The success story of the bicycle began some 200 years ago with the Draisine. Having occasionally seen the two-wheelers’ popularity decline due to the motor car, it is now undergoing a renaissance – and represents both a lifestyle and a future-proof mode of transport.
From running machine to green lifestyle
In 1817, the forerunner of the modern bicycle came onto the scene at just the right time. In Europe, grain prices were skyrocketing to extortionate levels due to bad harvests, causing famine and the death of many horses. Against this backdrop, German inventor Karl von Drais unveiled his running machine, which was named “Draisine” after its creator. With no need for any horsepower, he was able to travel at an average speed of 15 km/h, which was faster than contemporary mail coaches.
This early bicycle was then enhanced in France, Britain and the United States. At the Paris World Fair in 1867, a group of French coach builders unveiled their “velociped” or “treadle bike” – with pedals on the front wheel.
First came speed, then safety
The next development was the high wheeler: in order to boost speed even further, bicycle manufacturers made their front wheels ever larger. With speeds of up to 30 km/h, the high wheeler could even keep pace with a galloping horse – but the ride itself was a perilous balancing act.
The real breakthrough didn’t come until the development of the safety bicycle, with technical innovations such as pneumatic tyres and chain drives enabling safe and enjoyable riding. Low-cost metal frames then made bicycles affordable for the general public. Even back in 1890, bikes looked almost like they do today – and their rise was unstoppable.
An environmentally conscious lifestyle
After World War II, the motor car became the most popular private mode of transport for men and women alike. The bicycle wasn’t dead, however. Instead, its image shifted to that of a recreational, fitness and sports vehicle. A new trend emerged in the 1970s: ever since, more and more workers have been bypassing rush-hour traffic on their bikes – especially in big cities.
On account of air pollution, traffic problems and bans on certain vehicles, cycling has once again attracted the attention of politicians. Berlin, for example, has outlined its intention to become a “bike city”, taking inspiration from Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Cities are extending their networks of cycle lanes, even building bicycle fast lanes, as well as linking public transport and cycle rental systems as part of new transport concepts.
An agile delivery vehicle
Bicycles are also experiencing a boom when it comes to transporting goods. Parcel companies, in particular, have been exploring for many years how they can incorporate cargo bikes into their existing delivery systems, as they are particularly well suited for use in narrow alleyways, pedestrian zones and city centres with access restrictions. State-of-the-art cargo bikes with electric pedal assist are already operational in six countries on behalf of GLS.