What Are Your Thoughts on Bicycles?

Post 1,114

Well… my last post was a bit ‘ranty’ and ‘ragey’ but I can assure you that this time… no, screw it, I FLIPPING HATE BICYCLES! They’re like bees crossed with decadence. Bah. It’s why I can’t ride one. What’s the bloody point! So we can live longer? Bah, we all gotta die at some point, right? I hope you’re enjoying your bike ride, I’m enjoying my bacon sandwich. But bikes have been around for some 200 years. Why, there must be a reason they’ve endured whilst other items that deserved to endure died a horrifying, untimely and deeply unfair death. Like hot pants. Maybe somewhere in this fascinating history lies an ember, which will ignite in me a newfound love of the bicycle. Or maybe all this will be a colossal waste of time. I know where I’ve placed my bets…

A bicycle is… like, a frame, with, like… wheels. I’m not a fan. The very first bike goes back to 1790. It was a wooden plank mounted on two wheels with a cushion to sit on. For realsies. There were so many accidents the police outlawed it. The next attempt was invented by Barn Drais. Who the frack calls their child Barn?

This was in 1817 and it does sorta look like a bike, with a wooden frame and two wheels. However, it was propelled by walking. Oh, jeez. It soon became known as the dandy horse, and if you’re thinking it sounds dangerous, handlebars weren’t added until 1818. I mean… were they trying to kill the riders?

Still, it was the first two-wheeled, steerable, human-propelled machine. To most, it was named the velocipede. Oh, I wish it was still called that. I’d certainly be more of a fan. It ignited sparks of passion in cartwrights around the world. Denis Johnson of London soon started selling an improved model, which he dubbed… the pedestrian curricle. It sounds like a really, really boring newspaper…

Johnson’s curricle was far more elegant and soon it became the latest craze in London’s high society. In 1839, the first bike that we’d recognise was unveiled by Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a Scottish blacksmith. He first took his new machine out for a quick scoot in public in 1842, plumping for the bright lights of… Glasgow. He immediately ran over a little girl. ‘A gentleman from Dumfries-shire bestride a velocipede of ingenious design knocked over a little girl in Glasgow and was fined five shillings,’ the local paper wrote. Oh, she was fine. He wasn’t. That’s £15 in today’s money, a week’s wage back then.

For the first few decades of the velocipede, the most common sold were the penny farthing from England, the Rover Safety Bicycle and the French Boneshaker. Ooh, that sounds real painful. The Boneshaker was two-wheeled with cranks at the front, dubbed the ‘Boneshaker’ because the combination of a wooden frame and METAL tyres made traversing the cobbled streets of France an experience likely to leave most men infertile…

But inventors were quick to learn and soon rubber tyres and better weight distribution became top priorities. Chain drives were added, too. Factories from around the world were battling it out for the very best velocipede design. Pedals were added! Eventually. Metal frames replaced wood, and, in 1868, the first mass-producing velocipede factory was launched. Still calling them velocipedes are we? Such a sad loss, it really is.

The world was going velocipede mad and, by 1870, velocipede rinks and riding schools numbered in the dozens in every major city around the world. But the Franco-Prussian war kicked off, destroying much of the velocipede market in France. Popularity plunged around the world with only Britain staying in love with the humble machine. Darn it.

It was about this time when these brutes started to be named ‘bicycles’. ‘Bysicles and trysicles’ wrote one newspaper. It came from ‘bi’ meaning ‘two’ and ‘kyklos’ meaning ‘wheel’. Well, no… I’m not having that. I WANT MY VELOCIPEDE BACK! Sadly, cycling got something of a shot in the arm in the 1870s with cycling clubs flourishing all over the world. Do they really have nothing better to do? Really?

By 1888, The Raleigh Bicycle Company in Nottingham was producing some two million bicycles each and every year. The English took the lead whilst France was still recovering from the war, whilst over in America, bikes were really starting to take off for the first time. They soon spread around the world thanks in no small part to the British Empire. Oh, I’m really, really sorry about that…

Despite all this, bikes remained the preserve of the well-to-do toffs. Why, you would never see the working class riff-raff on one, what a jest! But change was in the air – come the 1890s, innovation and refinement ushered in the Golden Age of Bicycles. The 1890s even saw the introduction of the first ‘ladies bicycles’. Because, of course, women weren’t allowed to ride ordinary bikes. Oh, no. We can’t be having that, can we now?

These bikes didn’t have a triangular frame. There was no bar across the top, so ladies could get on in their finest skirts because if they used a normal bike, their knickers would’ve been on show. They even came with skirt guards to stop the skirts becoming entangled. Obviously, men weren’t happy to see women on bicycles…

It was a belief of the time that bikes for women would instigate a ‘sexual awakening’ in women. Straddling a bike, most men believed the shocks and vibrations would cause… erm, you know. That. No wonder women loved them – they sold out in minutes. But concerns were mounting. In the magazine ‘City Matters’, they stated that cycling could make women ‘more fit for motherhood’. Anti-feminist propaganda adverts even started showing up, informing women that bikes would rattle and shake their insides, leaving them vulnerable to diseases. ‘Bicycle face’ even became a thing, caused by the intense concentration women ‘needed’ to ride a bike – it was said it would ‘ruin their beauty’. Sigh. Men.

