the ability to steer.
hand drive1821EnglandLouis Gompertz adds a hand-driven, ratchet mechanism to the front wheel of a Hobby Horse but the innovation, as with Drais’ was never really followed up.
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- 1840
ScotlandKirkpatrick Macmillan is traditionally credited with a machine in which power was supplied to the back wheel via rods connected to treadle-type pedals. Thomas McCall marketed copies; an 1845 version is in the Dumfries Museum. It is questionable whether significant progress resulted from either.
rear-wheel-drive bicycle1843FranceAlexandre Lefebvre is credited with a rear-drive machine; he took it to America twenty years later and it still exists in the “History San Jose” museum (the earliest extant bicycle?).
pneumatic tire1845EnglandR. W. Thompson invents the pneumatic tire but with no commercial follow-up.
treadle drive1847ScotlandGavin Dalzell builds a two-wheeled hobbyhorse with a treadle-drive, possibly copied from the Macmillan design.
crank-driven 4-wheeler1851EnglandWillard Sawyer exhibits his four-wheeled, crank-driven vehicle at the Great Exhibition and subsequently becomes established as a velocipede manufacturer.
Boneshaker bicycle1864FranceJ. Townsend Trench documents his purchase of a velocipede from the Michaux family. Possibly the first record of a “production” front wheel, pedal-driven bicycle (but note that it was not presented until 1895). This style became known as the “Boneshaker.” Historians still debate the claim of Pierre Lallement that he had previously invented the first pedal-driven machine.
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1866USALallement, now in the USA, gets the backing of an investor, James Carroll, and their patent application is granted; probably the world’s first public record of the pedal-powered two-wheeler.
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1870EnglandJames Starley produces the “Ariel” High Wheeler (aka “Ordinary” or “Penny Farthing”). Later versions had front wheel sizes of up to 5 feet.
wire-spoked wheel1870EnglandW.H.J. Grout patents the radially spoked, nipple adjusted bicycle wheel (unlike prior load-bearing wheels). Some credit Meyer with this design two years previously.
ball bearings1872GermanFriedrich Fischer first mass-produces steel ball bearings, patented by Jules Suriray in 1869.
caliper brake1876EnglandBrowett and Harrison patent an early caliper brake.
differential gear1877EnglandJames Starley patents a differential gear; probably the first for a bicycle but the principle was not new.
internal hub gearings1878EnglandScott and Phillott patent the first practicable epicyclic change-speed gear fitted into the hub of a front-driving bicycle.
folding highwheeler1878EnglandGrout patents a folding High Wheeler, the first “portable” bicycle
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1879EnglandHenry J. Lawson patents a rear wheel, chain-driven safety bicycle, the “Bicyclette” (his earlier models were lever driven).
chain1880EnglandThomas Humber adapts the block chain for use with his range of bicycles.
safety bicycle1885EnglandJohn Kemp Starley (James Starley's nephew) markets the revolutionary Safety Bicycle (the “Rover”) with a chain/rear-sprocket drive and tangentially-spoked, similar sized wheels. Includes many of the major features of modern bicycles.
seamless tubing1886GermanyThe Mannessman brothers are credited with the invention of the process to manufacture seamless steel tubing.
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1888ScotlandCommercial development of the pneumatic bicycle tire by Dr. John Boyd Dunlop.
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1890sFranceCycles Aluminium becomes one of the earliest manufacturers of an aluminum bicycle.
derailleur1896EnglandE.H. Hodgkinson patents a 3-speed Gradient gear, a pre-cursor of the modern derailleur.
internal hub gearing1896EnglandWilliam Riley patents a two-speed hub gear. His later three-speed version was put into production by Sturmey Archer in 1902.
butted frame tubes1897EnglandAlfred M. Reynolds takes out a patent on "butted" steel bicycle tubes.
freewheel1898GermanyFirst major commercialization of the freewheel by Ernst Sachs. William Van Anden had obtained the first freewheel patent in 1869.
