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Social History of the Bicycle : Effects on British Society


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Jeong, Yun Kyung
Term Paper, AP European History Class, November 2008



Table of Contents


I. Introduction
II. A Brief History of Bicycle Development in the 19th Century
II.1 Beginning of Bicycle History: 1817 to 1819
II.2 The First Self-Propelled Bicycle
II.3 The Emergence of the "Bone-shaker"
II.4 The High Wheel Bicycle
II.5 Development of Safety Bicycle : 1880s to 1890s
III. The Bicycle Craze during 1890s
IV. The Emergence of Tricycle and Its Meaning
IV.1 A Brief History of Tricycle
IV.2 Tricycle Craze : Upper-class Phenomenon in England
V. The Bicycle and the WomenĄŻs Movement
V.1 Background
V.2 Dress Reformation Movement by Women Bicyclists
V.3 Consequence of Dress Reformation
VI. The Bicycle and the Worker
VII. Bicycles in the 20th Century : Until 1960
VII.1 The Wide Use of Bicycle in Europe
VII.2 The Development of Road Bicycle Racing
VII.3 Bicycles in War
VIII. Conclusion
Notes
Bbliography



I. Introduction
            The bicycle is a pedal-driven, human-powered vehicle with two wheels, which now number about one billion worldwide. (1)
            This paper will focus on the social history of bicycle in two parts. The paper starts with a brief history of bicycle development, mainly focused on the 19th century. Then the social impacts and incidents concerning the bicycle will be touched in detail.

II. A Brief History of Bicycle Development in the 19th Century

II.1 Beginning of Bicycle History : 1817 to 1819
            The first practically-used bicycle, the draisine, was invented by German Baron Karl von Drais in 1817. The draisine had no pedals so riders should propel it by pushing along the ground with their feet as in regular walking or running. (2) In 1819, Denis Johnson of London created an improved version of the draisine. His patented version featured an elegantly curved wooden frame which allowed the use of larger wheels. This new version of the draisine quickly became fashion in European society. However, it still had two drawbacks which the draisine also had. As riders preferred to ride their vehicles on the smoother roads, their conflicts with pedestrians caused their cities to prohibit the use of vehicles. Furthermore, since vehicles of Drais and Johnson had no pedals, riders used to wear out their boots quickly. Due to these reasons, the fashion of the draisine ended within a year. (3)

II.2 The First Self-Propelled Bicycle
            In 1839, Kirkpatrick Macmillan in Scotland invented the first mechanically-propelled bicycle. This first pedal bicycle was propelled by a horizontal reciprocating movement of the rider's feet on the pedals. This movement was transmitted to cranks on the rear wheel by connecting rods. Although this self-propelled bicycle helped riders to operate the bicycle with more convenience and higher speed, the machine was extremely heavy so the physical effort and ability to ride it were required. (4)

II.3 The Emergence of the "Bone-shaker"
            In 1863 Pierre Michaux of Paris developed the Michaux Velocipede, also known as the "Bone-shaker", for its rough ride. Simpler design comparing to Macmillan's and the use of metal frames reducing its weight and allowing mass-production made the Michaux really popular and commercially successful. The fashion of "Boneshaker" lasted until 1870. (5)

II.4 The High Wheel Bicycle
            The high-bicycle was invented by Englishman James Starley, regarded as the father of British cycling industry, in 1870. It was also known as the penny-farthing, because the wheels looked like a large English penny and farthing placed next to each other. Penny-farthing was the logical extension of the boneshaker with the front wheel enlarged. The great size of front wheel enabled higher speeds but it was extremely unsafe at the same time as the rider had to ride at a great speed being high up in the air. The dangerous nature of the high-wheel bicycle meant cycling was the preserve of adventurous young men at that time. This idea led to development of safer bicycles.

II.5 Development of Safety Bicycle : 1880s to 1890s
            The development of safety bicycle in the late 19th century was the most important change in bicycle history. It shifted their use and public perception from being a dangerous toy for sporting young men to being an everyday transport tool for all ages (6)
            In 1885, John Kemp Starley invented the first safety bicycle called Rover Safety, the prototype of the modern-day bicycle. Starley's bicycle had a saddle, handlebar grips, and rear placement of the crank axle which made the bicycle both easier and safer to ride. The improvement of tire and frame also made the bicycle more comfortable and stable than previous one. Highly improved over the penny farthing, the safety bicycle completely replaced the high wheel bicycles and also the bicycle itself became very popular among both elites and the middle classes in the middle and late 1890s (7)

III The Bicycle Craze during 1890s
            The invention of safety bicycle was the main factor of bicycle craze in 1890s. As the penny-farthing passed out of fashion, the safety bicycle, mainly produced in England by John Starley, was spread throughout Europe rapidly. The popularity of the safety bicycle was so great that this first caused the pavements of roads in England for bicycle riders.

