The mystery and magic of riding a bicycle

Caitlin getting going!
Caitlin getting going!

Ride!

When I turned six my parents gave me a two-wheeler to replace the tricycle I had been riding for about three years.

Getting to ride a bicycle was something of a challenge and I was scared at first, but my mother, who was a no-nonsense kind of person, put me on the saddle, gave the bike a push and said, in her most commanding tones, “Ride!”

I rode.

Not without quite a few spills, scraped knees and bumped elbows, to be sure, but I rode, and have been grateful ever since for the mystery and magic of riding a two-wheeled vehicle.

It is said that cycle riding is one skill that, however early or late one learns it, it will always be there for you. You never forget it.

These memories and thoughts have come back to me this year as I bought a bike for our daughter as a seventh birthday present. It had fairy-wheels. She struggled at first and I realised that the fairy-wheels actually were more of a hindrance than a help and so I took them off. She has since begun to ride, if not quite like a pro, at least with a rising sense of confidence and assurance.

I must say that for me seeing Caitlin getting on her bike and riding is a source of tremendous pleasure. It is a significant step towards independence. And if there is one gift I would like to leave her when I shuffle off this mortal coil, it is the gift of independence – independence of thought and behaviour, an independence of mind and will.

That is what my mother did for me when she commanded me to ride – she gave me a sense of being able to do something for myself.

From that day on there was seldom a day that I did not ride. And from that riding I learned so much – of cotter pins, and ball bearings, of punctures and tyre pressures, of how to tighten a nut without stripping the thread, of how to ride in mud and in the long grass. It was a never-ending adventure made possible by the fact that we lived in a rural area with forests, dirt roads, streams, hills and valleys, which I soon learned to conquer at will, deriving intense pleasure from flat-out speed down precipitous hills, or the painstaking negotiation of home-made mazes which required a fine ability to control the bike at dead-slow pace. Cycling became an important part of my life

The naked angel from the "Bicycle Window" in St Giles's Church, Stoke Poges
The naked angel from the "Bicycle Window" in St Giles's Church, Stoke Poges
The Laufmaschine or Draisine
The Laufmaschine or Draisine
The "Penny-Farthing" velocipede
The "Penny-Farthing" velocipede
McCall's 1869 version
McCall's 1869 version
1887 "safety" bicycle
1887 "safety" bicycle
Diagram from the 1911 Britannica article
Diagram from the 1911 Britannica article
Diagram of ball bearing hub from 1911 Britannic
Diagram of ball bearing hub from 1911 Britannic
Diagram of ball bearing ratchet from 1911 Britannica
Diagram of ball bearing ratchet from 1911 Britannica

History of Bicycles

This is a very brief history of the bicycle.

A 16th Century stained glass window in St Gile's Church, Stoke Poges, in Buckinghamshire, England, shows a naked angel sitting on or riding something which looks very like the vehicle invented two centuries later. Was this the first bicycle? Who knows.

The first two-wheel vehicle seems to have been invented by a German nobleman Karl von Drais in around 1817. He used his wooden Laufmaschine or “running machine” to go around to his tenants and collect the rents from them. This vehicle was a simple frame on which the rider sat astride and pushed it along with his feet. The front wheel had steering.

From then on the bicycle developed in many different countries. In France the velocipede was invented by Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lallemont, who added a crank to the front wheel which could be turned by the rider's feet. In order to get increased speed the front wheel was enlarged, and I guess you can see where this was going!

A rear-wheel driven velocipede was invented by Scottish inventor Thomas McCall in 1869. This was rod- not chain-driven. Also the rear wheel was now larger than the front. In the same year a design for a solid rubber tyred two-wheel vehicle was patented with the name “bicycle”, the first use of that term.

The French version of the velocipede developed into the “penny farthing” which was so-called because of the big difference in size between the front and rear wheels reminding people of the proportions of the two British coins of those names. This bike, also known for some obscure reason as the “ordinary bicycle”, became very popular in spite of the relative dangers of riding such a high machine with its poor weight distribution and high centre of gravity, added to the obvious difficulties of mounting and dismounting, not to mention the high possibility of being thrown forward and having a really nasty fall.

The need to overcome all these difficulties led to the development by a trio of Englishmen of the so-called “dwarf ordinary” which was the first chain driven bicycle. The chain was driven by frame-mounted pedals. One drawback was the rather bumpier ride due to the smaller wheels which had solid rubber tyres. The three Englishmen were J.K Starley, J.H. Lawson, and Shergold. Starley went on to develop the bike most recognisably a modern one, the Rover of 1885.

