The World’s Earliest Bikes

The history of the bicycle is well-documented and is typically accepted to range from early 19th century Europe, when the first prototypes of cumbersome wooden structures emerged from German high-society and quickly gained notoriety across the continent as the new, fangled (and very dangerous) contraptions of the day.

The World’s Earliest BikesBut, as the bike underwent design changes at the hands of different pioneers in Germany and the UK in the 1820s, it’s clear to see that its early history was marred by bouts of unpopularity caused by high levels of accidents and the umbrage of city officials who decreed the machine was causing chaos in the tight-knit streets of metropolitan Europe.

But, while the pedal-less contraption of central Europe have successfully secured their place as the typically accepted starting point in the official history, possibly apocryphal evidence of medieval two-wheelers have recently intrigued historians as to whether bikes actually have a much longer tale to tell than previously thought.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the myth as to its origin during the Renaissance emanate from Italy and the school of Leonardo da Vinci in particular, where a number of rudimentary sketches made by one of the master’s pupils, Gian Giacomo Caprotti, is said to have depicted it very much in the modern style; complete with single riding seat, spoke wheels and chained pedalling system.

However, the authenticity of the Caprotti sketch has been challenged by a number of high-profile lexicographers and historians, who cited the prototypal European tradition of push bikes as a much more plausible case for origin, notably because of the observable evolution of technology from the early 19th century to the 1890s, when three and two wheeled machines had begun to adopt an engineering style that’s clearly antecedent to the modern cycling machine.

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