Birth of the Wheel
Without the wheel, there would be no bicycle. The wheel is thought to have been invented around 3500 BC. According to professor David Anthony of Harwick college, the problem was not inventing the wheel but the actual axle used for the wheel to rotate efficiently.
The origin of the modern day bicycle dates back to the 19th Century. The first ‘bicycle’ was nothing like what we know today, it did not have pedals or a chain or even a proper seat! It was basically a frame with wheels that you sat on and pushed with your legs, commonly known as the running machine.
Designed by Karl Drais, the bicycles were made entirely of wood and metal and came to be called the ‘Dandy Horse’ in the UK.
The Bone Shakers /Velocipede (1860)
These crazy looking contraptions were invested in France in 1860 by Llement and Michaux. The pedals were attached to the front wheel axle and were very difficult to ride over a log distance.
Sadly, not many of these exist today as they were used as scrap metal in WW1.
Penny Farthings (1870-1889)
Designed by James Starley and Eugene Meyer, the penny farthing was all the rage in the Victorian era. Starley had started to push the technology used in manufacturing bicycles by using ball bearings, hollow tube frames and rubber tires.
Though the Penny Farthing became obsolete, some designs remained. Meyer had patented the wire spoke wheel which is still used in most bikes manufactured today.
Rover Safety Bicycle 1885
Designed by John Kemp Starley (James Starley’s nephew), this is regarded as the first bike with same sized wheels and a chain system. Starley wanted to design a bicycle that was much safer on the roads, one that could safely be used as a mode of transport.
The Rover Safety Bicycle has all the features of a modern day bicycle; diamond shaped frame, pedals powering the rear wheel and even a suspension system (springs in the seat). This bike was then mass produced under the Rover Cycle Company Ltd and exported worldwide. The company then went of to produce motorcycles and cars.
Birth of the Mountain Bike
Bicycles started being developed for mountain use back in 1896 when they were tested for use by the 25th Infantry Bicycle corps in the USA. Over in Europe, the Swiss army were also known to me using adapted bikes in the Alps around 1891
The history of the mountain bike racing started in the early 70s in Califorinia. Charlie Kelly and Joe Breezer started building custom bikes which they used to tear down Mount Tamalpais in Marin County.
They used old paperboy bikes like the 1951 Schwinn bike, stripping the bikes down to the bare essentials and reducing the weight down – they called these bikes ‘clunkers’.
As these guys were breaking frames on a weekly basis, Breezer set out to design a frame that could withstand tough mountain racing. The first bike he built was the Breezer no2, which is still on display in the Marin Museum. The frame was built with steel tubing and used lateral tubing to strengthen the frame at the core weak points.
In 1979 a documentary was made about the Repack race (see below), once the documentary was seen worldwide a craze started.
During this period Gary Fisher asked frame builder, Tom Ritchey, to build him a custom mountain bike frame. They ended up building a few to sell and Gary and Charlie Kelly started ‘Mountainbikes’ – a store dedicated to selling these in Marin County. Mountainbikes later became Gary Fisher Bicycles.
As demand for these clunkers grew, Specialized started mass producing their Stumpjumper mountain bike in the early 80s – the Stumpjumer model is still available today just a different version. Large bicycle manufacturers like Schwinn believed the interest in mountain bikes would fade and did not enter the market early on.
Since this period to the modern day, the growth of mountain biking as steadily grown, pushed my new manufacturers and technology.
Other notable events in mountain bike history
1953 – John Finley Scott developed the ‘Woosie Bike’ from a Schwinn World diamond frame.
1980 – Bicycle Magazine does its first feature on mountain bikes. This is the largest bike publication in the World.
1981 – A German company called ‘Univega’ started producing mountain bikes
1981 – Raleigh in the UK produced the ‘Bomber’1992 – Mert Lawwill creates the first MTB with rear suspension, the Gary Fisher RS1
1994 – The first UCI mountain bike World Championships were held
2002 – Manufacturers started mass producing 29 ers- mountain bikes with 29 “ wheels
Mountain Bike History Resources
Image Sources (In order): history.com, thevictoriancyclist.wordpress.com, http://collection.sciencemuseum.org.uk, mmbhof.org