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1910FranceThe first, easy-to-use derailleur is invented by Paul de Vivie (Velocio) that shifted among four gears at the pedals.
recumbent1914FrancePeugeot markets their production recumbent bicycle. Charles Challand had exhibited his “Horizontal Bicyclette Normale” in Geneva in 1895.
dual-suspension mountain bike1915ItalyBianchi produced a folding bicycle for the Italian Army with telescoping seatstays, a leaf spring at the bottom bracket, a spring fork and large profile pneumatic tires. Bianchi now calls it the first dual suspension mountain bike! There are earlier versions of military folding bicycles. And Pierce had the Pan American dual-suspension road bicycle at the turn of the century.
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1930ItalyTullio Campagnolo introduces the bicycle hub quick-release.
recumbent1932FranceCharles Mochet designs the Velocar, a recumbent bicycle on which Francois Faure breaks both the mile and kilometer records.
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- 1934
USAIntroduction by Schwinn of the balloon tire and “streamlined” bikes which leads to rugged bikes that can take the abuse of teenage boys and which set a forty-year trend. CORRECTIONS by Leon Dixon of the National Bicycle History Archive of America: "The implication here is that Schwinn invented something that did not exist, which is one of the biggest myths in bicycle history. Schwinn merely copied what they saw going on in Europe. Both Sears and Montgomery Ward had bicycles in 1932 that had balloon tires in the USA, a full year BEFORE Schwinn. And the streamline movement in bicycles was really pioneered by Sears and Huffman. Schwinn had a clunky diamond frame with straight tubes and a streamlined tank in 1934, but Sears Elgin (1935) and Huffman Dayton (1936) had fully streamlined frames, tanks, etc."
mountain bike1938USASchwinn markets the "Fore-wheel" brake, "Cantilever Frame" and the "Spring Fork." Resulted in what was to be the Grandfather of today's mountain bikes.
small-wheel folding bicycle1939FranceA.J. Marcelin patents “Le Petit Bi”, a 16-inch wheeled folding bicycle, remarkably similar to the Moulton and Bickerton of later years. There had already been full-size folding military bicycles in 1915.
shifter1946ItalyCampagnolo markets the dual-rod "Cambio Corsa" gear shifter (over ten years after the prototype) widely used for at least a decade.
index shifting1949EnglandThe Hercules Herailleur is launched; a rear derailleur with indexed shift levers. Marketed for five years.
derailleur1951ItalyIntroduction of Campagnolo's modern Gran Sport derailleur.
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1962EnglandLaunch of the Moulton small-wheeled bicycle with separately sprung suspension and custom tires. Competed successfully in time trials and track pursuit events.
Sting-Ray1963USASchwinn introduces the Sting-Ray that subsequently helped launch the BMX craze. Leon Dixon of the National Bicycle History Archive of America notes: "This is a very serious myth. First, Schwinn merely copied the Huffy Penguin which existed BEFORE the Sting-Ray. And these bicycles were pioneers in the 20-inch bicycle revolution/genre, but certainly did not necessarily father BMX. AND... the first Sting-Ray was officially stated by Schwinn as being NOT a 1963 model, but officially known as a "1963-1/2" model. Either way, Huffy was on the market first."
rear derailleur1964JapanThe SunTour Grand Prix is marketed as the first slant parallelogram derailleur, a design that has held up till the present day.
index shifting 1969JapanSunTour launch their indexed shift lever, the Five-Speed Click, and a combined freewheel-plus-rear hub, the Unit Hub. Neither of them found a market, and were abandoned. Bayliss Wiley in England had also experimented with unit hubs as far back as 1938.
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1970EnglandThe aluminum Bickerton portable folding small-wheel bicycle is developed. Followed by the successful Brompton in 1976 and Dahon in 1980.
