Cycling History

The colourful history of cycling, from its earliest origins to its place in recent culture.

The Cycle and the Telegraph

The Cycle and the Telegraph

The history of cycling and telecommunications goes a long way back, with a Royal Engineer using pedal power to communicate...

 
When the army was overcome by bicycles

When the army was overcome by bicycles

The Vienna-Berlin race of 1893 was a turning point in the popularity of the bicycle, especially for the military. RÜDIGER RABENSTEIN explains.

 
Nerves of steel

Nerves of steel

Roll up! Roll up! See a cyclist traverse the skies suspended on a wire! Gasp at the lack of a safety net! Gulp at the sheer bravado! Gawp at the clear and present danger…

 
By the Seat of Their Pants

By the Seat of Their Pants

It was no coincidence that the first aeroplane was built by bicycle mechanics. The two kinds of transport are joined at the hip, as JOHN STUART CLARK discovered as he studied the Wright Flyer.

 

Don't Forget the Whisky!

Has cycling changed that much since the early days awheel? LES WOODLAND takes a humorous look.

 

*Von Drais’ Laufmaschine

“Without doubt, the first bicycle ever made was by von Drais in Germany, in 1817.” That's the certain belief of cycle historian JOHN PINKERTON.

 

The Velo-Cannibals

Of the many things that have changed of the years with regards to cycling, perhaps the most fortuitous was the end of widespread assaults on riders. JIM McGURN suggests why this aggression may have come to be in the first place.

 

Doubtful Devices

JIM McGURN looks at some early Road 'bikes'.

 

Death on the Tracks

JIM McGURN writes about the many dangers associated with early motorcycle racing, and the measures devised to overcome the high death toll (some of which have been passed over to generations of modern cyclists!).

 

When All the Princes Pedalled

JIM McGURN writes about the cycling boom as the cusp of the 20th century.

 

Seven Commandments

PAUL DE VIVIE: Velocio

 

Take a brake

To stop is as important as to start - be it for the safety of the rider or the destination having been reached. JIM McGURN details some exotic braking systems that have since fallen by the wayside.

 

The fabulous Mr Schopp

"The Rights of Man"? How about "The Rights of Velocipes"? JIM McGURN writes about (probably) the first ever campaigner for this most noble of causes...

 

Extreme cycling in 1887

Innovations in cycling persist to the present day, but, of course, we would be nowhere without the valiant attempts of early inventors. JIM McGURN writes about some of the prototypes that never managed to cement themselves in history.

 

The Boneshaker

Cycle historian JOHN PINKERTON describes the Boneshaker to Simon Levermore.

 

Natty gent with curious bicycle

JIM McGURN takes a look at how bicycles were used as fashion statements in the Victorian era.

 

An ordinary machine?

John Pinkerton's journey through the evolution of the bicycle reaches a peak, so to speak, with the era of the High Bicycle. He tells SIMON LEVERMORE about these magnificent machines and their ingenious inventors

 

Going for gold: cycling extravagance in the USA

by CHARLES MEINERT with contributions from JIM McGURN.

 

Alfred Jarry: a Cyclist on the Wild Side

JIM McGURN expatiates on the eccentric and colourful author and cyclist Alfred Jarry

 

When Britain rode bicycles: the idyll before the onslaught

The role of Raleigh in the depiction of utopian cyclists in the mid 1900s is described by EDGAR NEWTON.

 

The Inventor of the Bicycle

Was Kirkpatrick MacMillan the creator of that most ubiquitous of two-wheeled machines? ALISTAIR DODDS has done the research…

 

The Vélocio method

Paul de Vivie, alias 'Vélocio', was the 'father' of French cycle touring. TONY HADLAND describes his philosophy and technical insights.

 

The bicycle’s role in the rise of Individualism

ALBERT HERRESTAL writes about the liberating effect of the bicycle on all classes of society - and the cost of its dominance on other trades. Translation from the German by JIM McGURN.

 

A life on fast wheels

Dick Swann, ex-racing cyclist, Christian priest, American race organiser, and luminary of the Cycle Engineer's Institute in Britain talked to PATRICK FIELD.