The next developments were the addition of of the seat tube, which formed the double diamond frame still familiar today, and the addition of pneumatic tyres which had been invented by Scotsman (these Scots keep turning up, don't they!) John Boyd Dunlop in 1888. These tyres were a major step forward in the comfort of the bike.

Free wheel hubs, gears and brakes followed soon so that by the turn of the 19th Century the bike was pretty much what we know today, with further development focusing on increasing the efficiency and serviceability of those parts of the bike which were amenable to such development.

The 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica gives the following description of the bicycle: “The modern bicycle, as developed from the old velocipede, consists essentially of two wheels placed one behind the other and mounted on a frame which carries a saddle for the rider. Between the wheels is a crank-axle which the rider drives by means of the cranks and pedals, and its motion is transmitted to the rear or driving wheel either by a chain which passes over two chain wheels, one fixed on the crank-axle and the other on the hub of the rear wheel, or, in the chainless bicycle, by a tubular shaft and two pairs of bevel-wheels.”

The continued development of the bike has led to the specialised bikes we know today – racing bikes, mountain bikes, BMX bikes, etc.


The BSA badge
The BSA badge
The Humber "Duplex" front fork
The Humber "Duplex" front fork
The Humber chainring
The Humber chainring
My bike looked something like this, but with normal, not racing, handlebars. Image from http://3speedtouringinjapan.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html
My bike looked something like this, but with normal, not racing, handlebars. Image from http://3speedtouringinjapan.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html
My friend Roy Joubert and I used to ride all over the place around mThatha in the old Transkei. Here he is with a lamb which befriended us on a long ride one day in about 1961
My friend Roy Joubert and I used to ride all over the place around mThatha in the old Transkei. Here he is with a lamb which befriended us on a long ride one day in about 1961

The fun part

Of course the bike started to gain in popularity once the issues of safety and comfort were satisfactorily dealt with. Clubs formed and races were run and the industry in the United Kingdom became a force to be reckoned with.

Bicycle tours and races now attract large numbers of people all over the world and it is a recognised fitness tool for people.

I learnt to ride in 1949 – exactly 60 years ago, can you believe? Well, it was December so maybe 59, but who's counting?

My first bike was, I think, a BSA with 24 inch wheels. The one that I got next, I'm not sure in which year, was a Humber, with its distinctive “Duplex” front fork design and the chainring with spokes forming five people in outline. I thought It was very, very special, as none of my friends had anything like it. It had fancy white mudguards with a shiny chrome thing at the leading edge of the front one. Very impressive!

This brings me to the interesting aspect of all the parts of a bicycle, with which I became increasingly familiar.

Since this is not going to be a fully technical Hub I will just mention a few of these that are perhaps more interesting to the general reader.

The chainring, mentioned above, is part of the crankset of the bike. The crankset is part of the bike's drivetrain, and the drivetrain is what connects the energy from your legs to the back wheel of the bike, giving it forward motion. The legs of the rider push the pedals which, in turn, turn the chainring which then moves the chain which, via the rear sprocket, turns the rear wheel.

The chain and chainring are often encased in a chain guard to protect both the chain and the rider's clothing.

The handlebars are what the rider uses to steer the bike, and to support himself or herself while riding. Handlebars are a great feature of some bikes, especially sports bikes. They are also used to carry bells or hooters, and sometimes fancy decorations.

My Humber had normal handlebars and sported a bell. I also had a lamp which was powered by a generator run off the rear wheel. I thought it really cool! I took the chainguard off quite soon after getting the bike, thinking it not very cool, and for sissies only!

I spent a lot of time cleaning and oiling my bike as well as doing simple maintenance things like shortening the chain when it got stretched, making sure the pedals were working properly, keeping the wheel properly aligned and making sure the spokes were tight.

Punctures were the bane of my riding life, and I had many of them to fix, because I rode in all sorts of places where there were long, hard thorns to puncture the tyres, rocks which caused major problems when hit hard, and I seemed to spend a great deal of time with the bike upside down and getting a wheel off to take the tyre off and find and fix the hole in the tube.