IV. The Emergence of Tricycle and Its Meaning

IV.1 A Brief History of Tricycle
            The first tricycle was invented in 1680 by Stephan Farffler in Germany. However, it had become practical since the early 19th century, and became popular after James Starley, inventor of the penny-farthing, introduced tricycle to England. From 1876 to 1884, Starley's Coventry Rotary, the main bicycle production company in England, produced a wide variety of tricycles and multi-wheel cycles. Tricycles commonly had two small wheels on the right side that both steered simultaneously and a large drive wheel on the left side.
            At first, tricycles were used especially by those who could not ride high wheelers, such as women who were confined in the long dresses of the day, and short or non athletic men. (8)

IV.2 Tricycle Craze : Upper-class Phenomenon in England
            From 1881 to 1886 in Great Britain, more tricycles were built than bicycles. (9) However, this was primarily a class phenomenon for upper classes.
            Mass production of bicycles in the late 19th century led to the wide spread of bicycles among the middle-class workers, who used them as their transportation. The upper classes in England, who did not want to share common interests with the lower classes, began riding tricycles instead of bicycles. Since the tricycle was more expensive and less accessible to the working class, it soon became only for the elites. In 1882, the Tricycle Union was formed by the wealthy members of London society. This union sought to ban bicycles from park pathways and other public areas, This illustrates that the tricyclists believed that they were both socially superior to the bicyclists. (10)

V The Bicycle and the Women's Movement

V.1 Background
            The development of the safety bicycle in the 19th century also gave women unprecedented mobility. As bicycles became safer and cheaper, more women had access to the personal freedom they embodied, so the bicycle came to symbolize the "New Woman" of the late nineteenth century, especially in England. (1)

V.2 Dress Reformation Movement by Women Bicyclists
            "New Woman" was the term used to describe the modern woman who broke with convention by working outside the home, or eschewed the traditional role of wife and mother, or became politically active in the womanĄŻs suffrage movement or other social issues (12); the bicycle greatly helped the New Woman to act as such. As women learned to ride bicycles, they not only gained physical mobility that broadened their horizons beyond where they lived, but also they discovered a new sense of freedom of movement. (13)
            However, the value of that time did not view the bicycle riding as a proper activity for ladies. Especially the clothing of women ? mostly long, multi-layered dress and corset- was the biggest obstacle for riding. As the New Woman realized that they cannot cycle in the then-current fashions, there was a movement in England to reform their clothing in order to liberate women from corsets and ankle-length skirts and other encumbering garments. As a result of the movement, the rational-dress appeared and was widely worn by women cyclists.

V.3 Consequence of Dress Reformation
            Although the social change brought by the bicycle was limited to women's fashion, this was a basis for the enhancement of woman right. (14) Consequently the woman with a bicycle no longer had to depend on a man for transportation and she was free to come and go at will. Also, she could experience a new kind of physical thrill made by the speed of the bike. As "Freedom Machine", the nickname for the bicycle at that time indicates, the bicycle liberated women from restriction and stereotype of the age.

VI. The Bicycle and the Worker
            The bicycle was the main transportation for the working class as well. The mass production and the price competition lowered the price of bicycles. Due to this, the bicycle was the first affordable vehicle for the working class in Europe. As most workers lived in the suburbs for cheap house rents, it took a great amount of time for them to commute. However, thanks to the bicycle, workers in the early 20th century could go to work spending less time and fewer efforts. (16)

VII. Bicycles in the 20th Century : Until 1960

VII.1 The Wide Use of the Bicycle in Europe
            Cycling steadily became more important in Europe over the first half of the 20th century. The development of private automobiles in Europe was very slow. Thus the bicycle was mainly in use for transportation, work, leisure, and sport in 20th century Europe. (15)

VII.2 The Development of Road Bicycle Racing
            Road bicycle racing is a popular bicycle racing sport held on roads, using racing bicycles. It is popular all over the world, but especially in Europe ? Belgium, France, Scotland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. (17)
            The first recorded road bicycle racing was in Paris, 1868. Since then, the road racing has developed rapidly. The development of bicycles in early 20th century made the road racing more competitive. By the mid-1930s, European bicycle manufacturers were building lightweight bicycles using alloy materials. Also, the geometry of bicycles was changing to create more comfortable bicycles, and new gears were introduced to make the riding easier and faster. Thanks in part to the production of various kinds of bicycles, the road bicycle racing could quickly gain popularity in 20th century Europe.

