From early high-wheelers and bone-shakers to the mountain bikes we see on trails today – bicycles have been part of the Midwest landscape for nearly 200 years! On August 2 & 3 the Ohio Wheelmen will celebrate the history of bicycles with their 20th Biennial Meet at Sauder Village. Nearly 80 wheelmen will share their love of cycling with antique bikes and accessories on display, demonstrations and a daily parade on the Village Green.
A Look at Bicycles of Days Gone By . . .
During the late nineteenth century, bicycles dramatically changed life throughout the Midwest. Horses and carriages were expensive to maintain in cities. There were only a few automobiles built and public transportation was often inadequate. The bicycle met the need for inexpensive, individual transportation – for business, deliveries, recreational riding and sport. What may seem a machine of modest and limited performance, in the 1890s the bicycle was recognized as a swift vehicle and fine machine.
Invented in 1817 by German Karl Drais, the first 2-wheeled tandem machine was called a Laufmaschine – a simple bike with a steerable front wheel. By the 1860s, the Velocipede was introduced. While this invention added cranks and pedals, its moderate-sized front wheel made it a little faster than walking and its wooden wheels and iron tires earned it the name “boneshaker.” Eventually the English persevered and introduced a bike with a larger front wheel to increase speed and smaller rear wheel for convenience. The “High-Wheel” bike also known as an “Ordinary” was born! While the “Ordinaries” were fun to ride, it was more for sport than transportation since rough roads often brought bad spills – one small bump and the rider went right over the handlebar, head down!
Finally, in 1885 the first Safety Bicycle was produced. Considerably safer than the high wheeler, the Safety Bike allowed the rider’s feet to always touch the ground and their head was only a few feet above the ground in case of a fall. Most accidents were limited to torn trousers, skinned knees and palms. The Safety Bike was the first vehicle that was practical and affordable for the common person and became a standard form of transportation in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Propelled by a chain running between two sprockets, the larger front sprocket at the pedals allowed the rear wheel to rotate faster than the rider pedaled. Early models had a wooden frame and hard rubber tires but later models were made of tubular steel and had inflatable pneumatic rubber tires – providing a more comfortable ride.
Today the bicycle is used for recreation, exercise and play in the United States. It is a primary source of transportation in much of the world. Join us to celebrate the great American tradition of bicycling. Check out the bicycle exhibit in our Museum Building and plan a visit on August 2 & 3 to meet the Wheelmen and see some amazing bicycles of “days gone by”.