Two wheels edged with pneumatic tires and steel spokes radiating from the center, attached to a frame in tandem and driven by a pedal – chain combination, the entire contraption topped by a single seat and a pair of handlebars (for navigation). This is the bicycle – a human powered locomotion machine that changed the world and played a central role in the development of the motorbike and motorcar.

It was in 1847 that a reference was made to an unidentified two-wheeled vehicle, possibly a carriage, by a French publication. In 1868, The Daily News first printed the word bicycle in English to describe “Bysicles and trysicles” on the “Champs Elysées and Bois de Boulogne”. The patriarch of the modern ‘bike’ was the German aristocrat Baron Karl von Drais, whose creation was known by many names such as the ‘Dandy Horse’, Draisienne or Laufmaschine. Its rider sat astride a wooden frame supported by two in-line wheels and pushed the vehicle along with the feet, while steering the front wheel.

Although the claim is disputed by many quarters, the first mechanically-propelled bicycle may have been built by Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a Scottish blacksmith in 1839. Interestingly Mr. MacMillan also figures in the first recorded instance of a cycling traffic offense that occurred in Glasgow in 1842. In the early 1860s, Frenchmen Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lallement improved the existing design by adding a mechanical crank drive with pedals on an enlarged front wheel (the velocipede), which developed into (what was known in England) as the ‘Penny-Farthing’. These bicycles were difficult to ride due to their high seat and poor weight distribution, so in 1868 Rowley Turner of the Coventry Sewing Machine Company brought a Michaux cycle to England and with his Uncle Josiah Turner and business partner James Starley, addressed these drawbacks by reducing the front wheel diameter and setting the seat further back. With problems of front wheel steering remaining, J. K. Starley (nephew of James Starley) along with two associates introduced the chain drive connecting the frame-mounted cranks to the rear wheel. Starley’s 1885 Rover, manufactured in Coventry is usually described as the first recognizably modern bicycle. This wonderful means of healthy transportation is used even today and will continue to be done in the future for recreation, commuting, mail carrying, paramedic services, policing, messaging, general delivery services and military operations.

I have fond memories of getting my very own Raleigh bicycle on winning a scholarship at school and then proudly pedaling out of our gate next morning, only to slip and sprawl on the ground at the very moment the ‘tonga’ carrying our neighboring bevy of pretty girls came out of the gate a few paces ahead.

Owning a ‘bike’ was independence of a new kind wherein we could go any place that caught our fancy. We adopted various poses in the way we pedaled around our neighborhood depending on the latest western movie that we had seen.

Commuting to work on a bicycle was not considered degrading and I remember seeing senior officials coming to the office using pedal power. As a young government employee, I spent the first four years of my service moving to and fro on this means of transport (as did many of my colleagues), without an iota of embarrassment.

Bicycles of yesteryears came with a variety of optional peripherals. There was the tiny dynamo that could be fitted to the rear wheel and powered a light fitted on the handlebars. Then there was the bell, with its musical tinkling. This item was briefly replaced by a horn that jarred the nerves, but which couldn’t survive the ‘romantic’ sound of the mechanical warning system, which survives on many ‘bikes’ to date.

To those of my readers, who have never savored the ecstasy of pedaling down a quiet rural road in spring, free as a bird, I have only this advice to give – grab a bicycle and begin pedaling or better still lets launch a new day on our calendar known as International Bicycle Day.