(Biking or Bicycling)
Author: Richard Weil, MEd, CDE
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Are you looking for an activity that's low-impact, burns lots of calories,
strengthens your heart, tightens and tones your legs, hips, and glutes, builds
endurance, and transports you where you want to go quickly and efficiently?
Biking might be just the thing. In this article, I'll cover everything you need
to know about biking, from types of bikes and how to select one to how to get
What is the history of biking?
The search for a "human-powered" vehicle was first
described by French mathematician Jacques Ozanam in his 1696 publication Recreations Mathematiques et Physiques, in which he describes the advantages of
"a device in which one can drive oneself wherever one pleases, without horses."
His publication featured a design by Dr. Elie Richard for a massive four-wheeled
carriage which could be steered in front by the driver and pedaled in the back
by a servant who stepped up and down to drive the axel. This predecessor of the
modern bicycle lasted for more than 100 years without significant modification
despite many attempts to do so.
It wasn't until 1813 when Karl von Drais, a
German baron, built a four-wheeled vehicle that carried two to four passengers
in which one or more riders worked a crank with their legs while another steered
the device with a tiller. This didn't exactly catch on, and so in 1817, von Drais
introduced what became known as a draisine or velocipede (from the Latin
words meaning fast foot). It was a slender vehicle made almost entirely of wood
except for the iron tires which were positioned in a straight line. The rider
sat almost completely erect and drove the device forward by pushing off the
ground with one foot, then the other, as if walking or running. Drais was able
to reach speeds a high as 12 miles per hour, and his device caught the attention
of the public. In 1818, he rode more than 50 miles from Mannheim to Frankfurt and
received patents from France and Germany.
Over the next century, the velocipede
underwent many modifications as technology improved. In the 1860s the term
bicycle was introduced. By the early 1890s, bicycling had caught on. Bicycles
were safer, pneumatic (air-filled) tires made bicycles faster, and more than
150,000 bicycles had been sold in the United States alone. The improvement in
speed naturally sparked road races, and thus long- and short-distance races
sprouted up all over Europe and the United States (the Michelin Company
sponsored a 260-mile race from Paris to its headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand).
Racetracks and cycling clubs grew in popularity (the League of American
Wheelmen, still in existence and now called the League of American Bicyclists,
lobbied for better roads for cyclists and automobiles), and by the end of the
1800s, bicycling was common as a method for recreation and commuting to work. By
the 1890s, there were more than 25 bicycle manufacturers alone in Chicago,
including the newcomer, Arnold, Schwinn and Company.
By the mid-1930s, European
bicycle manufacturers were building lightweight bicycles made of alloy
materials (most bikes weighed more than 50 pounds up until then), the geometry
of bicycles was changing to create more comfortable and faster bicycles, and
gears were introduced to make the riding easier and faster. Ten-speed derailleur
bikes became very popular in the 1970s, although they had been invented before
the turn of the century in Europe. By the 1980s, high-tech and lightweight
frames were made of titanium, alloys of aluminum, and finally carbon fiber (the
frame of the road model used by Lance Armstrong weighed only 2.5 pounds!).
Today more than 15-20 million new bicycles are sold each year in the United States,
and according to a bicycle survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of
Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately
57 million people age 16 or older rode a bicycle at least once during the summer
of 2002. Can 57 million be wrong? If you're not pedaling, now may be the time!