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How early could something like the modern bicycle have been created?

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How early could something like the modern bicycle have been created?

Old 11-13-14, 02:39 PM
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How early could something like the modern bicycle have been created?

At the super table last night the question came up: how early in history could one have made a bicycle? As a history buff I knew that the first two wheeled "hobby horses" date back to the early 19th century. They sort of look like bicycles, but lack the pedal powered aspect that I'd consider as essential aspect to the modern bicycle. Oddly, there's nothing in that technology that couldn't have been done hundreds of years earlier. Once you've made a reasonable wheel, you could have made one of those 1820's hobby horses. Anyone who had made a chariot could have made an hobby horse. It's actually surprising that one in ancient times did this (at least that we know of).

But what we were thinking of was something that worked more like a modern bike. With pedal power and mechanical advantage and roughly equal wheel sizes. Something that you hop on and feel like it was a bike as you know it, maybe a metal shod, wooden wheel fixie kind of thing--but a modern bicycle conceptually, only with the technology that was available at the time.

Yes, I knew that direct pedals were put on the front wheel of the hobby horse concept by the middle of the 19th century, and eventually we got the high front wheel variation of that. But what I wondered as we talked, was how early could humans have had the technology to make the equivalent of a modern (albeit wooden wheeled) fixie? Chains (or belts I suppose) would have been key. Much earlier than 1800 for something that could have been practically built and used?
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Old 11-13-14, 10:02 PM
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I don't think anything practical could have been done much earlier than it was, for a couple of reasons.

For example, the ancient Greeks and Romans had the capability to make gears. But as far as I know, they were made by somebody filing one tooth at a time with a file, not on a gear-cutting machine. So they weren't precise teeth, weren't involute gears, etc. Meaning they worked, but wouldn't be long-lasting or efficient. I think the same people could have made something resembling a bicycle chain, but it would have involved filing out link after link by hand, the result would have been expensive, imprecise, and made of fairly soft metals.

Another issue is ball bearings, or the lack thereof, which we take for granted in modern bicycle construction.

Much of the success of modern bicycles is due to the availability of modern roads, and lacking them would have made any such contrivance more difficult to ride.

Edited:
Videos of interest:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nasF4-CSOQA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbNOba3Ot3w
Note that these are primitive-looking bikes, but may still use more modern bearings, roads, tools, etc.- may or may not have been easily buildable 500 years ago.
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Old 11-14-14, 09:59 AM
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Good point about the roads. I suspect that may be part of why the hobby horse bike waited until the 19th century, even though the technology used was centuries old.

Looking at something like the Antikyrhera mechanism says that chain ring and cogs was in reach of the ancients. Heck, if one could build that you'd probably be able to build a derailleur! But then you'd get into issues with making shift cables.

We thought about ball bearings around the supper table. Might be easier to do roller bearings if you're thinking of a craftsman made bearing. My final thought was a greased sleeve bearing is less efficient, but it'd work. Bronze is pretty hard, probably strong enough for a chain, but yes, hand crafting a full set of links would be a long process.
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Old 11-14-14, 10:14 AM
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Shifting could have probably been accomplished with something besides cables. In fact, at least some early front derailleurs were shifted by lever that the rider reached down by the seat tube and shifted. the rear would be a little trickier, but something could be done.

I wonder if earlier constructions would have been easier with belt driven systems instead of being chain driven. I know that early factories used large leather belts to drive equipment, but proper tension for efficient pedaling could be difficult with a leather belt... so someone would have had to invent a belt for more ideal performance on a bike. Belt drive would also preclude a derailleur system, although manually moving belts in factories was sometimes done to change machine speed as I recall.
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Old 11-14-14, 10:34 AM
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Bearing material used here.

