Karl Drais's The Walking Machine - first bicycle from 1817AD
Karl Drais’s Laufmaschine (The Running Machine) from 1813AD

Evolution of Bi-cycle and Mountain Bike

Hop on the time-traveling saddle as we wheel through the evolution of bikes – from Giovanni Fontana’s medieval contraption with more loops than a rollercoaster to the bone-shaking Velocipede of 1865. Meet the Penny Farthing, the “Klunker” rebels of the ’70s, and witness U.S. armies going full-on two-wheel mode in 1886 for mountain mayhem. Fast forward to 1981, where the Specialized Stumpjumper rode into mass production, costing half as much as a custom-built bike – the real steal of the century.

Giovanni Fontana's self-driving carriage, from 1418 - black and white photo
Giovanni Fontana’s self-driving carriage, from 1418AD

1418AD: According to Live Science, combination of medieval engineering and a daring spirit from Italy – Giovanni Fontana gave birth to a human-powered device, like the first-ever roller-coaster – no fast pass needed! Consisting of four wheels and a loop of rope connected by gears, the device offered a tough ride through each gear turn.

Wooden horse - wooden bicycle from 1791AD
Celerifere, wooden horse – wooden bicycle from 1791AD

1791AD: In 1791, Comte de Sivrac from France, was seen riding a two-wheel “wooden horse”. Named as Celerifere, the glorified piece of wood neither had handles nor pedals that we could associate with the bi-cycles of present days.

1813AD: In 1813, Karl von Drais, a German aristocrat and inventor, initiated the development of his iteration of a Laufmaschine (running machine) – a human-powered, four-wheeled vehicle. Subsequently, in 1817, Drais introduced a two-wheeled vehicle, recognized by various names across Europe, such as Draisienne, dandy horse, and hobby horse, according to IBF.

Drais built his running machine in response to a grave problem: a scarcity of genuine horses. In 1815, the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora dispersed an ash cloud that spanned the globe, causing a drop in global temperatures and crops fails; leading to the starvation of numerous animals, including horses, as reported by Smithsonian Magazine.

Velocipede bicycle from 1865AD
Velocipede, the ‘bone-shaker’ bicycle from 1865AD

1865AD: After Drais built his wooden ‘running machine’, the ‘first usable bicycle’ in 1813; it took a while until Velocipede was debuted in 1865. They were also called ‘boneshakers’ as they lacked springs causing to shake the riders while taking them through the rough roads of those days sitting them on their hard and solid wheels.

Penny Farthing – bicycle of 1870s
Penny farthing - bicycle from 1870AD with 1 tire huge and other one much smaller
Penny Farthing of 1870AD by Eugène Meyer of Paris

1870AD: High-wheeled ‘Penny Farthing’ was created by Eugène Meyer of Paris, which became quite popular in England and France. James Starley and William Hillman created the first wire-spoked model named – The Ariel. Later, he brought forward varieties of segmentations of bicycles, introducing ball-bearings, solid rubber tires, hollowed metal steel frames and many more.

Rover 'Safety' bicycle of 1885AD
Rover ‘Safety’ bicycle of 1885AD

1885AD: After the ‘boneshakers’ and high-wheels, the first ‘safety’ bicycle was introduced in the 1880s. The Rover Safety Bicycle was first debuted in 1885, by John Kemp Starley. These modified cycles had two small wheels of equal size, a chain driver and gears. Due to the chain-driven transmission, this bicycle was much more stable, hence safer. These Safety Bicycles became quite popular as it could be used not just for travelling long distances, but also for practical purposes.

US armies using bicycles in 1886AD to cross rough mountain terrains - black and white real photo
US armies started the use of bicycles over horses from 1886AD

1886AD: In 1886, US armies replaced horses by bi-cycles which ran through the rough mountain trails without getting tired or hungry. So, it is safe to say that US armies were the first to make use of bi-cycles as mountain bikes in the history of bicycles. Although it is always debatable about invention of mountain bike, as the widely accepted definition of a mountain bike is simply ‘ a bicycle designed for off-road cycling’, it is also accepted by many researchers on bi-cycle’s history that use of bi-cycles in the mountains by US armies in 1886 was the first official use of bi-cycles as mountain bikes.

first national bicycle championship, in 1902AD in France
Early cyclocross racers carrying their bikes up a steep hill. | Photo credit: CapoVelo.com

1902AD: First known competition of bi-cycle racing in off-roads took place in 1902AD. Bi-cycle riders rode through rough terrains to ensure they reach the finish-line first. The competition became so popular that it inspired the first cyclo-cross races and the first French National Championship was organized in 1902.

black and white photo of woodsie bicycle from 1953AD
Woodsie by John Finley Scott from the US, 1953AD

1953AD: With derailleur gears, flat handlebars, thick balloon tires and strong cantilever brakes, John Finley Scott from the US made the bike intended for mountain trails – the ‘woodsie’. It was only in the 1970s, when Scott found some like-minded mountain biking enthusiasts and he was able to persuade California legislature to write mostly-sensible traffic law, calling the bicycle a vehicle instead of demanding that it stays on the sidewalk and come to stop at every driveway intersection. He offered major contribution in the marketing of mountain bikes in the late 1970s.

1955AD: Free-spirited bike geeks formed the first ever off-road cycling club – ‘Rough Stuff Fellowship (RSF)’. It is said that “Men and women cheekily took their bikes where their bikes weren’t meant to go. Sometimes they looked like they were cheating death; sometimes they looked like they were out for a Sunday picnic – often they probably did both.”

‘Klunker’ bicycle by Californian Beach Cruisers, 1970AD

1970AD: Fat balloon tires, motocross handlebars, and upgraded brakes; these beach cruisers were modified by a gang of wild hippies from California. They loved riding down the rough roads as fast as possible caring less about the dangers of falls and injuries. These modified bikes got the name – “Klunker”.

Early Stumpjumper from 1981AD
Stumpjumper bicycle from 1981AD

1981AD: In 1981, mountain bike got mass-produced for the first time on a large scale and those were called Specialized Stumpjumper. They costed half the price of custom-built bikes, making it attractive to the mass population.

1985 To The Early 1990s: Sometime in 1985 or 1986, manufacturer Raleigh created mountain-bike and gave the name “Maverick” which became a cult brand in the history of mountain bikes. Mountain bike races drew huge crowds in 1990s, as they were majorly covered by main-stream medias and thousands of people would flock to witness mountain bike races. This peaked the popularity of mountain bikes.

Started in the 80s from California, mountain bike championship became widely popular that in 1990, the first World Mountain Bike Championship was held in Colorado, USA, by the name – UCI Mountain Bike World Championship. And rest is the history. UCI World Mountain Bike Championship is proudly being hosted every year by different countries.

2023 UCI Mountain Bike World Championship was held in Glentress Forest.

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