The bicycle is 200 years old

Two hundred years ago Karl Drais invented the two-wheeler principle of today’s bicycle.

According to an old German saying, necessity is the mother of invention. This certainly applies to the invention of the bicycle. Crop failures in 1816/17 resulted in rising oat prices and an increase in the cost of horse feed. It was this that led Karl Drais to develop a so-called running machine or dandy horse, the forerunner of the present-day bicycle. It consisted of two wheels arranged one behind the other with a saddle to sit on and a handlebar to steer. The whole vehicle was made of wood and weighed only 22 kilograms, which is as much as a modern touring bike. Users moved forward by pushing on the ground with their feet. During his first journey on 12 June 1817, which took Drais from his house in Mannheim to the Schwetzingen stage house, he achieved an average speed of roughly 15 km/h.

Karl Drais was born in 1785 and initially completed an apprenticeship in the forestry service on the wishes of his father, a Baden high court judge, before studying physics, architecture and agriculture. Afterwards he become a forestry official, but was released from his duties in 1811 to pursue his passion for inventing. In 1818, Grand Duke Carl appointed him professor of mechanics. His salary continued to be paid as a kind of inventor pension. Drais’s inventions include a piano recorder that recorded key presses on a roll of paper, a key-based writing machine for 25 letters, a wood-saving oven and a machine for cooking meat. However, his most enduring invention was to be the dandy horse.

Prohibitions slowed down development

Drais organised public rides and wrote articles for periodicals to publicise his invention. The idea soon spread and was copied everywhere. Initially, however, the prohibition of dandy horses slowed down their development. Riders commonly used pavements instead of the rutted and often muddy roads and, as a result, collided with pedestrians. The first pavement riding ban came at the end of 1817 in Mannheim, in 1818 then in Paris and in 1819 in London. The bicycle only became a mass means of transport after the invention of pedal propulsion in 1861, ten years after Drais’s death. Today, people in Germany alone own 72 million bicycles.

The article was originally published here and was republished with permission from

Future generations should have the same opportunities of living fulfilled lives as we do – that is why we have to apply the principles of sustainability to the fields of transport and mobility. The bicycle is a popular and environment-friendly means of mobility and transport all over the world and also an engine for economic and cultural growth.

Ideas for sustainable mobility of the future

Germany – land of bicycles

More and more people are using their bikes – facts about Germany, land of bicycles.

Germans own 72 million bicycles. In purely statistical terms, therefore, almost every one of Germany’s 82 million inhabitants has a bike. The most common types are trekking and city bikes, but e-bikes are quickly catching up as their target age group grows younger. The number of e-bikes is estimated to be over 2.5 million. Strong growth is also being registered by cargo bikes – in other words, special bicycles that are used to transport children or shopping.

Fast cycle routes are being planned above all in metropolitan regions. One showcase project is the RS1 in the Ruhr District, which is meant to link Duisburg in the west and Hamm in the east. The first section between Mülheim an der Ruhr and Essen has already been opened. When completed, the 102-kilometre-long route is planned to replace 55,000 car journeys a day and will have cost roughly 180 million euros.

The undisputed bicycle capital of Germany is Münster in Westphalia. It has twice as many bicycles as inhabitants, namely 500,000. Over 100,000 people here travel by bike every day. No other German city has such a well-developed network of cycle paths.

The annual meeting place for Europe’s bicycle industry is Eurobike, the leading trade show held in Friedrichshafen every summer. Over 42,000 trade visitors and almost 35,000 bike fans came to the fair in 2016 to find out about the latest trends. 

Germany: a nation of cyclists

The article was originally published here and was republished with permission from

June 2017

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