"By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge
the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches." ~Proverbs 24:3-4

Not Just For Kids


Bicycling is a popular pastime for all ages, from preschoolers to seniors. Bikes are fun to ride, whether traveling around town, touring the countryside, participating in races, performing bike motocross stunts, or simply using them for exercise. Bicycling is a sport the whole family can do together. For youth, biking is the way to adventure; for older folks, it keeps them young in heart.

The world's first bicycle was made in France around the 1700's. It was made of two wheels joined by a wooden bar. The rider sat on a wooden rail and pushed the vehicle along the ground with his feet. This primitive vehicle had no pedals and could not be steered.

In Germany, Baron Karl von Drais built a similar vehicle in 1816. The big improvement of this bicycle over the first was that the front wheel could be turned for steering. A number of versions appeared, called walkalongs, hobby horses, or Draisines. Some had iron tires over the wooden wheels, padded chest supports, cushioned leather saddles or spring-mounted seats.

Over the years, the comfort and efficiency of these early bicycles continued to improve. A Scotsman used treadles to transmit power to the rear wheel to drive the vehicle. An English inventor attached a ratchet device to the front wheel, which was pumped with the arms. Others arrived at the idea of pedals that were attached directly to the front wheel.

However, it wasn't until after the American Civil War that the idea of a pedaled bicycle caught the public's fancy. In 1866, a French carriage maker named Pierre Lallement began manufacturing bicycles in Connecticut. His bicycle's front wheel was slightly larger than the rear wheel. Pedals were attached directly to the front wheel axle. It was called a "boneshaker" because it jolted the rider so much, especially on the cobblestone roads of the day.

New versions of Lallement's bicycle began to appear rapidly. In each, the front wheel became slightly larger and the rear wheel slightly smaller, since a higher front wheel achieved greater distance for each turn of the pedals. Other improvements included adjustable seats and the addition of rubber tires over the rims to reduce noise and prevent the wheels from slipping. By the 1870's, most wheels were fitted with wire spokes rather than heavy wooden spokes.

The high-wheeled bicycle, consisting of a small rear wheel and a huge front wheel with a seat mounted directly over it, came into vogue around 1875. In the most common models, the front wheel was from four to five feet tall, but a few were as high as eight feet. The high front wheel gave a rider the full advantage of his thrust in pedaling, as one turn of the pedals sent the big wheel on a complete revolution. This allowed bicyclists to achieve faster speeds, up to 25 mph.

Wheelmen, as these cyclists were called, were proud of their skill in handling the high-wheeled bicycles. Bicycle parades, exhibitions, and cross-country tours gave them an opportunity to sport their vehicles. However, a big disadvantage of high-wheelers was the difficulty in mounting them, and the danger of falling off from that height. Because the rider sat so high above the center of gravity, if the front wheel was stopped by a stone or rut in the road, the entire apparatus rotated forward on its front axle, and the rider hit the ground head-first. Thus, the term "taking a header."

A high-wheeled tricycle was first made in the 1880's for ladies who were afraid of the high bicycles, and for gentlemen such as doctors and clergymen who preferred to ride with more dignity. Then safety bicycles, much like today's bicycles, were invented. While the "highboys" remained in use for more than a decade, eventually the safety bicycle won out.

The safety bicycle returned to two wheels of the same size, but it could go as fast as the high-wheeled ones due to a major improvement. Pedals drove the rear wheel by a chain and sprocket, as they do today. The chain was arranged so that turning the pedals once made the back wheel turn more than once around. The rider sat lower and more comfortably, between the wheels. Rubber tires were filled with air, making for a softer ride. Coaster brakes were also added.

In the 1890's, bicycling became so popular that people went without other luxuries and even necessities so they could afford the best possible bicycle. At that time, bicycles were the fastest wheels on the road. Bicycles were used for recreation as well as transportation. Sunday afternoon rides became popular, with women participating as actively as the men. The tandem "bicycle built for two" became a fad. There were even some bicycles for four riders.

It has been said that the wheel was the single greatest invention in the history of mankind - and the most useful application of the wheel may well be the bicycle. Most people don't realize how bicycles influenced our present way of life. Bicycling was the first athletic activity to bring women out of the parlor. They stopped wearing hoopskirts, bustles, and cumbersome clothes and changed to shorter skirts, bloomers, culottes, and apparel more practical for bicycling.

In addition, the bicycle literally paved the way for the automobile. Many early automobile engineers and manufacturers started out as bicycle builders. The first automobiles had slim tires and spoked wheels just like bicycles. They were given their test runs on the smooth roads that had been demanded by bicyclists. The first motorcycle was a gasoline-powered bicycle. Even Wilbur and Orville Wright's historic flying machine was designed in their bicycle shop.

