The name bicycle was a term coined in 1869. However, bicyclelike machines were built much earlier during that century. The walking machine of 1817 may not have possessed pedals, but it did have a steerable handlebar and was used throughout Europe. In Britain they were known as ‘hobby horses’.
Before the introduction of such snazzy features as pedals and chain drives, Kirkpatrick Macmillan invented a push rod system which he used for propelling his bicycle. The idea was that you had to push your feet up and downwards to drive the rear wheel. The introduction of pedals on the velocipede kick-started the evolution of today’s bicycle.
One turn of the pedals equalled one turn of the bicycle wheel, making the rider pedal furiously to obtain any speed. To overcome this problem the high wheel bicycle had the pedals attached to a large wheel, so that the bicycle covered a far greater distance on one turn of the pedals.
By the end of the 19th Century tricycles and safety bicycles featured many new innovations; lighter steel-tubed frames, brakes, pneumatic tyres, metal-link chains that connected the pedals to a toothed sprocket on the rear wheel and gearing systems that employed several different sized sprockets to change the ease or difficulty of turning the pedals.
These technological innovations enabled urban dwellers to commute or travel to the countryside more efficiently and quickly. In particular, bicycles gave women far greater independence. In the Thirties, a combination of lower production costs and rising wages made bicycles much more affordable for the working classes and their recreational use began to increase.