- IMAGE GALLERIES
- CYCLORAMA SHOP
- Cyclorama Week
- Guide to Types of Bike
- Beginner's Guide
- Practical Information Articles
- Women's Cycling
- Cycling Technology
- Cycling History
- Issues and Inspiration
- Cycling Worldwide
- Cycle Sport
- Cycling Books. Reviews and Other Lit Crit.
- Bike Culture on the web
- Press department
The Leonardo Legacy
The truth behind the myth: Leonardo da Vinci's 'bicycle'. By Jim McGurn
So the Leonardo bike wasn't. It turns out to have been a doodle by a reprehensible restorer, embellishing an innocent pair of circles on the original manuscript. Well, before we consign the whole thing to the dustbin of cycle mythology, let's just enjoy the thought that Leonardo was, in fact, the inventor of several human-powered land vehicles. He designed vehicles, on paper at least, which might enhance the power of the human body.
Many of his ideas were fanciful: we have sketches of helicopters, ornithopters, man-powered carriages, armoured tanks, paddle-boats and pocket battleships. Furthermore, his drawings show he was working on engineering concepts which could easily have been incorporated into the design of a bicycle, had he thought of it, and had the technicians of the time been up to the job.
Leonardo's automotive carriage: complex drive mechanism but rudimentary steering. It looks like a bow-like spring arrangement to store energy, then propel the vehicle when released.
A small sketch of a man-powered cart, to be propelled by the turning of cranks. Both this carriage and what was seen as a bicycle may have been intended as vehicles for animal figures in pageants.
Leonardo's 'bicycle' now shown to have been a forgery.
A pawled device possibly similar to a modern freewheel.
Leonardo seems to have invented the ball bearing. Although disc bearings had been in use since Greek times, most bearings in Leonardo's day and after consisted simply of a hole for an axle bored into wood or metal. No amount of tallow or oil could prevent rapid wear. In response, Leonardo invented the roller bearing and the ball-bearing. He even describes an adjustable bearing with a wedge for tightening, or with a cover which could be adjusted by turning a screw so that the bushes could be tightened as wear progressed. Leonardo also tells us of an anti-friction metal for bearing surfaces: a "mirror metal consisting of three parts copper and seven of tin melted together."
Variable speed gearing. We presume that the prime mover turns the lantern wheel on the left which engages with one of the three gear wheels. Is this an early forerunner of modern bicycle derailleur gears?
Remarkable chain links of various designs. It is not known whether they could have been manufactured in Leonardo's day 500 years ago.
Leonardo's ball race, drawn 500 years ago. The balls are held in position so as not to rub against each other but to rotate freely. Such inventions were forgotten for four centuries.