You could make a chainless cog drive for the rear wheel, driving a large cog on the rim.
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Old 11-14-14, 03:44 PM
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MichaelW: cool links. Never thought of wood as a bearing material.
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Old 11-14-14, 11:31 PM
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Originally Posted by FrankHudson View Post
Looking at something like the Antikyrhera mechanism says that chain ring and cogs was in reach of the ancients.
If that's the clockwork-type navigation calculator I'm thinking of, it was what I had in mind when I mentioned gears. The catch is, it was not used for power transmission- so efficiency, smooth running, long life at speed were simply not concerns.

Just happened to think- another line of inquiry along this line was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court- in which the practical-minded man is transported back in time, and manages recreate enough technology to make a six-shooter.
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Old 11-14-14, 11:47 PM
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The thought was there... Universal Leonardo: Leonardo da Vinci online ? Self-propelled cart ? Codex Atlanticus Fol 812r
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Old 11-15-14, 12:25 AM
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Rather than philosophize about what somebody else could have done, try doing it yourself. Take whatever tools you have in your shop right now and try building a bicycle. See what problems stymie you. I'm frequently amazed at what people have been able to create using only hand powered tools.
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Old 11-15-14, 03:47 AM
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I saw an exhibit in Rotterdam last year about Da Vinci and agree, the thought was there ... long ago.
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Old 11-15-14, 08:21 AM
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The big mental breakthrough though was balancing on a moving vehicle. No one could imagine that you could maintain your balance on two wheels. Even Von Drais didn't realize that until after he had made his machine.
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Originally Posted by Bjforrestal View Post
I don't care if you are on a unicycle, as long as you're not using a motor to get places you get props from me. We're here to support each other. Share ideas, and motivate one another to actually keep doing it.
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Old 11-17-14, 07:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Artkansas View Post
The big mental breakthrough though was balancing on a moving vehicle. No one could imagine that you could maintain your balance on two wheels. Even Von Drais didn't realize that until after he had made his machine.
You're not dong most of the balancing - the wheels are. Gyroscopic effect from the spinning wheel is what keeps you upright. That's why it gets harder and harder to balance as you come to a stop.

It seems that gyroscopic effect was getting its first implementations sometime in the late 18th to early 19th centuries.

Of course, if we think of a "Yankee in King Arthurs court" I could imagine a bike as far back as decent woodworking skills. Some sort of cog drive could make a single speed drivetrain or maybe a leather belt and some sort of tensioner. Bikes used to have wood rims and cork brake pads anyways. Heck, with the right knowledge of which wood to use you could probably grease or wax a wooden axle and have it work. Nobody would be running the Tour de France on this bike, but used at lower speeds it could be as reliable as any other wheeled transportation of the time.
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Old 11-17-14, 10:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Artkansas View Post
The big mental breakthrough though was balancing on a moving vehicle. No one could imagine that you could maintain your balance on two wheels. Even Von Drais didn't realize that until after he had made his machine.
It goes to show you how little development in the bicycle happened over the decades since it's release in 1817. It took almost 70 years for the bicycle to go from a barely functional hobby horse to John Kemps fully functional safety bicycle.

It would be a much different world if the safety bicycle came out in 1817, a full 13 years before the steam locomotive! It might have had an actual chance of becoming the predominant from of transportation around the world. However, the safety bicycle was developed in 1885, around the time when the electric street car made its introduction. Society preferred to use jam packed street cars for transportation than ride bicycles. Eventually, the street car was replaced by the bus and automobile and the rest is history.
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Old 11-17-14, 10:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Caliper View Post
You're not dong most of the balancing - the wheels are. Gyroscopic effect from the spinning wheel is what keeps you upright. That's why it gets harder and harder to balance as you come to a stop.
I think it's been shown that gyroscopic effects have minimal effects on staying upright. That's why it's so easy to lean, or even fall over. What keeps the bike upright is the ability to steer the bike under yourself as you're moving. It works equally well with skis on it, with no gyroscopic action at all: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxW6ir2TTtk

