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A Skelding Summary

The first modern bicycle dates from 1818 and was little more than a wooden frame on which the rider sat and then propelled himself with his legs. This somewhat was counterproductive even on the flat, downright impossible going uphill, and given that the bike had poor steering and next to no breaks, a guarantee of disaster on a downward slope.

Things improved between 1839 and 1842 when the Scot, Kirkpatrick Macmillan invented a bike with alarming novelties such as a front wheel you could steer and two cranks (rather than pedals) which once pulled in a regular motion powered the rear wheel. By 1842 Macmillan's bike could actually outperform postal carriages in speed trials. The bike was still relatively difficult to ride and proved very much a test of the rider's skill & endurance.

It took the Frenchman Pierre Michaux in 1861 to invent his velocipede - in which foot peddles operated the front wheel. Not only was the bike lighter than previous models but easier and less demanding to ride. In 1861 Michaux built two of his bikes - by 1865 he was making over 400 a year. Such were the bicycles' popularity, that the first cycle race was held outside Paris in 1868. It was won by the Englishman James Moore.

A further improvement on the velocipede came in 1870 when the English engineer James Starley invented a bike with a very large front wheel and a very small rear wheel. Of course, this was the so-called 'Penny Farthing' which is arguably one of the most famous bicycles ever.

The first chain driven bikes were developed from the 1870s and had the advantage of being lower, more stable and easier to break than the Penny Farthing (which to ride was very much like being on the back of a roller skate wearing). Road handling was further improved by the development of the pneumatic tyre (rubber tyres with air in them) invented in 1888 by the Ulsterman John Boyd Dunlop. Basic bike design remained static from the 1890s - the only radical improvement being the introduction of gears in the decade prior to 1910.

Modern bikes are now divided into four categories utility, touring, racing and mountain.

Utility bikes are favourites of children for short distances and shopping trips - serving to frighten cats and old age pensioners, however the mountain bike is the real prize.

Bike riders in London demonstrate against the way motorists treat them and well they might. They are very vulnerable and often ignored by drivers who assume one inch clearance is all they need. Often they gather in swarms along the Strand in Covent Garden, riding at times when their presence will not be ignored. Traffic is bad and motorists bad tempered.

The good news is that cycle lanes are being introduced gradually though, and those who commute to work on a bike have longer life expectancy. They can park in Covent Garden in the 'Bikepark' and leave their gear in a locker. Bikepark also have a place in Chelsea.

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By Laurence Skelding

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