The History of the Humble Bicycle and Its Impact on Society

The History of the Humble Bicycle and Its Impact on Society

There are few inventions as widely used as the humble bicycle. It has been cycled for pleasure, sent to war and ridden extremely fast to set records.

The humble bike is an amazing innovation that is cheap and easy to produce, environmentally sound, healthy, fun and accessible to all. It is a friend that society can’t do without.


The humble bicycle has been a major factor in our world for more than two centuries. It is an amazing machine that has been used for leisure, work, war and even to break speed records. Today, it is an important part of our lives as we strive for greener and more sustainable ways of living. But the bicycle’s journey is not over – it still has something to teach us about our history and future.

Although we cannot know exactly when the first bicycle was invented, it was probably created as a practical replacement for horses. After all, the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 led to a severe volcanic winter that killed many of the nation’s horses. Kirkpatrick Macmillan, a blacksmith from Courthill in Dumfriesshire, is the man credited with creating the first pedal bicycle. He improved on an earlier hobby-horse design by adding a chain and pedals so that the rider could propel the bike without putting down his feet.

In the nineteenth century, the bicycle was a must-have for anyone who wanted to be fashionable and mobile. Women, in particular, enjoyed being able to ride bikes and they played an emancipating role in their lives. Parish records show that there was a dramatic rise in intervillage marriages during the bicycle craze of the era. Young people would roam the countryside at will, mingling with locals and outpacing their older chaperones.

In more recent times, we have seen a resurgence of interest in the humble bicycle. This has been triggered by the need for greener transport and a desire to improve health. It has also been helped by the fact that the cost of petrol and diesel is skyrocketing, while electric bikes offer a clean and efficient alternative. Across the globe, there is an increasing recognition of the importance of the humble bicycle in improving the quality of life for millions of people.


In its 200 years since its invention, the humble bicycle has come a long way. It is cheap and easy to produce, environmentally sound, a great way to keep fit, and accessible to people of all ages from all walks of life. It is a device whose popularity and use have ebbed and flowed with the times, but there is no doubt that it remains one of the world’s most popular innovations – especially with how shuttle services from Denver to Vail face hurdles.

For a brief heady period in the 1890s, the bicycle was the ultimate must-have. It was swift, affordable and stylish transport that could take you anywhere you wanted to go at any time of day – for free. The bike was also associated with historic moments of social change.

As the century drew to a close, though, cycling was eclipsed by another new invention: the automobile. Cars were much faster and more comfortable than the old fashioned, wooden-wheeled penny farthings that had once been a staple of Britain’s streets. As incomes rose, the automobile became a symbol of status and the bicycle was viewed as “for the poor.” In the words of economist Simon Kuznets, “Bicycle ownership soared as GDP increased, then stabilized at a lower level as people replaced them with cars.”

A few years later, in 1895, an American blacksmith named Kirkpatrick MacMillan invented what is known as the modern bicycle or two-wheeled vehicle. His design was based on an earlier wheeled vehicle called the hobby horse, which had been around for several centuries. His innovation added pedals, making the machine more useful.

The modern bicycle soon made inroads into other countries, too. In China, the bicycle exploded in popularity after the Qing Dynasty ended and urbanites sought to improve their lives through wealth creation. In the ensuing decade, Chinese exporters became the world’s leaders in bicycle production, with a burgeoning industry that continues to grow today.

As a result of the rise in popularity of cars, however, cities began to employ traffic engineers who set speed limits, subdivided streets into lanes and segregated pedestrians on sidewalks from cyclists in the street. These changes were part of the growing belief that roads and highways were the key to a future of prosperity.


The bicycle has been a friend to society in so many ways, but it may be most famously celebrated for catapulting women into a new level of freedom. In the late 1800s, America was in the midst of a cycling craze, and women of all stripes began to use the humble bike as a way of asserting their own power, particularly in a society that had traditionally left them behind. But attributing the empowerment of women to a two-wheeled spoked machine gives the bicycle too much credit: it was the courage and determination of brave individuals that helped pave the way.

For example, in 1894 Kittie Knox rode her bicycle to the League of American Wheelmen’s annual meeting—and won a costume contest. She was a biracial woman who shattered the color line of the club, which only allowed white members. In her dazzling knickerbocker suit and unabashed tricks, she used the bicycle “to create a spectacular form of celebrity and resistance to the expectations of womanhood, whiteness, and labor,” according to scholar Christine Bachman-Sanders.

Bicycles have also been a tool for resistance in wartime. During World War II, both the Germans and the Japanese utilized bicycle troops, who were easier to maneuver than tanks or planes. These soldiers carried a backpack with tools, food, and other supplies, and could ride anywhere a horse could go—often on rough terrain at a third of the cost of a cavalry unit.

Today, the bicycle is reclaiming its place in modern cities. It’s a symbol of greener, healthier transportation—and it’s also fun to ride! It’s no wonder that it’s one of the most beloved inventions in history.

Whether it’s Chris Hoy winning Olympic gold medals or a city worker biking to work in the rain, bicycles are here to stay. So if you’re riding your bike this year, take a moment to think of how this great invention has changed your life. And if you don’t have a bike, it’s never too late to start! Just remember to wear a helmet. Happy 203rd birthday, bicycle! We’re glad to have you in our lives.

The Future

In modern times, the humble bicycle is still a vital mode of transport. With minimal negative environmental impact and beneficial health benefits, it provides an absolute freedom of movement and can be used by people from all backgrounds and incomes.

The humble bicycle is a truly amazing piece of engineering that has evolved over time to become an integral part of the global transportation system. While it may not be as glamorous as a luxury sports car or as exciting as an electric scooter, it is incredibly useful in the way that it solves the geometry problem of getting people short distances around a city.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see why people love them so much. They can be ridden anywhere and they have the ability to change your perspective on the world, giving you a sense of independence that is otherwise unobtainable in the modern era.

Bicycles have also provided a way of socializing and connecting with the community in ways that are not possible with other forms of transport. The humble bicycle has also been used as a political tool, with the Lancashire Fusiliers infamously riding into the Boer War in 1900 atop their bike-carrying taskforce (TVK or Theron se Verkenningskorps).

For all of these reasons and more, the humble bicycle is the perfect symbol of our era and it has a lot to teach us about how we can live together better.

The future of the humble bicycle is uncertain but it is safe to say that it has a long way to go before it becomes obsolete. With the pandemic lockdown causing chaos for public transport systems, the bicycle is once again taking center stage as commuters seek to avoid the queues for taxis and busses. With bike-share schemes gaining popularity in cities worldwide and the popularity of electric bikes on the rise, it seems like the future is bright for the humble bicycle. It has never been more suited to our needs.

Tom Faraday