The first bicycle-like vehicle was the creation of German engineer Baron Karl von Drais. His 1817 draisienne looked much like a modern bicycle, except it had no pedals. The wooden machine was propelled by the rider’s feet. Scottish blacksmith Kirkpatrick Macmillan put pedals to the draisienne in 1839. Driving cranks attached to the rear axle, the pedal mechanism was too inefficient to catch on.
A much better bicycle came along in 1861, the product of French father and son Pierre and Ernest Michaux. Their vélocipède had pedals attached to a large front wheel. Sitting atop this wheel, the rider turned the pedals—one rotation would turn the wheel all the way around. The wheels were made of iron or solid rubber, and gave such a bumpy ride that it was also nicknamed the boneshaker.
In England, a similar contraption became known as the penny-farthing (after the penny coin and the much smaller farthing), its front wheel as large as five feet in diameter. It was very unsafe. Falls from the high wheel were common. Attempts to reduce accidents by placing the small wheel in front were unsuccessful.
In 1885 the safety bicycle was introduced by English bicycle maker J. K. Starley. As on the draisienne, the wheels were the same size. But on the safety bicycle the pedals drove a chain attached to the rear wheel, and the saddle was atop a diamond-shaped frame. The pattern for the modern bicycle was in place. The solid rubber tires were replaced by pneumatic (air-filled) tyres in 1887, an innovation by Scottish inventor John Dunlop for his son’s bike. By 1890 coaster brakes were added, and millions of people were riding bicycles. Later improvements gave bicycles the distinction of being perhaps the most efficient means of self-propulsion ever devised.