The two-wheel balancing isn't really essential to the idea, though. If it turned out to be impossible to balance on two wheels, no problem, we'd all be riding 3-wheelers with similar features and think nothing of it. But they wouldn't have been any easier to make.
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Old 11-17-14, 11:11 PM
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Originally Posted by StephenH View Post
The two-wheel balancing isn't really essential to the idea, though. If it turned out to be impossible to balance on two wheels, no problem, we'd all be riding 3-wheelers with similar features and think nothing of it. But they wouldn't have been any easier to make.
Tricycles had been around since Roman times. However, this technology never advanced so one must come to the conclusion that humans were adverse to exercise and preferred to use animal labor. The horse was eplaced by the iron horse (locomotive) and then by the horseless carriage (automobile).
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Old 11-18-14, 06:25 AM
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fsir posted a link, not sure where it went...

://1.bp.blogspot.com/-bO1yyJ4mX2c/UKUYwCmI6bI/AAAAAAAAH_o/0hu0aPesTRA/s1600/Leonardo+12+=+davinci.jpg

I see it doesn't come up on here, it's an early bike and chain drawing.

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Old 11-18-14, 07:14 AM
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Originally Posted by Dahon.Steve View Post
It would be a much different world if the safety bicycle came out in 1817, a full 13 years before the steam locomotive! It might have had an actual chance of becoming the predominant from of transportation around the world. However, the safety bicycle was developed in 1885, around the time when the electric street car made its introduction. Society preferred to use jam packed street cars for transportation than ride bicycles. Eventually, the street car was replaced by the bus and automobile and the rest is history.
Sorry, but let's be realistic. The car would have supplanted the bicycle just as it replaced the train. Trains and cars travel faster, with greater creature comforts and more load capacity than a bicycle ever could. Cars add in the freedom to not be tied to someone elses schedule the same way a horse-drawn carriage did (which coincidentally coexisted just fine with trains but were replaced by cars). My 35 mile drive to work this morning in windy 10F weather is why bicycles aren't the predominant form of transportation.

Originally Posted by StephenH View Post
I think it's been shown that gyroscopic effects have minimal effects on staying upright. That's why it's so easy to lean, or even fall over. What keeps the bike upright is the ability to steer the bike under yourself as you're moving. It works equally well with skis on it, with no gyroscopic action at all: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxW6ir2TTtk

The two-wheel balancing isn't really essential to the idea, though. If it turned out to be impossible to balance on two wheels, no problem, we'd all be riding 3-wheelers with similar features and think nothing of it. But they wouldn't have been any easier to make.
The ski has some flat bearing surface on the packed snow there and you'll still notice them working to keep balance here and there in the video. OTOH, take a bike wheel at the top of the hill, give it a push down the hill and it will stay upright on its own as it rolls.

Good point about a trike. Would a trike have caught on the same way a bicycle has? Something about the compactness of the bike really drives part of my interest anyways.
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Old 11-20-14, 11:46 PM
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Originally Posted by curbtender View Post
fsir posted a link, not sure where it went...

://1.bp.blogspot.com/-bO1yyJ4mX2c/UKUYwCmI6bI/AAAAAAAAH_o/0hu0aPesTRA/s1600/Leonardo+12+=+davinci.jpg

I see it doesn't come up on here, it's an early bike and chain drawing.


The Chain is definitely Da Vinci, the bike supposed to be Da Vinci.
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Originally Posted by Bjforrestal View Post
I don't care if you are on a unicycle, as long as you're not using a motor to get places you get props from me. We're here to support each other. Share ideas, and motivate one another to actually keep doing it.
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Old 11-20-14, 11:52 PM
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Well, certainly a little earlier. The motorcycle was invented in 1867.

Sylvester Roper's steam bike.



Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede

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Originally Posted by Bjforrestal View Post
I don't care if you are on a unicycle, as long as you're not using a motor to get places you get props from me. We're here to support each other. Share ideas, and motivate one another to actually keep doing it.

