It was a very disruptive technology, perhaps equivalent to smartphone current. For the first time in history, the masses were mobile and able to come and go as they pleased. They no longer needed the expensive horses and carriages. Yes, bicycles really transformed the world.
By 1898, cycling had become a very popular activity in the United States. Bicycle manufacturing became one of the largest and most innovative industries. One third of patent applications were related to bicycles.
Changing the world
The invention of the modern bicycle is credited to John Kemp Starley. He developed the Rover safety bike, a 20-kilogram contraption that looked, more or less, like today’s bicycles. He exhibited it at a bicycle exhibition in 1886. The demand was huge. At the Stanley Bicycle Show in London in 1895, some 200 bicycle manufacturers now exhibited 3,000 models.
The insatiable demand for bicycles gave rise to other industries. Bearings, wire for wheel spokes, steel tubes. All this boosted the manufacturing industry. The domino effect also extended to advertising. Marketing strategies, such as planned obsolescence and releasing new models every year, started here.
The arrival of the bicycle influenced almost every aspect of life. Art, music, literature, fashion and even the human gene pool. Intermarriage increased during the bicycle craze of the 1890s. Young people, freed, roamed the countryside as they pleased, met on the road, met in distant villages.
The political influence of millions of cyclists produced rapid improvements on city and country streets. Cyclists literally paved the way for the age of the automobile. Brooklyn opened one of the country’s first bike lanes in 1895. Two years later, New York passed the country’s first highway code due to the large number of speeding cyclists.
The begining of everything
In Dayton, Ohio, two bicycle mechanics—brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright—were already anticipating an airplane. The basis of the design was… a bicycle. James Kemp Starley, who started it all, died in 1901, aged 46. He had started producing motorcycles and eventually automobiles. He seemed like the way to the future. In the United States, another former bicycle mechanic named Henry Ford was doing quite well. Without a doubt, bicycles transformed the world.