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> Bicycle and Society Issue: 2012-2 Section: 14-16



Andra Tudor


I. Introduction

People see the bicycle as a means of transport which is very comfortable inexpensive and very accessible to all of us. But not many people have thought which are the connections between this invention and the society we are living in and especially that this vehicle is close related to our society’s social and cultural environment.


II. The evolution of the two-wheeled vehicles

The bicycle has known an amazing evolution, starting from its apparition. The first vehicle from this type was created in 1816’s by a German aristocrat. Baron von Drais thought about a personal transport line for walking through the royal gardens, and that’s how the „Draisine” was born, an vehicle with two in-line wheels (Fig 1), but with no pedals. Even so, the inventor of this machine considered that his invention will replace horses, helping the economy of that times.

Later, in 1861, Ernest Michaux, from France, realised that this machine needs some improvements, so that he decided to add some pedals at the draisine’s front wheel, and a pair of breaks, meant to solve all the problems caused by the movement of this machine. The new machine was called „Boneshaker”(Fig. 2) and has known an amazing success, regarding the fact that Napoleon the 3rd’s son was nicknamed after this vehicle.

Even having a terrifing success, the constructors were always searching to perfect the „Boneshaker”. After 8 years from the improvements made by Ernest Michaux to the velocipede, James Starlez şi William Hillman created the bases of a bicycle called „Ariel”, which was a bicycle having an hudge front wheel, comparing to the back wheel. They were sure that „Ariel” will know what success means, so they organised an event to diseminate their invention. They went 153 km, riding this machine, only in a day, getting the press attention.

This construction was used for several decades under the name of „The Ordinary” (Fig. 3).

After another decade, in 1879, the producer Harry John Lawson created a bicycle which had a chain transmission and some wheels which were visible smaller. He didn’t search to much for a special name, so he called it simple „bicicletta” (Fig. 4).

This appea-rance took to a new generation of bicycles, which in this way became a very searched vehicle.

For example, in Italy, the number of bicycles grew up, arriving to a number of 558.992.

In 1888’s, bicycle’s evolution didn’t want to stop: more and more inventions were meant for growing the confort and popularity of this vehicle. John Boyd Dunlop added the pneumatic tire, and in 1891 Michelin and Pirelli invented and perfected the tire casing (Fig. 5).


III. Relationship between bicycle and the society’s evolution

“Political relationships”

Talking about the political relationships, it is said that the draisine should have replaced the horse, being actually created as an efficient vehicle for personal transport. Drais hasn’t relised the disadvatages of this construction, like the posibillity of falling down because of the ground, or that shoes weren’t resisting as the horseshoes, and that riding this vehicle wasn’t as faster as riding the horse.

Drais and his invention became the target of the royal humour, once with the German revolution (1848-1849) and with his acts of quiting the noble title.


Women and bikes

In the Victorian Britain, a woman seen riding a bicycle wasn’t very well looked, because there was sais that all the movements made by her clothes and her body during the ride of this vehicle, or even the eventual falls from it, were not fixing with so called „Victorian prudery”.

Taking advantage of this, the constructors searched solutions for the ladies which wanted riding the bicycle. In this way, they created bicycles with both pedals on one side, tricycles, or "dicycles", with parallel wheels (Fig. 6).

Even so, the stylists had some contribution at woman’s desire to ride a bicycle, and they invented „the rational dress”, which had some long trousers, wider above the knee and tight at the ankles, covered by an overcoat, enough long not to reveal their legs (Fig. 7).


Social relationships

Nowadays, the big majority of population uses the bicycles for: riding ‘till their work place, earning money for their own existence, the avoid congestion in the cities, a way of relaxing, sport practice and health maintaining, the environment protection (because of this clean means of transport).


V. Conclusions

To sum up, the invention of what is now called “the bicycle”, was useful for the human being in the most positive sense, starting from its first appearance and finishing with the present. Even if over time it has suffered a lot of changes, concerning form, side, material, weight, arriving now to the most modern equipment, its role was, it is, and it will be the same: a means of travel, an original way of transportation, unpolluting machinery, for recreation, for health, for sport practice, easy to maintain and accessible to the all social classes of the society we live in.



  • E. Heinen, Bicycle Commuting, Cornell University Press, 2011.
  • G. D. Adams, Collecting and Restoring Antique Bicycles, Pedaling History:The Burgwardt Bicycle Museum; 2nd edition, 1996.
  • G. King, Bicycle: Bone Shakers, Highwheelers and Other Celebrated Cycles, Courage Books, 2002.
  • Robert Penn, It's All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels, Bloomsbury USA, 2011.`


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