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The bicycle actually has a much shorter history than one might suspect given the long standing history of the wheel. You would have thought that it was a simple matter to throw two of them together and take off riding. Well, you would think that if you never stopped to remember what it was like learning to ride a bike. It was hard, and there were many life threatening… or at least playtime threatening injuries involved.
That’s because balancing on two wheels is not a simple thing to achieve. Give how much effort goes into learning the mechanics of a fully fleshed out idea, imagine what it must have taken to come up with the idea. It started, as all good things do, with a rivalry between the Germans and French. In traditional fashion, the Germans struck first, with an invention they called the “Laufmaschine” or the running machine. It featured two wheels attached to a frame. A portion of the frame was padded so that when the machine was pointed down a hill, a rider could sit and steer.
The biggest difference between the Laufmaschine and a bicycle was that unlike bikes, the German invention featured no pedals. It was propelled by running astride the machine, hence the name running machine.
The next chapter of this tale is told as the French strike back. I know, I was shocked too… but the word bicycle is actually of French origins, and so is the machine that bears that name. The French took the running machine concept and put pedals on the front wheel so that a rider could sit on the frame and push the entire rig forward while seated. Thus the bicycle was born, although it took some interesting turns on the way to its current form.
One of the most interesting of these was the high-wheel bicycle. The high-wheel featured one wheel that was as large as the rider could accommodate, usually six feet or so in diameter. The rear wheel was tiny, even by comparison to an ordinary bicycle tire, and even more so in comparison to the huge wheel that it accompanied. The rider perched precariously on top of the larger wheel, which led to all sorts of safety issues.
After the exotic and dangerous high-wheel, bicycles turned more or less into the machines we know today. The invention was called the safety bicycle, because it didn’t kill riders. The pedals were moved from the front wheel to a position directly below the rider, and attached to the rear wheel via a chain drive. The wheels were made identical in size, and shrunk from the absurd proportions that were seen in the high-wheel.
This incarnation of the bicycle hasn’t changed all that significantly in the century it has been around. We’ve added brakes, which weren’t on the original. We’ve also added multiple gears. The first attempt at this actually featured a gear on either side of the rear wheel. In order to change gears, a rider had to get off, remove, and flip the wheel so that the other gear was on the chain side of the bike. Needless to say; that hassle somewhat defeated the purpose of easing the ride by using different gears. The derailer was the invention that allowed a bicycle to feature multiple rear gears. Later on, a second derailer was added to the crank end of the chain, and the basis for the modern shifting bicycle was laid.
It was not until the late 1970’s that the vehicles we know as mountain bikes became more than the dream of eccentrics. It began as a normal bike with a reinforced frame. Today, it is another beast entirely. A high end mountain bike features a full suspension (as if keeping your balance wasn’t enough fun already, now everything moves!) high strength yet lightweight construction, and giant (and thick!) wheels. It is recommended that you get the correct mountain bike parts for you and your bike.
As for the fitness benefits, most physical trainers say that bike riding is considered the best natural butt lift workout available. Many people find that endurance activities like hitting punching bags and jumping rope, can help when in the big race, or just mountain biking.