One might think that nothing new can be said about the word bicycle or its etymology, as everything seems quite clear out there – “bi” stands for two and “cycle” for circle, and there we have the name of the vehicle which has two wheels.
Regardless of the crystal clear etymology, many fall in the trap of wrongly spelling the word as “bycicle” not to say not knowing much on the history of the vehicle and its predecessor – the velocipede.
The German inventor Karl Drais is considered the father of the balanced velocipede, which he obtained a patent for in 1818 and called Lauftmaschine (from German, running machine).
The baron’s numerous inventions include a typewriter with 25 keys, the meat grinder and the stenotype machine. But the running machine was the one to make him famous, though it had less to do with the modern idea of a bicycle, as was propelled by the rider pushing along the ground with the feet as in regular walking or running, the newly invented vehicle, known as the dandy or hobby horse was the first means of transport to make use of the two-wheeler principle.
The term velocipede was coined some months later by the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce who improved the running machine by adding an adjustable saddle.
The vehicle quickly became popular in both the United Kingdom and the US as the first written reference indicates. It comes few months after the term velocipede was coined, from the Diary of William Sewall who happened to be among the first in New England to ride the new vehicle: “Then I went to the circus and rode on the velocipede, which is a new machine.”
The first mechanically-propelled, two-wheeled vehicle was developed in the 1840, a mechanical crank drive with pedal was added in the 1860s and the first chain-driven model appeared around 1885.
The word bicycle was first used in 1847 in a French publication to describe an unidentified two-wheeled vehicle, possibly a carriage.
The term first appeared in English print again to describe the bicycle’s use in France, when in 1868, The Daily News reported on how many bicycles and tricycles were there to be seen in the summer in the Champs Elysées and Bois de Boulogne.
The widespread advertising, production and use of bicycles led to intense grading of smooth roads in the late 19th century and to a $6.1 billion worth industry in 2014, in only the US, with the most popular been the road and mountain bicycles, and the electric ones catching up.