VII.3 Bicycles in War
            As the number of bicycle riders increased greatly in 20th century Europe, European countries attempted to use bicycles in military ways.(18) Comparing to horses used in the war previously, bicycles were more cost-effective as they needed no food and can be repaired immediately if injured. In fact, armies from many nations, especially British army, fielded bicycle-mounted troops during WWI and WWII.
            However, the British army who mainly used bicycle-mounted troops in their war faced some difficulties as the bicycle use was limited on the level ground without ditches and hedges.(19) Unlike horse-riding, bicycle riding on a rough road was almost impossible in bicycles of those days. Also, they could not jump over hedges and ditches that were common in most battle field in Britain. Therefore, the attempt to use bicycles in war was partly successful in reality, however, this also indicates the tremendous increase of bicycle use in 20th century Europe.

VIII Conclusion
            As one of the most important vehicles before motorization, the bicycle and its development have influenced greatly on the European society since its invention.
            In the early bicycle history, bicycles were regarded as the toy for sporting young men. However, as they were improved in their safety and practicality, bicycles came into wide use in transportation, leisure, sports, and even wars in European society.
            The development of bicycle influenced social issues in Europe as well. For example, the safety bicycles in late 19th century enabled women to ride bicycles as men did, and this led to the movement of female bicyclists to reform the women clothing that were inappropriate for cycling; this illustrates the extension of women rights in European society.


Notes

(1)      Article: Bicycle, from Wikipedia
(2)      Bicycle History, from Tyler Bicycle Club
(3)      Article: Denis Johnson of London, from Wikipedia
(4)      Macmillan Kirkpatrick, from BBC Website
(5)      Article: History of Bicycle, from Wikipedia
(6)      Safety Bicycle, from About.Com
(7)      Article: History of Bicycle, from Wikipedia
(8)      Tricycle History, from Retro Pedal Cars
(9)      ibid.
(10)      Furness. 2005, pp. 401-417
(11)      Article: Women Wheelers, from Web Bicycle Magazine, Annie Londonderry
(12)      ibid.
(13)      Strange. 2002
(14)      Article: Women Wheelers, from Web Bicycle Magazine, Annie Londonderry
(15)      Article: Bicycles and Tricycles, from Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society
(16)      Article: Social Change: Suffragettes and Workers on the Bicycle, from Bicycle Journal Website
(17)      Article: Road Bicycle Racing, from Wikipedia
(18)      Bicycle in Commerce and War, from About.Com
(19)      Article: The War Bicycle, from The New York Times, September 30, 1984


Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in November 2008.
1.      Article: Bicycle, from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle
2.      Bicycle History, from Tyler Bicycle Club, http://www.tylerbicycleclub.com/BicycleHistory.html
3.      Article: Denis Johnson of London, from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denis_Johnson_of_London
4.      Macmillan Kirkpatrick, from BBC Website, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/macmillan_kirkpatrick.shtml
5.      Article: History of Bicycle, from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_bicycle
6.      Safety Bicycle, from About.Com, http://bicycling.about.com/od/thebikelife/ss/History_5.htm
7.      Tricycle History, from Retro Pedal Cars, http://retropedalcars.com/tricycle_history1.htm
8.      Furness, Jack. Biketivism and Technology: Historical Reflections and Appropriations. Social Epistemology, Volume 19, 2005, pp. 401-417
9.      Article: Women Wheelers, from Web Bicycle Magazine, Annie Londonderry, http://www.annielondonderry.com/womenWheels.htm
10.      Strange, L. S. Brown, R. S. The Bicycle, Women's Rights, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Taylor and Francis. 2002
11.      Article: Bicycles and Tricycles, from Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society, http://www.faqs.org/childhood/Ar-Bo/Bicycles-and-Tricycles.html
12.      Article: Road Bicycle Racing, from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_bicycle_racing#History_of_road_races
13.      Bicycle in Commerce and War, from About.Com http://bicycling.about.com/od/thebikelife/ss/History_7.htm
14.      Article: The War Bicycle, from The New York Times, September 30, 1984
15.      Article: Social Change: Suffragettes and Workers on Bikes, from Bicycle Journal Website, http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/page/?o=3Tzut&page_id=46873&v=7E

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