Why It Took People So Long to Invent a Bicycle

By Adam Marsal

Why did it take the human race thousands of years before a bicycle was invented? Presumably inspired by the disc shape of the sun, the Mesopotamian civilisation is credited for first using solid wheels that made moving even heavy cargo from one point to another significantly more comfortable.

Ancient warriors ruined entire civilisations using two-wheeled carts pulled by horses many hundred years before German baron Karl von Drais attached two wheels to a wooden frame and a fork, and manufactured a weird-looking device that we now consider the first bicycle of all times.

Called a Draisine, after its inventor, the proto-bike consisted of a wooden frame and iron wheels. A long time before a pair of pedals increased the speed and comfort of the trip, the baron’s “Laufmachine” was operated by a rider who swung their feet and used their heels to push off forward. The pressing question then is: why it took people thousands of years to come up with two wheels mounted in-line instead of a design where two wheels are connected parallel on a single axle? That is an immense period in which, regarding bicycle development, nothing relevant happened. The historians offer a variety of compelling explanations.

Why did it take so long to invent a bicycle? © Profimedia

The technology factor is considered responsible for improved metal refining as affordable steel and advanced processes of shaping it were not available before the 1800s. Wheel design didn’t progress until light spoke wires replaced heavier iron beams and soft rubber succeeded iron belts at the outer lines of the rims. Contrary to these arguments, most of Draisine’s wooden layouts lacked any of these technologies and could have been constructed ages before.

The quality of the roads at that time was another factor to consider. Made of dirt in the countryside and cobblestones in the cities, their standard before the 1800s was substantially more terrible than what we have on the dreaded Hell of the North race these days. The smoother surface of macadam pavement did not connect cities until the 1820s. Lacking appropriate drainage and featuring open sewers, the roads before the 1800s could unquestionably beat down any premature efforts to invent a light and human-propelled vehicle. On the other hand, there was no need to redesign rough gravelly roads to smoother pavements until then and some people believe that bicycle riders helped to push through the change.

The tradition of using horses was deeply rooted and was only slowly being replaced by more advanced competitors. Horses could deal with any kind of surface as well as load. There are historical traces suggesting that the dawn of bicycling was triggered by a “year without summer” following an eruption of Mt. Tambora in 1816. The whole world was clouded with volcanic ash, which caused decreased average temperatures and spoiled grain crops. The disaster led horses to starve and people to find alternatives.

Also, cultural aspects might have played a role since society was probably not ready to witness a freak speeding down the road on a ridiculous creation with two wheels. Be it whichever from the arguments, it is clear that even if the original bicycle of Baron Drais was not a comfy ride back then, it completely redesigned the future of traffic.