Last edited by Artkansas; 11-20-14 at 11:59 PM.
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Old 11-21-14, 12:03 AM
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Originally Posted by Artkansas View Post


The Chain is definitely Da Vinci, the bike supposed to be Da Vinci.
The bicycle sketch has been fairly thoroughly debunked, it's drawn with ink developed centuries after Da Vinci's death.

He did design chain-driven gears, caged ball bearings, and mechanically-driven carts, but the bicycle is a 20th Century forgery.
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Old 11-21-14, 05:35 AM
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Originally Posted by curbtender View Post
fsir posted a link, not sure where it went...

://1.bp.blogspot.com/-bO1yyJ4mX2c/UKUYwCmI6bI/AAAAAAAAH_o/0hu0aPesTRA/s1600/Leonardo+12+=+davinci.jpg

I see it doesn't come up on here, it's an early bike and chain drawing.

I deleted it it because the drawing of a bicycle supposedly by Da Vinci was determined by experts to be a forgery.
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Old 11-21-14, 09:50 AM
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Just saw this picture of the Bamboo bicycle on wikipedia.

Bamboo bicycle - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Crazy how the frame design of the bamboo bike from 1896 is the same as early aluminum and CF bikes - bamboo tubes with metal lugs.

The drive train would be the sticking point for an earlier bicycle. Almost everything you could imagine custom fabricating with the right skill level. I think the chain would be a problem.


Originally Posted by FrankHudson View Post
At the super table last night the question came up: how early in history could one have made a bicycle? As a history buff I knew that the first two wheeled "hobby horses" date back to the early 19th century. They sort of look like bicycles, but lack the pedal powered aspect that I'd consider as essential aspect to the modern bicycle. Oddly, there's nothing in that technology that couldn't have been done hundreds of years earlier. Once you've made a reasonable wheel, you could have made one of those 1820's hobby horses. Anyone who had made a chariot could have made an hobby horse. It's actually surprising that one in ancient times did this (at least that we know of).

But what we were thinking of was something that worked more like a modern bike. With pedal power and mechanical advantage and roughly equal wheel sizes. Something that you hop on and feel like it was a bike as you know it, maybe a metal shod, wooden wheel fixie kind of thing--but a modern bicycle conceptually, only with the technology that was available at the time.

Yes, I knew that direct pedals were put on the front wheel of the hobby horse concept by the middle of the 19th century, and eventually we got the high front wheel variation of that. But what I wondered as we talked, was how early could humans have had the technology to make the equivalent of a modern (albeit wooden wheeled) fixie? Chains (or belts I suppose) would have been key. Much earlier than 1800 for something that could have been practically built and used?
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Old 11-21-14, 10:28 AM
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I think a bike could have been possibly made with a limited range without needing a chain drive by incorporating a fixed length spool of strong, thin string into the hub of the front wheel up to another spool attached to the handle bars. So you would both steer and propell with the hands and arms.

Of course, when the string ran out on the hub spool you would have to stop and rewind it. Or maybe they could have a mechanism they could engage that converted the reverse wind up motion also to forward propulsion so you get forward motion on the "up" and "down" turns?

and if you think about it, we have belt drives now. So if the ancients really wanted, they could have come up with a foot drive train without the need for a chain. It could have been just a leather belt or string with spherical pegs interspersed that fit into a wood cog.

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Old 11-21-14, 12:15 PM
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The most important factor in the rather sudden change from the high-wheeler/penny farthing design to the safety bicycle was the advent of pneumatic tires. Before that, bicycles with equal sized wheels were known as "boneshakers" with good reason.
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Old 11-21-14, 02:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Cyclosaurus View Post
The most important factor in the rather sudden change from the high-wheeler/penny farthing design to the safety bicycle was the advent of pneumatic tires. Before that, bicycles with equal sized wheels were known as "boneshakers" with good reason.
There was no cushiony material available at any time prior to pneumatic tires that could have been better than raw wood wheels? I thought the MesoAmerican Natives introduced the Eurpoeans to rubber.
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