The late 1800s ushered in a huge bicycle boom, and people began to experiment with bicycle shapes and styles to suit the varying needs of the rider. Will this bicycle be used for racing or for recreation? How fast will the rider want to go? How comfortable should the rider be while riding? Is this bicycle safe to ride? These questions and much more led people to develop new technologies that would help evolve the bicycle from the high-wheel models seen in early pictures to some of the high-tech racing machines we have today.
In the last decade of the 19th century, at least one-third of all new patent applications at the U.S Patent Office were bicycle related. People focused the changes and improvements they made on what they thought bicycle riders wanted or required. Despite a varying degree of styles and models, four major focuses stood out from the rest: speed, safety, comfort, and endurance. When considering speed, people thought about how fast they wanted to ride their bicycles: is this bike for serious racing, or will it only be used for leisurely riding? Safety and comfort came under scrutiny, and soon after brakes, spokes, and cushion seats were incorporated into the anatomy of the bicycle. Later, the use of handbrakes, adjustment of handlebars, and development of special male and female seats added to safety and comfort features. When endurance or durability mattered and long races or distances were involved, the materials used to build the bicycle were retested or it was rebuilt with lighter material to better withstand wear and tear.
Many materials were experimented with so a bicycle would have just the right feel to it. Wood was used in most early models, but then people began fashioning bikes out of metal. When racing and traveling faster became more important, manufacturers began using aluminum piping for the frames, which was much lighter. Even though automobiles didn’t catch on until the 20th century, people kept experimenting with how to make bicycles better, faster, and more powerful. The very first automobile was a tricycle that put a steam engine to use.
These pictures show a front and a back view of the very first automobile and people enjoying a ride on it. The vehicle was a tricycle equipped with a Lucius D. Copeland steam engine of 2600 R.P.M. and Silsby Type Boiler operating at 100 lbs. It used kerosene for fuel, and was built in Camden, New Jersey in 1887 by the Northrop Manufacturing Co.