A brief history of cycling in six stops

By We Love Cycling

While the exact time frame depends on who you ask – or, more importantly, what you consider a bike – it’s broadly agreed that the bicycle has been around for just about 200 years; quite the innings, we’re sure you’ll agree! Mind, ‘twas far from carbon fibre frames and ABS brakes that things began, which is why it’s always fun to take a look back at how this life-changing mode of transport developed through the ages.

Of course, we could be here another 200 years trying to cover all of the ins and outs that brought us from then to now – which is why we’ve attempted to compress the need-to-knows into a half-dozen standout milestones. There’s plenty of Irish involvement (like all the best stories!), though the tale begins in the streets of Germany…

Horsing around

Karl Drais was a prolific inventor; he pioneered everything from the stenograph to the meat grinder. But it was his Laufmaschine, his Parisienne, or as it became lovingly known, the dandy horse, that stands out amongst his creations. While there were no pedals – the power coming in a distinctly Fred Flintstone fashion instead – the two-wheeler format that debuted in Mannheim still looks very familiar indeed. Unfortunately, another footnote sounds somewhat familiar too; the dominance of carriages meant most roads were unsuitable for riding, and the dangers of using them on footpaths quickly saw them banned in many major cities…

Pedal, oh!

While there are some who claim Scotsman Kirkpatrick MacMillan got there first, it’s generally agreed that the first pedal-powered bike was developed around 1865 by Pierre Michaux. Known as the velocipede – Latin for ‘fast foot’ – it featured wheels of different sizes (a larger wheel meant less strain on the rider to rotate the pedals), and the numbers certainly varied; some had two, three, four and even five wheels, for reasons including stability, control and speed. The one thing they all have in common is a shared part in a cycling craze that was sweeping the population…

There will B. Blood

Unsatisfied with having what must have been the coolest name in all of Galway, engineering professor William Bindon Blood got in on the action by inventing what became known as the Dublin Tricycle in 1876. Its vital breakthrough was the front-mounted seat, which made it accessible for older cyclists, as well as women – Victorian dresses weren’t exactly well suited to clambering onto a penny farthing, after all! Blood is widely recognised as Ireland’s first cyclist, having built his own contraption to get to and from work in 1852 – something that certainly turned a few heads throughout the city of the tribes!

Safety first

Controlling these machines – steering and pedalling a wheel at the same time – was a significant challenge, so the implementation of the chain was nothing short of revolutionary. First appearing in England in the 1880s, it meant the seat could be lowered, the wheel sizes evened out, and weight distribution equalised; in short, it meant that the Rover, made in Coventry in 1886, looked altogether close to what we know and love today. It ushered in another explosion in the popularity of cycling – even if it wasn’t entirely smooth going…

Pump it up

While the new safety bikes were awesome in a variety of ways, the small, hard wheels made for a decidedly bumpy ride. Enter John Boyd Dunlop, a vet based in Belfast, who used his knowledge and expertise making rubber gadgets and devices to create the pneumatic tyre in 1887. We probably don’t need to explain that it worked – we still use them today, after all! – so when Willie Hume, the captain of the Belfast Cruisers Cycling Club, began racking up race wins with his new secret weapon, it didn’t take long for the world to get on board!


It’s fascinating to note that electric bikes, in one form or another, actually date back to around the same period of the late 19th century; it just took the better part of 100 years for the perfect marriage to be found! While mounted motors, bulky batteries and hand-operated throttle systems stood in the way of combining pedal power and electric assistance, the Pedalec (or pedal-assist) created in 1989 was a definitive turning point. Now, e-bikes are skyrocketing in popularity year-on-year; another golden age, perhaps?!

Now you’ve had a history lesson on the world of cycling, check out today’s best mountain bikes under and around €500 if you’re looking to invest in a new set of wheels…