 

Mobility on wood

HANS-ERHARD LESSING, former curator of the Landesmuseum for Technology and Labour in Mannheim, challenges misconceptions about Baron von Drais' 'running machine'.

 

‘No one had ever heard of a road race’

The story of Percy Stallard, the rebel behind the revival of the road race in England

 

A Wheel Short

Because two wheels just weren't enough for regality of yore... JIM MCGURN investigates the place the tricycle has held in people's perceptions over the centuries.

 
 

Across the Channel in a Cycle-Boat

This story was published first in 1884, in The Boy’s Own Paper, a British story paper aimed at young and teenage boys. We reproduce it here for the enjoyment of boys and girls, young and old alike!

 

The Leonardo Legacy

The truth behind the myth: Leonardo da Vinci's 'bicycle'. By Jim McGurn

 

Who owns the roads?

Historian ROBERT POOLE describes how common rights to the highways were abandoned decades ago.

 

Sounding Off

Essential but easy to overlook, cyclists have always needed ways of sonorously alerting others to their presence. JIM McGURN looks at some of the thrills and spills encountered by those using their bells... and other, noisier devices!

 

The amazing ocean-going world of Yvon Le Caer

Le Caer was a world-class competition cyclist before he embarked on his ocean-going exploits. His speed records for human powered water craft still stand more than twenty years later.

 
An Intimate Portrait of the Tour de France

An Intimate Portrait of the Tour de France

A review of Philippe Brunei's book by SIMON LEVERMORE

 
1904 The Tour de France which was to be the Last

1904 The Tour de France which was to be the Last

ARTHUR CLUNE reviews a book by Jacques Seray, which gives a fascinating insight into the history and intrigue of cycling’s greatest race.

 
Ever the Spectator: The cycling passions of Toulouse-Lautrec

Ever the Spectator: The cycling passions of Toulouse-Lautrec

In a not-so-recently published book on the life of Toulouse-Lautrec, JULIA FREY relates how, although his physical disabilities barred him from riding a bike they were unable diminish his passion for cyclesport.

 

All aboard!

JIM McGURN describes the development of cycles with more than just the traditional two wheels...

 

A high wheel through Afghanistan

In 1884, the Englishman Thomas Stevens set out on what was probably the first cycle tour around the world, which included a passage through Afghanistan.

 

Mountain Biking Before Mountain Bikes

By Chairman of the Rough Stuff Fellowship: STEVE GRIFFITH

 

Profile: Joe Waugh

The man behind M Steel Cycles in Newcastle was formerly a road racer for Britain - and a good one at that...

 

Profile: Maurice Burton

It’s Leicester’s Saffron Lane velodrome, August 1974. The newly crowned British 20 kilometre champion, Maurice Burton waves his bouquet. Sections of the crowd are booing. Is it because the champion rode a tactical race – or perhaps because his skin is a different color? By EDMOND HOOD

 

Over unknown Iceland on a Raleigh Roadster

In 1933 Horace Edward Stafford Dall and his Raleigh three-speed roadster (complete with fully enclosed chain case), made the first crossing of Iceland's Sprengisandur wilderness by wheeled vehicle - preceding the first motorised vehicle by a month. BEN SEARLE narrates the incredible story.

 

UK; Rough at the top

The Rough Stuff Fellowship is a very British phenomenon. STEPHEN McKAY takes a closer look.

 

Early Designers of off-road Bikes in the UK

Much of the impetus for the mountain bike boom came from America, with design reflecting American needs. However, British designers have been producing strikingly original mounts for as long as the Americans.

 

Gears gone by

Some 'novel' ideas have turned up before in cycling history. RALPH HURNE reminds us that we should be aware of past solutions so we can invent new ones.

 

Repack, and the Birth of the Mountain Bike

RICHARD BALLANTINE writes about the origins of the mountain bike, and the now-famous course that led to its inception.

 
Women off the leash

Women off the leash

MARTINA SCHWAGER reviews Dörte Blechmann’s book‚ Wehe wenn sie losgelassen (Once you let them off the leash…), which charts the early days of women’s cycling in Germany.