The bicycle has gone through a number of different versions before landing on the design we recognize today…
Created by Karl von Drais in Germany as an alternative method for speedy travel. He patented the machine in 1818. It had a similar look to a modern bicycle but had no pedals. A rider would propel themselves with their feet, similar to a “glide bike” for children today.
The first commercially successful bicycle design, developed in 1863. This version was powered by rotary cranks and pedals which were attached to the front wheel. The frame was solid wood with iron-rimmed wheels. Roads were unpaved at the time, which made for a ride so bumpy that they became referred to as “boneshakers.”
Popular in the 1870s - 1880s. The design is easily recognized by its large front wheel. The advantage of this design was speed – since pedals were fixed to the wheel, a larger wheel made for greater distance covered by a single pedal rotation. The disadvantage of this design was that with greater speed, and the rider sitting at a greater height, there was a higher potential for injury if the rider lost their balance!
Patented in 1885 by John Kemp Starley, this design was created in response to the disadvantages of the high wheel. It was the first bicycle to be propelled via the back wheel with a chain and gear, rather than pedals fixed directly to the wheel itself. The addition of this simple machine allowed for the bicycle to be both faster and safer than the high wheel that came before it. Modern bicycles are still based off this design. The safety bicycle had a significant impact on women, providing unprecedented mobility, which contributed to their larger participation in all aspects of their communities. As bicycles became safer and cheaper, more women had access to the personal freedom they granted, and so the bicycle came to symbolize the “New Woman” of the late nineteenth century.
Photo: In front of Mount Joy School. Gift of Clyde Lehman M.2012.1.18
Markham Bike Lanes
The bicycle is still shaping the way our community is organized. As cycling increases in popularity as an alternative to driving, the infrastructure of our roads is changing.
Markham has over 400km of on- and off-road cycling routes as part of its cycling master plan. Notable examples include a trail route running through the Milne Conservation Park and Rouge River Valley, and a succession of bicycle lane pilot projects along Highway 7. With an ever-increasing need for green alternatives, the revolution in transportation the bicycle created in the 19th century may well be repeated in Canada in the 21st Century.
Take a look at our City from a bicycle:
A tandem bike is designed to be used by more than one person. Tandem bicycles date from the late 1890s. The word “tandem” refers to the seating arrangement and not the number of riders.
Markham Museum Collection M.2018.0.1018
High Wheel Bicycle
During the 1880s Markham was home to a high wheel bicycle club.
Gift of Gordon Penny M.1971.14.1
The bicycle (on the left) features a personal modification by a past owner. The handles are fitted with shovel shaped shaped ends.
Want to learn more about cycling in Markham?Check out Markham Cycles