1779. Four-wheeled velocipede invented by Blanchard and Magurier in France.
1839. Kirkpatrick Macmillan (1810-1878), a blacksmith of Dumfriesshire, Scotland, puts pedal-driven cranks on a tricycle. I have a less reliable source that says 1834.
1845. Robert Thomson invents but does not develop the pneumatic tyre.
1861. Ernest Michaux invents direct drive.
1868. Rubber tyres.
1869. Bicycles manufactured by Coventry Sewing Machine Co., England.
1870. First cycle club, the Pickwick Bicycle Club, formed in London.
1878. Bicycles manufactured by A.A. Pope in America.
1885. J.K. Starley manufactures the 'Rover' design with nearly equal wheels, and uses the initials J.K. so that boys would want to ride them too, okay I made that last bit up.
1888. John Dunlop (1840-1921) develops pneumatic tyre.

This is a real case of Node what you don't know. I know what wheels are, and I reckon I could correctly tell handlebars from pedals eight times out of ten, in a good light, if I wasn't tired, and that's about it.

Modern bicycles come in two primary flavors:

  • Road Bikes are light, speedy bicycles with large, thin tires. They commonly have downward-curving handlebars, with the brake levers mounted vertically. Shifters tend to be located on the frame of the bicycle. The classic example of a road bike is the 10-speed bicycle.
  • Mountain Bikes, also known as ATBs (all-terrain bicycle), tend towards a sturdy frame, heavier than a road bike. Tires are still large, but thick and knobbly, for increased traction on dirt, rock, and grass. Straight handlebars, with the brake levers mounted horizontally. Shifters tend to be located on the handlebars, near the hand grips. Mountain bikes tend to be quite popular in urban areas. Many mountain bikes are equipped with shock absorbers, either mounted on the front fork, the seat, or built into the rear of the frame.

Additional, but less commonly seen bicycles include BMX bicycles, recumbent bicycles, and "cruiser" bicycles.

There are about many different parts in a bicycle. The main ones are, from front to back:

Front Wheelset - 1 tire, 1 tube (presta or schraeder valve), one rim, (usually) 32 nipples, (usually) 32 spokes, 1 hub, one axle and clamp to hold the wheel to the dropouts.

Fork - Connects front wheelset to the rest of the bike. Comes in either suspended or rigid flavors. (usually) 2 dropouts which the hub clamps onto, 2 fork arms, with the exception of Cannondale Lefty forks, one steerer tube.

Headset - Comes in threaded and threadless varieties. Allows the bike to steer freely, and connects the steering assembly (wheelset, fork, handlebars) to the rest of the bike.

Handlebars - What you grip with your hands and steer with. Also what the brake levers and shifter clamp on to. Connected to steerer tube via the stem. Stems either clamp onto the top of the steerer tube in a threadless headset system, or they thread onto the steerer tube in a threaded system. Handlebars come in flat (XC racing mountain bike), riser (downhill racing mountain bike), or drop-down (road bike) varieties.

Frame - The part of the bike that holds everything together.

Crankset - The front part of the drivetrain. Connected to the rear wheel via a chain. Made up of - Pedals, which you put your feet on and come in flat, toe clip, or clipless varieties. Cranks, arms which connect the pedals to the bottom bracket and the chainrings and are removed with a crank puller. Chainrings, round things with teeth to engage the chain with, transmits pedalling force to the drivetrain. The Bottom bracket, which allows the cranks to rotate freely and connects them to the frame.

Seat assembly - The part that you sit on. Made up of - The seat, cushy on the top, with rails that the seatpost clamps on to. The Seatpost, a round tube which clamps on to the seat rails at the top and inserts into the seat tube of the frame. Clamped into place with a small clamp (or sometimes a quick release) at the top of the seat tube.

Brakes - Used to stop the bike. Come in hub brake and rim brake varieties. Hub brakes work by applying pressure at the wheel's hub, while rim brakes apply pressure to both sides of the rim. Disc brakes and coaster brakes are included in the hub brake classification. As there are so many different types of brakes (eg. linear pull brakes, I won't go into explaining how they work.

Drivetrain - Usually the most complicated part of a bike. On a multi-gear bicycle the parts are - The chainrings, which connect the crankset to the chain. The front derailleur, which moves the chain to different chainrings. The chain, which connects the front of the drivetrain to the rear. The cassette, the collective name of the rear sprockets, which transmit pedalling force from the chain to the rear wheelset. The rear derailleur, connected to the frame via the derailleur hanger, which moves the chain among the rear sprockets, and also includes a pulley to maintain chain tension.

Rear Wheelset - Similar to the front wheelset, the rear wheelset differs in that the hub has an extension on one side for the rear cassette to attach to. Therefore, to keep the tire centered in the frame it is necessary to have the spokes on the drivetrain side pull the rim more than the other side. This makes it harder to build and true a rear wheel than a front wheel.

The UCI has a set of strict guidelines as to what constitutes a bicycle for each cycling disciple (road cycling, mountain biking, etc.). These guidelines specifically state what they consider to be a bicycle, and are very important as any vehicle not adhering to them will not be able to race professionally.

