“How could I forget to mention the bicycle is a good invention” sang the Red-Hot Chilli Peppers and I would strongly agree with their (and Queen’s “bicycle race”) sentiment. But just where did this crazy contraption start its life? Well, read on dear friend and find this invention’s bizarre origin story, although I doubt this “origin” story will be becoming a marvel studios classic anytime soon.

The bicycle itself has been around in primitive form for a fair while such as the so called “swift walker” created by German Inventor Karl Drais in 1817. However, although this is widely credited as being the first “proper” bicycle it is a long step from the bicycles we know today as it had no pedals, wooden wheels and was closer in use to a balance bike as the rider “walked on top of the bike with his feet leaving the ground during descents” also these contraptions were not seemingly a hit as they were rapidly banned from the streets through a widely re-iterated city law. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that bikes began to resemble anything that a modern cyclist might recognise, as in this period the velocipede quickly nicknamed the “boneshaker” arrived but it was still hindered by a set of wooden wheels and a distinct lack of rubber (pneumatic tires were not invented until 1888) that created the distinct sensation. while in motion of the riders’ tibias being ground particularly harshly into their fibulas. Essentially, they had very clearly earned their nickname. In the late 1800s bicycles rolled very quickly forward due in part to advances in frame materials (metal instead of wood) and pneumatic, vibration absorbing tires contributed strongly to an improvement in comfort as well as speed. In this way the “modern” bicycle was born.

Although people had taken bikes off-road for years it was only when a group of Californians decided to improve their “ballooner” bikes capabilities and rigidity so they could race them down the side of mount Tamalpais that the sport really took off. These pioneers gave birth to the ever-expanding sub-genre of cycling titled mountain biking and although it has certainly seen its fair share of changes both positive and negative it continues to grow exponentially. Just take one look at how quickly the “Ard rock enduro” in beautiful swale dale sells out each year. From humble beginnings this sport is now a great outlet for all ages and for men and women. The freedom a bicycle gives is quite magical and is a great way of “clearing your head” and improving your mental health. Specifically, mountain biking can build team skills, leadership and confidence as well as overall fitness. In this same way cycling can be a great asset for those who struggle to exercise or perhaps are obese. This is because although it provides a full body workout it is a low impact sport, meaning that it is less likely to cause strains and injuries, while the support of the bike itself can aid with lessening pressure on joints that high impact sports such as running can increase. Mountain biking can be good for this end as although it is clearly easier to be slimmer and more agile, fitness can be less important whereas skills such as the bunny hop can make more of a difference to the overall performance of a mtber.

Looping back to Mr Drais, his story is one of unfair mishap. It is a cataclysm that this pioneer goes by uncelebrated, or at least his life fairly unknown. The time in which he found himself was one of great historical turmoil and as he found himself working as a civil servant even though he was somewhat of a political radical (he gave up his title of baron and dropped “von” from his name to show support for would be democratic revolutionaries) the poor chap ended up dying penniless on the 10th December 1851 in Karlsruhe, Germany (then Prussia) although as the inventor of the ancestor of the hugely popular two wheeled machine that we know and love today it could be expected that he would have lived happily after all. This sadly wasn’t the case. This was in part due to his work as a civil servant not allowing him to patent or sell for profit his early bicycle (although he was granted a grand-ducal privilege, to protect his inventions for 10 years) but also the revolution against the monarchy that tried to assert a form of democracy failed and Karl Drais found himself suddenly on the wrong side after denouncing his titles. In retaliation the victorious royalists attempted to have him arrested, imprisoned and certified as “mad”. Also, his pension was confiscated as revenge for him supporting the revolution and to help support the Prussians “pay for the costs of the revolutions suppression”. This left Karl a broken and destitute man who died only a few years after the failed 1848 revolution.

However, although the first centenary of his work fell within the great war and the second just before a global pandemic, he should be remembered for his other remarkable inventions such as: the earliest typewriter with a keyboard, the first meat grinder and two four wheeled human powered vehicles to name a few. Clearly, he was a remarkable man and I genuinely believe more people should learn about him.

Also, if you like your history “croissante-y”, French, briefly successful and petite you should be happy to note that he presented one of his vehicles to the Vienna based congress who were responsible for the defeat of a certain Monsieur Bonaparte.