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A History of Bicycling

It started long before Amgen.

Posted: February 25, 2008 5:41 p.m.
Updated: April 25, 2008 5:02 a.m.
An event such as the Amgen Tour of California always brings a lot of enthusiasm for the sport of bicycling- but daily, on the trail system and on the streets of Santa Clarita, we find all levels of bicyclists. Bicycling is not a new sport. The bicycle made its appearance during the period between the development of the steam railroad and the electric trolley car.

While the origin of the "bike" does not seem to be clearly established, it is generally accepted that the first vehicle having the mechanical principles of the modern bicycle was invented in 1816 and was known as the "Draisine," after its inventor, Baron Van Drais. Also developed about this time by an Englishman, named Johnson, was the "Curricle," also known as the "Hobby Horse" or "Dandy Horse." These first bicycles consisted of two wheels connected by a bar. Pictures and prints of that era show that the riders propelled the machine by alternately kicking the ground with first the right and then the left foot.

This design was first improved upon by Kirkpatrick McMillan of Scotland, in 1840, who worked out a system of pedaling. Next came the velocipede, with a wooden frame, propelled by pedals attached to the forward wheel. Credit for this improvement is generally given to Ernest Michaux, a Frenchman, who invented this device in 1855. This vehicle was introduced in the United States in 1866 and was very popular until it was superseded by the high bicycle in 1873, which lasted about 10 years, being, in turn, replaced by the then modern safety bicycle, which resembled present day bicycles.

From 1888 to 1900 the manufacture of bicycles in this country developed into a major industry, with 300 established firms. In 1890, American manufacturers produced nearly 30,000 bicycles, and by 1899 that figure had grown to 1,200,000. As a result of the 19th century popularity of bicycles, 150,000 businessmen and governors from 17 states petitioned Congress for better roads. Bicycle manufacturing and mass production techniques also provided a foundation for the U.S. automotive industry. During this period, the bicycle was mainly used for sport and pleasure.

After 1900, the bicycle was used also as a business conveyance, vying with the horse and buggy and the first automobile, as a means of transportation.

Before and after the turn of the century, the bicycle occupied an important place in everyday life both from the standpoint of pleasure and sport as well as business. Amateur and professional bicycle racing, bicycle clubs, whose members traveled considerable distances on holidays or weekends, were all apart of the American scene of that day. "Bikes" with extra pedals, handlebars and seats, designed to accommodate more than one person safely, were not uncommon and provided the theme for a then popular song "On a Bicycle Built for Two."

And the bicycle continues to be popular today. Grants from the state and the federal government have provided our city with money for over 30 miles of bike paths. The paths not only provide a safe place for recreational bicycling, but are also used for people to bicycle-commute to their jobs. And, with the price of gasoline, bike commuting is certainly a money saver.

Enjoy Amgen, but remember where it all started.


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