This entailed roughing the tube around the hole with the little file in the repair kit, then putting the compound around the hole, then fixing the patch over the hole, and then dusting it it with the powder that also came in the repair kit, before replacing the tube into the tyres and getting the tyre back onto the wheel and pumping it up again.

I remember often raiding the kitchen for forks to help in the process of getting the tyre off the wheel and getting it back on again! This was not popular with my mother!

Caitlin the day she got her bike. Her bike is a Raleigh "Jazzi", by the way.
Caitlin the day she got her bike. Her bike is a Raleigh "Jazzi", by the way.
Caitlin riding well now - this was taken a few days ago. She is with a school friend
Caitlin riding well now - this was taken a few days ago. She is with a school friend

The environmental question

Bikes are also being hailed as very environmentally friendly modes of transport.

A very interesting site called “gotoes” has this information about the energy efficiency of bicycles (http://gotoes.org/bikestuff/index.htm):

“The bicycle is the most efficient form of human transport in the world. Energy is often measured in calories, which we are all familiar with. When you look at food labels, the available energy is actually listed in Kilo Calories (that's 1,000 Calories). The available energy in a gallon of gasoline is 31,070 Kilo Calories. The average person consumes between 30 to 50 Kilo Calories per mile traveled on a bicycle (depending on the load and speed). As you might assume, carrying a heavier load or going faster will burn more calories per mile - just like in your car. Anyway, suppose you are cruising to and from work at a 30 KCal / hour pace. At that speed, you could travel 1,035 miles on the energy in a gallon of gasoline. Given that even today's high tech hybrids generally get 55 miles per gallon, you are using 18 times less energy by riding your bike. Moreover, you are saving resources - far fewer materials are needed to make a bicycle.”

Go figure!

Bikes are not just magic and fun, they are also good for you and the environment.

To anyone who has read this Hub I say, as my mother said to me 60 years ago: “Ride!”


Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2009

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Comments 54 comments

nilum profile image

nilum 6 years ago

Very Informative and entertaining Hub Dear !!


one2get2no profile image

one2get2no 6 years ago from Olney

Lovely hub. Thank you


Lee Boolean profile image

Lee Boolean 6 years ago

Thanks for sharing Tony, brought back memories of my first bike... just a word to the parents out there though, if you buy a boy with 20" legs a 26" bicycle don't expect grandkids


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Hi Tony - great hub. I've always liked bicycles and their history, technical and social. They were very influential in the emancipation of women, through the freedom they provide and the 'rational dress' that they heralded. That Humber chain ring is quite something! My first bike was a Triumph with rod brakes. I was surprised when I came out to the Middle East to find that rod brakes are still fitted on lots of Indian made bikes. Are you still cycling? I still have my Dawes Stratos (very nice) but not in Qatar. Here, it's too dangerous to mix it with the Land Cruisers!


MPIvy 6 years ago from Kansas

It has always amazed me how much of our own childhood comes back to us as we watch our children's childhood unfold. You did a wonderful job of showing that.


Cath  6 years ago

As her mother, I can assure you that Caitlin does have an independent mind and will! That's probably why she is not wearing the helmet I have insisted she wears when cycling.


ocbill profile image

ocbill 6 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

nice story which brought back some recent emotions. I just got my 8 yr old a bike for her birthday. Needless to say she wants to ride it everyday. My eyes got all watery when she said "look Daddy". She was riding with just one hand on the handle bar after I said "OK, that's all for today."


Lupo profile image

Lupo 6 years ago from Boston Area

I too have had many adventures on my bicycle. After my childhood I did not have one for many years but finally, about five years ago, I did get another.

It was amazing how many different kinds of bicycles there were when I went to the shop, much different than the sixties and seventies. I do not ride with anything like the frequency I did when I was a child but I do get out when I can. And it is still a bit magical!

Thanks for the very nice hub Tony.


Nancy's Niche profile image

Nancy's Niche 6 years ago from USA

Wonderful article Tony---It does fill a parent with excitement and pleasure to see their child ride a bike for the first time on their own.


shamelabboush profile image

shamelabboush 6 years ago

Fantastic tony! You learned riding bikes by a mere push from your mom :) and the velocipede looks so funny. This was more trouble than fun. You need to be so strong to ride it!


Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 6 years ago from The East Coast

Great hub Tony, it brought memories of when my Dad taught me how to ride my bike. He and my sister walked all afternoon while I learned how to ride the bike on the sidewalks. It's true, once you learn you never forget how to ride the bike.


sarovai profile image

sarovai 6 years ago

Thank u for the information about pollution free and fuel free bicycle.


