Those slacks you’re wearing? You can thank the bicycle for that: a timeline of milestones in cycling

Bicycle built for four at a Long Beach, NY, cycling party.
Bicycle built for four at a Long Beach, NY, cycling party.
(Wide World Photo / Los Angeles Times Files)

Perhaps not since the invention of the wheel has another innovation — the pairing of two wheels — had such an impact on personal transportation, recreation and fun. Here is a short history of the long-ish evolution of bicycles:

1817: Baron Charles von Drais invents the first two-wheeled method of human-powered transportation, the Draisienne.

1858: Pedals are added to the front wheel of a two-wheeled machine, known as the velocipede, creating a rough ride and the nickname “boneshaker.”

1869: Solid rubber tires replace iron velocipede tires; the term “bicycle” is first used.


1870s: High-wheeled “penny-farthing” bicycles appear, offering more comfort.

1885: John Kemp Starley of Coventry, England, introduces his Rover “safety” bicycle featuring a chain drive, wire-spoke tension wheels and a frame that aligns the seat, handlebars and pedals in a diamond configuration, a bicycle design that persists.

1890s: Removable pneumatic tires filled with air begin to replace solid rubber tires, making for a smoother, faster ride and easier pedaling.

1895: Ogden Bolton Jr. is granted a U.S. patent for his battery-powered bicycle. His hub motor design is still in use today.


1896-1901: Early versions of recumbent bicycles are introduced in Europe and the U.S. and are met with derision.

1896-97: Women’s fashions begin to reflect the need to move and breathe, marking the beginning of the end of stiff corsets and the launch of bloomers and cycling skirts,above.

1898: Mathew J. Steffens patents his electric, belt-drive bicycle in the U.S.

1903: First Tour de France.

1917: Mass production is underway, turning the bicycle from a novelty to affordable personal transportation.

1920-1940s: Bicycle use declines as automobile industry grows, but children take to heavy motorcycle- and airplane-inspired designs.

1939: Whizzer Co. introduces a four-stroke engine that can mount on Schwinn bicycle frames, a midcentury example of bicycles designed to emulate motorcycles.

1960s: Racing bicycles with dropped handlebars become popular.


1963: The Schwinn Sting-Ray is released, beginning a revolution in bicycle design.


Bicycle riders form into close ranks as they set forth from Shatto Recreation Center. 

(Don Cormier / Los Angeles Times)

1970: Ten-speed road bicycles, above, become the rage, especially as the 1973 oil embargo makes bicycle commuting more attractive.

1970s: Riders in Marin County, using beach cruiser frames, adapt bicycles for all-terrain downhill riding, launching the mountain biking boom.

1993: Yamaha offers electric bicycles with a power-assist, pedal-sensor system.

2016: Fountain Valley-based Pedego Electric Bikes expands to 90 retail stores worldwide.

Sources: Starley bikes, the League of American Bicyclists, the National Museum of American History, Bicycles & Bikes, the Electric Bicycle Guide



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