Thankfully, bicycling for women helped liberate women, getting them out of long and restrictive skirts. One early bike race for women caused global scandal when all the women wore very, very short skirts. As a response, ‘bicycling bloomers’ were invented, trousers down to the ankles, leaving the ankles on show. They looked… ridiculous. Still, it wasn’t all good news for women. One magazine from 1897 had an article written by a man reviewing American cities. He based his reviews on how attractive the ankles of female cyclists were. Yup. That’s never done it for me. “Phwoar, I love your ankles, darling!”

And in case you want a lady bike, go to the Netherlands. Even now they’re still sold there, named Omafiets. ‘Grandma’s bike’, in other words. In those 1890s, the British were bicycle king. The popularity was booming across Europe, but come 1900, America was falling out of love with the bike. Cars had been invented. That’s why. By 1940, almost all bikes made in America were for children. It makes sense that this is when kickstands were first added. Kids are always leaving the darn things on the floor…

Everywhere else in the world, the bike was still more popular than the car, but, as cars became more and more popular, bikes started to fall out of favour. Where they are now is about where they’ve been for some time. We got the racing bike in 1960 and the BMX in 1970 in California. Young’uns back then often imitated their motocross heroes on their bicycles and thus the BMX was born. That’s Bicycle Motocross, in case you’re wondering what it stands for.

Recreational biking saw a huge surge in the 1970s and so lighter and cheaper bikes became all the rage. Sweden even gave the world a plastic bike. It was a total failure. Heck, I quite like it. Throughout the 1980s, spurred on by mountain biking and extreme sports, mountain bicycles became the bicycle of choice in the UK. In 1990, 2.8 million bicycles were sold in the UK, an all-time high. Almost all of them were mountain bikes. They even appeared in the ‘96 Olympics. Held in Atlanta. Ooh, it opened on my sixth birthday! Aww. I was so cute back then. Sigh, what went wrong…

Today, bikes are experiencing something of a comeback. We even had a section of the Tour de Yorkshire pass right by my house a few years ago. I remember it. I remember opening my window and shaking my fist. “KEEP THE NOISE DOWN!” No, it was super. Everyone’s riding them around town now. Not me. I buck the trends and stay perfectly still.

As of the 21st century, one BILLION bicycles have been manufactured globally. They’re now the most common vehicle of any kind on Earth. The Chinese Flying Pigeon is the most common, with more than 500 million of them on the roads. Clogging up our roads. Like all bikes do. Bloody cyclists.

To put it into comparison, the most popular car of all time is, depressingly, the Toyota Corolla – 35 million sold. Wizard. Hybrids are all the rage now, whilst those ludicrous recumbent bikes are surging. For… reasons completely beyond me. 100 million bicycles are manufactured each year, with the UK home to some 20 million. Nearly 500,000 are stolen each year. Good. God. That’s… truly awful. It really is.

Regardless, only 5% of all trips made in the UK are made on a bike – compared with 30% in the Netherlands. And under 1% in America. As for speed records, the fastest any bike has ever gone on a flat surface is 133.75 km/h, which for non-communists is 83 miles-per-hour. However, in 2011, Austrian Markus Stöckl drove a bike down a volcano, achieving a speed of 102.4 miles-per-hour (164.95 km/h). I didn’t know there were volcanoes in Austria.

Could be worse. In 2001, Javier Zapata cycled UP 1,200 stairs in Venezuela. Nutter. I’d be more impressed if he did it with the world’s longest bike. 67 feet long! Ridden by just 35 people. Ooh. Fred Birchmore was the first cyclist to cycle around the world, pedalling some 25,000 miles, wearing out seven sets of tyres. He travelled 15,000 miles on a boat. That’s… that’s cheating surely…

And you know Damien Hirst? The dickmunch who thinks he’s an artist. He made the most expensive bike ever. The Trek Madone. It sold for $500,000. Sigh. Some people have too much money…

What are my thoughts on bicycles? Have I changed my mind?

Good God, no, if anything I hate them more than ever…

Ciao :)(:

Image (Click on It to Enlarge)
1) An old timey lady wearing her bicycle bloomers – thankfully, she’s also wearing socks…
(credit: commons.wikimedia.org)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. You can leave a comment  below. Likes and follows greatly appreciated.

Please feel free check out the latest posts from my other blogs:
The Indelible Life of Me (New Post Every Saturday)
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  1. Bikes are superior to cars or motorcycles. They use advanced materials like carbon fibre for frames and wheels. They keep your weight down, enabling you to drink more beer. What’s not to like?

    Liked by 1 person

    • All very good points… BUT, I did fall off one when I was learning to ride a bike and I ended up going through a garden fence. Simply put, I never went on a bike ever again and therefore I can’t actually ride a bike. It’s a lot like when I was learning to swim. Kept drowning so I gave up. All-in-all, I do give up rather easily.

      All that said, I’m underweight, not overweight, so I’m not entirely worried about weight loss, and I don’t drink alcohol. Also, cars are unbeatable but I will concede motorcylces SUCK.

      Now I think about it, I’m also not sure if bike wheels on a car are a good idea…


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