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Bicycles...getting a handle on technology

Bicycles: getting a handle on technology

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1888 Victor Racer 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 many 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 hand-brakes, 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.

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Content - The Franklin Institute Online "Inquiry Attic" (June/July '99)

Note: The objects pictured above are part of The Franklin Institute's protected collection of objects. The images are The Franklin Institute. All rights are reserved.

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