10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About the Bicycle

Meghan Rabbitt
by Meghan Rabbitt
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10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About the Bicycle

You love your bike. You love riding your bike. You may even know a thing or two about fixing your bike. But, in honor of the bike’s bicentennial, we’re rounding up a list of — admittedly not super-useful — facts about your bike that you may not know but will be glad to learn. (You’re welcome.)

1. The First Bike Was Called a Hobby Horse

Invented by a German baron, Karl von Drais, this two-wheeled machine required riders to use their feet to propel themselves forward. That’s right, it was pedal-less, and also made of wood and weighed 48 pounds. It got its name “hobby horse” because it was designed to be a horse-less carriage. The baron patented this design in 1818, and soon after, a number of people started trying to improve the design. In 1863, a French metalworker added rotary cranks and pedals to the front-wheel hub, creating the first pedal-operated “bicycle,” a name that comes from the French word “bicyclette.”

2. The First Women’s Bikes Had Saddles With Little or No Padding

Why? Because in the 1890s, there was concern that straddling a bike saddle — combined with the motion required to pedal a bike — would lead to arousal. Still, women rode — and the bicycle became an important vehicle for helping women become more independent. In fact, Susan B. Anthony once said bicycling did “more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

3. The Most Expensive Bike Sold for $500,000

Lance Armstrong’s Trek Madone, which he rode during the final stage of Tour de France in 2009, was auctioned at Sotheby’s for a half a million dollars in November of the same year. British artist Damien Hirst lacquered real butterfly wings onto the frame. And yes, PETA had some strong thoughts on this “Butterfly Bike,” even though all of the proceeds went to Armstrong’s LiveStrong cancer charity.

4. More Bikes on the Road Decreases the Number of Fatal Car Accidents

For starters, there’s the obvious reason: More bikes on the road means fewer cars on the road, potentially leading to fewer accidents. What’s more, researchers believe drivers actually adjust their behavior when more bicycles are on the road, and cities start to design safer roads for cyclists. In other happy, fewer-bike-related-accident stats: Research has shown that tripling the number of bicyclists on the street cuts motorist-bicyclist crashes in half.


5. We Have Bikes to Thank for Paved Roads

Turns out it wasn’t the automobile that inspired cobblestone streets to become asphalt. It was the bicycle. In fact, cyclists’ organizations, such as Cyclists’ Touring Club in the United Kingdom and League of American Wheelmen in the U.S., lobbied county surveyors and politicians to build better roads for biking.

6. There Are More Bikes Than People in the Netherlands

While Americans use their bikes for 1 out of 100 trips, on average, the Dutch use their bikes 30 times out of 100. To further prove how ubiquitous the bike is in this country, every year between 12,000–15,000 bikes are pulled out of Amsterdam’s canals.

7. Bicycling Actually Uses Fossil Fuels

Sure, you know that biking somewhere is more eco-friendly than driving. However, if you consider the fossil fuels that go into producing the food to fuel the cyclist, it still uses some energy. That said, according to one calculation comparing bicycle versus automobile energy use (one that factors in the energy to produce the extra food a cyclist requires), bikes are 66% more efficient. Another fun calculation: If you spent a gallon’s worth of your gas money (at $3.72/gallon) on food to fuel your biking, that $3.72 would take you 26 miles on beef, 48 miles on potatoes, 106 miles on beans and 109 miles on rice.

8. Bike Helmets Didn’t Exist Until 1975

Though it’s  hard to believe, Bell Sports introduced the first polystyrene helmet to the U.S. market in the mid-’70s. And it wasn’t until 1987 that the first mandatory bicycle helmet laws went into effect in California (and then New York, in 1989).

9. Mountain Bikes Weren’t Mass-Produced Until 1981

The novelty of all-terrain cycling coupled with an increasing interest in extreme sports helped mountain bikes become an instant success. To wit: By 2000, mountain bike sales had far surpassed those of racing and touring bikes. (These days, the National Bicycle Dealers Association says mountain bikes represent about 25% of all bikes sold.)

10. Bike Commuting Is on the Rise

From 2007–16, bike commuting nearly doubled in the 50 largest U.S. cities. The average commuting bicycle costs $687; 30% of bike commuters use a mountain bike, 28% a road bike, 18% a hybrid and 17% a touring bike. About 1/3 of bike commuters know a rainy day isn’t the time to hop onto your sweetest ride: 35% own a second, bad-weather bike.


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About the Author

Meghan Rabbitt
Meghan Rabbitt
Meghan is a freelance writer whose work is published in national magazines and websites, including Women’s Health, Dr. Oz The Good Life, Yoga Journal, Prevention, Runner’s World, Well + Good, Refinery29 and many more. When she’s not writing, she’s doing yoga, swimming or riding her bike in Boulder, Colorado.


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