Jess Killmenow profile image

Jess Killmenow 6 years ago from Nowheresville, Eastern United States

As someone who loves cycling, I thank you for this article, Tony. :)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Thanks so much everyone for reading and commenting - I must admit to being overwhelmed by the response to this Hub, it has been simply great.

Each comment is really appreciated. I can't respond to each individually now as I have to get some sleep!

Love and peace to you all

Tony


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

What a detailed and fascinating hub filled with information as well as tonymac history! I learned and laughed and remembered my own beginnings with a bicycle. One question: what are fairy wings? I have never heard of nor seen these for young girl's bicycles.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California'

Great hub tony - certainly took me back to when I got my first two wheeler! My dad took the seat off and replaced it with a heavy waterproof cushion, as I was a tad too short for the pedals - and everyone on the base wanted to trade me!


BrianS profile image

BrianS 6 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

I studied the history of the cycle when I did my degree and you have brought it all flooding back plus a bit as well. Great Hub.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Thanks everyone for the interesting comments which I really do appreciate.

Story - it's "fairy wheels" not "wings" and they are also called training wheels! Sorry for the confusion.

Love and peace

Tony


eonsaway profile image

eonsaway 6 years ago from New Mexico, USA

I remember my cousin riding me on the handlebars, my toes getting all bloody from the spokes. We rode our bikes everywhere, flats well non-stop repairing. Have tubeless tires now. If places of business made it easier/safer to park bikes while they shopped maybe more people would ride them, then would all have cleaner air.


OTmommy profile image

OTmommy 6 years ago from Southern USA

Great hub! Loved the details on history of bicycles. My 5 y/o has a bike with training wheels & is in the process of learning to ride by herself. She has a bell to ring and a little basket...so cute!


OTmommy profile image

OTmommy 6 years ago from Southern USA

Great hub! Loved the details on history of bicycles. My 5 y/o has a bike with training wheels & is in the process of learning to ride by herself. She has a bell to ring and a little basket...so cute!


OTmommy profile image

OTmommy 6 years ago from Southern USA

Great hub! Loved the details on history of bicycles. My 5 y/o has a bike with training wheels & is in the process of learning to ride by herself. She has a bell to ring and a little basket...so cute!


joebhoy profile image

joebhoy 6 years ago from Manila

I love riding bicycle. Great info.


Jean H 6 years ago from UK

I enjoyed your hub. I never learned to ride a bicycle as a child. A few years ago, for my 42nd birthday, my husband presented me with a fine, brand new bike! I felt duty bound to learn to ride it, which was not so easy at my age. However, with much encouragement from my sons, (7 and 4 and already happily pedalling away), I was soon up and riding. I am still terrified of cycling on the roads where there is traffic though, and stick to cycle paths!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Thanks for visiting and commenting everyone. I appreciate it very much.

Just to let everyone know that the inevitable happened yesterday - Caitlin had her first major fall! Lots of cuts and bruises, but the worst injury was to her pride. At least she is still determined to ride.

Love and peace

Tony


Jean H 6 years ago from UK

We learn as much from our mistakes as from our successes - I'm sure she will be back to full confidence in no time.


bingskee profile image

bingskee 6 years ago from Quezon City, Philippines

i do not know how to ride a bike. never got a chance when i was little until i grow old. they say it's never too late but i dont want to take chances. :-D

but i let my children experience riding a bike. i remember my son not wanting to ride because of fear but he was more frightened by hubby's insistence i guess ha ha and he learned after a short while.


Mountain Blossoms profile image

Mountain Blossoms 6 years ago from SE Thailand

Oh the memories! what fun it was to ride a bike aged 7; not so much at 65! we lived in a small village with a dirt road that got nice and muddy in the rain. My first bike ride attempt failed miserably with me sat in a muddy puddle and the bike on top. Not helped at all by the howls of laughter from my brother! Thank you so much for a nostalgic trip!


C.V.Rajan profile image

C.V.Rajan 6 years ago from Kerala, India

Hi Tony,

What an informative hub!

I think the the design of ball bearing axle (shown in your picture)remains almost same even now perhaps!

Hope to read your other informative hubs sooner.

CVR


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Thanks to all who have commented - I really appreciate it. Sorry I did not respond earlier.