(Bicycle Motocross)
1970USAThe movie On Any Sunday by Bruce Brown debuts. Although it is a motorcycle documentary, a brief scene during the beginning of the movie shows kids on Sting-Ray bikes emulating motocross. This small spark eventually evolves into full-fledged, organized BMX racing by 1974.
mass-produced titanium frame/fork1974USATeledyne markets the first titanium bike that was produced in any quantity (Speedwell of England had some Ti production frames as far back as the 1960s, welded by Lamborghini!) Litespeed brought titanium frames to a broader market in the 1980s.
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1975USAThe first carbon-tubed, metal lugged frame appears: the Exxon Graftek. Suffered from frequent frame failure. The technology was later perfected by Look, Trek and others.
oversize aluminum frames/bikes1975USAGary Klein displays his welded and heat-treated aluminum frames with oversize tubing at the International Bike show. Klein’s frame was the result of an MIT design project in the early 1970’s under Professor Shawn Buckley. Alan (Italy) and Vitus (France) were producing their lugged aluminum frames around the same time. Cannondale launched their “Aluminum for the Masses” in 1983. (Background on the Klein/MIT connection courtesy of John S Allen and Donald W. Gillies).
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1978USAFomac Corporation designs the Avatar recumbent. It is one of the many styles that constituted the 1980s renaissance of recumbents which included Lightning Cycles winning the HPV-RAAM relay and Easy Racers breaking the 65 mph barrier.
high-quality folding clincher tire1978USASpecialized introduce the first high-quality foldable clincher tire (the Turbo) which launches the demise of the tubular.
aerodynamic road/track bicycles1980East GermanyIntroduction of aerodynamic bicycles with a stable construction. Culminated in the American "Super Bike" at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
mass-produced mountain bike1981USAThe Specialized Stumpjumper mountain bike is launched nationwide, capitalizing on the Marin County vogue inspired by Californian icons, Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Tom Richey et al. (all of whom also produced earlier mountain bikes).
electronic cycle computer1983USAAvocet launch the first electronic cyclometer (bike computer).
Moulton1983EnglandMoulton launches his second generation of “space-frame” small-wheeled bicycles.
clipless pedals1984FranceLOOK markets their clipless pedal (following on an earlier track model launched by Cinelli in 1970; the “Death Cleats,” no automatic release). There was also the circa 1983 Cyclebinding clipless pedal designed in the USA by Rick Howell. It featured a self-righting pedal and a walkable shoe. For more on pedal history visit the Speedplay Museum.
index shifting1985JapanShimano introduces SIS indexed shifting (learning from their inferior product, the Positron, from 1977).
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1986USAKestrel introduces their production non-lugged, carbon fiber frame and Trek market their first lugged carbon frame.
suspended mountain bike1987USAPaul Turner demonstrates a full suspension bicycle with front and rear shocks. Eventually becomes a partner in Rock Shox. Diversified the sport of off-road biking.
aero handlebars1987 (1984)*USAScott USA manufactures the first mass-produced aerobars in 1987, the design, called the DH, is the brainchild of Boone Lennon. *However, the first aerobars were invented in 1984 by Richard Bryne for Jim Elliot to use in the 1984 Race Across America.
high-performance folding bike1989USAHanz Scholz designs the Bike Friday "World Tourist". A reasonably compact folding bicycle that matches the performance of conventional touring machines.
integrated brake/shift levers1990JapanShimano introduces integrated brake/gear levers.
electric derailleurs1993FranceMavic markets their ZAP electronic shifting. Ceases production in 2001. Possible future follow-up by Campagnolo. Browning Research had invented a prototype electronic system in 1974. Shimano introduces it's Di2 electric drivetrain in 2008.
hydraulic disc brake1994USASachs (SRAM) introduces PowerDisc, the first mass-produced hydraulic disc brake system.
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1998GermanyRohloff develops the Speedhub, 14 equally-spaced hub gears which are operated by a twist-grip with no overlapping ratios and a gear range as wide as a 27-speed derailleur system.
30-speed derailleur drivetrain2002ItalyCampagnolo offers a 30-speed derailleur drivetrain with the Record 3-x-10 drivetrain

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