The basic requirement is that the bicycle must be made out of three triangles - the chainstays, seatstays and seatpost form two (two chainstays and two seatstays, connecting to one seatpost) and the triange formed from the top tube, down tube and seatpost. This very neatly describes the vast majority of road bikes out there, while cutting out recumbants and highly specialised equipment (such as a specially moulded, super-aerodynamic time trial bike).

Of course, for some specialised events, such as downhill mountain biking and recumbant racing, the rules are relaxed a little, but you'll never see a recumbant in the Tour de France.

These guidelines serve to keep any one team from being able to out spend any other for an advantage, as well as keeping the sport 'pure'. They also often cited as an example that the UCI is staffed with luddites, especially in light of some carbon fibre frames that are now readily available, that have had weight added deliberately to keep them 'legal'.

As a participant in modern traffic, you have to share the roads, paths and alleyways with hordes of other trafficants. If you are a "soft participant" in traffic - such as a pedestrian or a biker, and to a lesser extent a mopedist or a motorcyclist - there is a lot to think about.

The bicycle is unique in traffic

Busses, tractors, articulated lorries, cars, trucks, pedestrians, motorcyclists, road construction vehicles, playing children - they all make up a whole. Unique among all of these are the cyclists. Sure, pedestrians and playing children are undoubtedly more vulnerable in traffic, but there are a lot more of them, and their presence is frequently a lot more predictable. Bicycles, on the other hand, are special in that they often are the most silent of all traffic participants. They are also a lot faster than many of the other road users, but are simultaneously easy to overlook. Because of all this, riding a bike in traffic is a challenge: A dangerous one, if you don't know what you are doing.

Some countries - especially Holland, where there are more than 17 million bikes between its 16.5 million inhabitants - have excellent facilities for bikes and riders: Bicycle paths run everywhere, and the other traffic participants are used to be on the lookout for fast, silent twowheelers.

In other countries, however, such as urban UK and most of the US, people are not as accustomed to bikes being part of traffic, and might as such forget about them, or even ignore them completely.

A bike is completely different from a car

To anyone who has ridden a bike as a form of transportation, this is obvious, but sadly, many people only learned how to ride a bike when they were 5, rode to school a few times, and have since forgotten about it: A bike is the exact opposite of a car.

Whereas a car is most precise and stable when driving slowly (that is why you slow down when you come to a narrow gap), bicycles work the opposite way: When riding very slowly on a bike, it becomes unstable. There are many reasons for this, but the short explanation is that the centrifugal force of the wheels works as a gyroscope, which means that the wheels tend to stay stable. This again means that a bike at speed is a lot more stable than a bike riding slowly. If you have ever tried to learn how to ride a bike with your hands off the steering wheel, you'll know how it works.

Because of this, cars are often likely to go around bicyclists at speed with a large arc. Fantastic, but not really necessary: As long as the speed difference between the overtaking car and the bicyclist isn't too ridiculous (or else things like drag starts having an effect), a car can easily stay in its own lane to overtake a bicyclist keeping to the edge of a lane. Conversely, a car who sees a bicycle moving very slowly, is likely to careen past the bike with a minimum of clearance: Obviously a dangerous situation, as the bicyclist is a lot less likely to be stable.

As a bicyclist it is often difficult to do anything about this: Many drivers are completely ignorant of the challenges of riding a bike, and in addition, many car drivers will be downright annoyed at "those pesky bicyclists", who often go significantly slower than the speed limits.

Defensive biking

The only way around it, then, is to participate in some defensive biking. In many countries (the Scandinavian countries, for example), it is encourage to bike on the pavement. This demotes the bicyclists from being a "proper" traffic participant, but it does help in changing the bicyclist from a prey (to the cars) to a predator (to the pedestrians). Depending on the traffic situation, and depending on how predictable the pedestrian traffic is (drunk people and children are unpredictable, whereas commuters walking from the train to their places of employment are likely to stay on "their side" of the walking paths), it may be better to use the edge of the road in any case.

In other countries, riding a bike on the pavement is illegal - but the same applies: If there are a lot of nut-job drivers out there, and the pavement is empty, nobody will book you for breaking the law in the name of road traffic safety.

When dealing with cars on the road, proper signaling is important (point in the direction you are going, or show an up-down arm movement when you are slowing down or stopping), but it is equally vital to keep in mind that many drivers won't know what you are intending to do, because they do may know what the signals mean.

Additionally, it is quite important to keep a look-out for pedestrians. Many pedestrians - especially in places where bicycles are less common - will assume that because they can't hear a car or motorcycle, that the road is clear. As such, they could suddenly start crossing the road, and become the victim of an accident. By regulating your speed and / or calculating in a little bit of extra safety distance, it will give you the time to brake, to yell / use your bell, or take evasive action. Or all of the above, in a comical display of wailing, tyre squeal and wild jerking of the steering wheel.

Overall, if you are a bicyclist, the best thing to do is to assume that the cars and other vehicles around you are out to kill you, and that all other bicyclists and pedestrians are suicidal.

Oh, and always wear a helmet. Statistically, you are very likely to be in an accident, and on many bi-wheeled vehicles (bicycles included), your head is liable to be the first point of impact with whatever you ended up crashing into.

Be careful.

Bi"cy*cle (?), n. [Pref. bi- + cycle.]

A light vehicle having two wheels one behind the other. It has a saddle seat and is propelled by the rider's feet acting on cranks or levers.


© Webster 1913.

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