Love and peace

Tony


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Your mother is a wise woman :) Ride! I'm riding, I'm riding! Hahahahaha

Love and peace too Tony! :)


tim-tim profile image

tim-tim 6 years ago from Normal, Illinois

I remember when I learned how to ride a bike, I was 16. In HK, we didn't have a lot, hardly had any toys to play with. It was nice to know how to ride though. Thanks for sharing.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Ripple and Tim-tim - thanks for visiting and commenting. I appreciate that very much indeed!

Love and peace

Tony


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

Great article, it really bring back memories for me as a kid. Thanks for the history lesson on bicycles too.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Coolmon - thanks for the visit and the comment. I reallyenjoyed writing this one as I love cycling! Thanks again.

Love and peace

Tony


mulberry1 profile image

mulberry1 6 years ago

Ah yes, the bicycle. I L-O-V-E mine still. I wish I lived in some special place where bicycles were the primary mode of transportation. And, amazingly enough, I have a hub (one of the first ones I wrote) that reminisces a bit about my first bike as well. (I say this only because it astounds me that I would ever write anything on a similar topic)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Christine - thanks for stopping by this Hub. I appreciate your taking the time very much indeed. I've just been over to your Hub on bikes and loved it.

Love and peace

Tony


nomoretrucks profile image

nomoretrucks 6 years ago from scotland

Tm. I rode an old bike from the scrap for month day in day out for 2000 miles, it cost nothing(the journey and the bike) and gave me memories which will last for the rest of my life. I also learned a lot about myself after going off the rails at a late age. Even in its most basic of rides i would rather have a bike now as one of my prize possessions than any other form of property. They are magic machines which can transform your life.That lecturer who inspired you fifty years ago- i reckon he must have designed the old bike i rode, it also inspired a massive change in the way i thought after. Vive la cycleta!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

NMT - thanks for the visit and the comment. I love the thought that bikes are "magic machines that can transform your life!"

Happy riding!

Love and peace

Tony


wytegarillaz profile image

wytegarillaz 6 years ago from Australia

Loved it ! I had a bike from age of ten , rode everywhere as a teenager and now at 45 I still ride everyday on an old bike I bought for $20 at a garage sale !

Got my girls to ride as well.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Wytegarillaz - thanks for stopping by and commenting. Good that you still ride.

Love and peace

Tony


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

Thank you for sharing this hub. I took a few trips down memory lane. So informative and written in your natural style. Brilliant

Take care and God Bless tonymac04.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Eiddwen - thank you very much for visiting and commenting. I am glad you enjoyed it.

Love and peace

Tony


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Like you my first riding adventures were in the country on gravel roads or grass. My brothers and I had our share of spills which I guess is par for the course but it was fun.

Had no idea of the history of bicycles. Fascinating hub! Rating it up and useful. Thanks!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Peggy - thanks for stopping by. Glad you found the history interesting. I enjoyed the research and the writing. It makes it all worthwhile when someone gets something out of it.

Thanks again

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Peggy - thanks for stopping by. Glad you found the history interesting. I enjoyed the research and the writing. It makes it all worthwhile when someone gets something out of it.

Thanks again

Love and peace

Tony


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 5 years ago from I'm outta here

I fell in love with bikes about at the age of 6 when I first got a hand me down from one of my five older siblings. My brother and I are still avid cyclist to this day. It's something I do with my daughters that we just flat out adore. Our city has amazing bike paths. Love and Peace :)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

I have loved riding for more years than I care to remember! It is a wonderful thing to do.

Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


sportandfitness profile image

sportandfitness 5 years ago

I'm a riding fan, so I enjoyd reading your hub. Great share, keep it up!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Sportandfitness - thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the read.

Love and peace

Tony


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 5 years ago

Great hub! I loved all of it! Bicycles offer wonderful symbolism. If we fall off, you have to get right back on. And riding is all about balance. Both of these things, I think say a lot about what we have to do in life. And the fun and magic of riding them, even as adults, means we never have to fully grow up or leave our childhood behind us.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

TKI - thanks for such an isightful comment, I really appreciate it.

Love and peace

Tony


swedal profile image

swedal 5 years ago from Colorado

There is nothing quite like riding a bicycle, especially as a kid just gaining a little more freedom. Absolutely love some of those pictures you have here portraying some of the originals. Wish I had one of those.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Swedal - thanks for stopping by. The old bikes were wonderful indeed!

Love and peace

Tony

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