After the introduction of automobiles, bicycles slipped out of favor for more than half a century. Bicycle manufacturers resorted to selling two-wheelers and tricycles as toys for children. Then in the 1960's, biking enjoyed a revival as it once again gained popularity with adults. Circumstances that brought the bicycle back included the need for exercise, an increase in leisure time, interest in the outdoors, concern for the environment, and a desire to return to a simpler way of life.

Today's bicycles represent over two centuries of development. Gear shifts were added to modern bicycles for changing speeds and making pedaling easier. Space-age materials and engineering provide maximum performance and relatively low maintenance. Types of bikes include the English 3-speed of the 1960's, 10-speed derailleur bikes from the 1970's, and the mountain bike which has been around since the late 1980's. Among the many other variations are hybrid street bikes, BMX bikes, unicycles, folding bikes, exercise bikes, recumbent bikes, and even pedal cars.

For additional information about the history of bicycles, online exhibits, pictures and more, visit the Pedaling History Bicycle Museum at www.pedalinghistory.com. To catch the cycling spirit, watch Breaking Away (1979 - PG), about a high school graduate and skilled cyclist named Dave. His heroes are the Cinzano racing team from Italy, but everything changes after he meets the Italians - and he and his friends challenge the college fraternities in their town's annual bike race.

More About Bikes - Written by Kids!

"I have ridden bikes since I was 6 so racing bikes is natural for me. I have a lot of fun riding bikes and racing them. It is a good way to use up energy because you can never slow down or else you will lose. The track is fairly long and you will get tired easily unless you race all the time. The best part about BMX is that you can go really fast and if you go fast enough you can jump some of the jumps that are really big! It can be a dangerous sport also. For example when I was still a beginner I was trying to go faster than I should have. I crashed and broke my shoulder in one spot and dislocated it in another place. For the most part that was my only major injury not including my injuries off the track. It can be a complicated sport if you really study it, because there are certain moves that you can do in order to win. Like most sports there are rules, fortunately the rules are not that hard to learn. There are judges and finish line judges but they don't usually change the outcome of the race unless one of the riders commits a foul. Once you start it is very hard to quit because it is so much fun. I like it so much I even made a practice track at my house. One of the best parts about racing is that you get a new bike about every year and not just any bike, but the best that they make. I hope by writing this article more people will start doing BMX." (By Jacob Taylor, a 14-year-old homeschooler.)

Old, wobbly.
Pushing, pedaling, falling.
Small three wheeler - big two wheeler.
Riding, racing, jumping.
New, shiny.
(By Jonathan Olsen, 7, who started riding a two-wheeler last year and handed down his little red tricycle to his younger brother.)

BMX Racer, by Greg Corby

Every week I look forward to going to the track,
And when I leave, I can't wait to get back.
It might be cold or maybe hot.
It could be windy, or maybe not.
I clean and polish my bikes,
At least to my dad's likes.
I jump and get high on the first big double,
But if I come unclipped, that would mean big trouble!
I ride for Foothills Granite--yes, it's a team.
My team manager is cool; she's never mean.

The Good Ole Days, by Greg Corby

I remember when we had good trails. We would wake up about 10:00, then head out. As we rode to the jumps, it was nice and cool. The rain clouds were hangin' out to watch us ride, and to wet our jumps. We arrived into our own little world. The trees were making plenty of shade, still wet from the night dew. The ground was damp from rain the day before. Our shovels were waiting to form big piles of dirt. My favorite time was when the dirt was freshly packed and smooth. We would start to ride, and just jump for hours. (Greg Corby is a 14-year-old homeschool student who races BMX bikes all over the country and is always on the outlook for new places to build dirt jumps!)

I Like Biking, by Peter Olsen

My dad, my brother Jon and I like to go bike riding. We pump up the tires, fill our water bottles, and put on our helmets. Then we can go wherever we want - on national forest trails, to an old water tank out in the desert, or down a very steep hill. We call the steep hill "Betcha-can't." It is so steep that the first time I tried to go down it I fell and scraped my knee really bad. The last time Jon went down it, his bike flipped over on top of him. I like coming back on Circle Mountain Road because it's downhill and I can coast all the way home. My favorite part about going on bike rides is exploring new places and looking at different things along the way. (Peter Olsen is an 11-year-old homeschooled student in 7th grade.)


These pages are a continuous work in progress.
Copyright © 2000- by Teri Ann Berg Olsen
All rights reserved.

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