Early days of cycling: before pedals, gears and bike lights

The history of cycling is a fascinating one especially when one considers that much of the first developments took place in the seventeenth century. Early models were a far cry from the technological wonders of today and the first bicycles were called "Hobby Horses” which were constructed from wood and lacked pedals, gears and chain never mind safety features such as bike lights or reflectors! These models were actually pushed along with the rider’s feet; the only advantage over walking was that it was slightly faster. It was in 1840 or thereabouts that the first pedals appeared and were invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan who two years later was arrested for knocking a child over. It seems that Mr Macmillan had not thought about the potential dangers of riding on the pavement! In fact it was quite some time before any safety features like bike lights or bells were added to bicycles.

The development of cycles and bike lights

By 1861 the first Velocipede made an appearance and this model was a vast improvement on the Hobby Horse, with pedals fitting onto the front wheel it was similar to a tricycle. As people learned that the larger the front wheel the further they could travel, so the battle to make models with larger and larger front wheels commenced; this lead to the development of the Penny Farthing which is still well known for its rather ridiculous appearance. By 1885 the Safety bicycle made its first appearance; with chain, gears and a more sensible silhouette it contributed to the popularity of cycling even further than the Penny Wheel had done. When bike lights first made an appearance alongside velocipedes in 1860 they were an absolute necessity. Conditions in streets and lanes during this period were almost universally bad; rough roads and lack of public lighting made riding a velocipede a very dangerous business indeed.

The first bike lights

The very first bike lights were sold alongside the velocipedes they were intended for. Candle lamps were the first effort at making cycling a safer affair and these were very impractical as cycling produces a breeze, which of course often extinguished the flame! The candles for these early bike lights were inserted into a spring loaded cylinder where the mechanism would elevate the candle as it burned lower. Candle lamps were soon superseded by oil lamps and these had so much success that they were still in use during the 1950s remaining a popular choice for the cyclists of the day. The invention of Acetylene gas in 1892 proved to be a turning point in the industry as this produced a powerful white light which was adopted into the cycle lighting industry. By 1895 the dynamo powered lamp had appeared and proved very popular; Ever Ready was also producing battery powered lamps in the USA. Developments have gathered momentum and today the efficiency and reliability of bicycle lights has gone on from strength to strength.