History of the Bicycle

Ordinary bicycle
photo by Agnieszka Kwiecien pl:Wikipedysta:Nova 2003 {{GFDL}}

Christy VanArragon and Bruce Gulland tell the history of one of the most important inventions in history - the bicycle!

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Christy Van Arragon.

Voice 2 

And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

A busy city street. Cars and trucks pass quickly. A few people wait to cross. But then, all traffic stops. Suddenly, hundreds of people riding 2-wheeled bicycles fill the street. They are all riding together. After many minutes, the bicycles have all passed by. The traffic starts again. What just happened?

Voice 2 

This was a ‘critical mass.’ A critical mass is any large group of people riding bicycles together for one purpose. In China, the idea of a critical mass started for safety. Bicycle riders would stop at street crossings. They would wait until more bicycle riders stopped too. Soon, a large number of bicycle riders gathered. Then they all crossed the street together. They believed this kept them safe. It is difficult for one bicycle rider to cross a busy street alone. But, it is easy for car drivers to see a large group of bicycle riders.

Voice 1 

Today, there are critical mass bicycle rides all over the world. Sometimes they are a kind of protest. But sometimes, they are just to show the importance of bicycles! Bicycles are important for transportation around the world. But how did they become so important? Today’s Spotlight is on the history of the bicycle!

Voice 2 

No one person invented the bicycle. Instead, many people worked together over time. Experts say that the first plans came from Leonardo da Vinci. This famous inventor and artist wrote plans for a modern bicycle hundreds of years ago. But inventors did not create the first working bicycle until the early 1800’s.

Voice 1 

The first bicycle had wheels. But it did not have pedals to move the wheels. The rider pushed the bicycle forward by pushing his feet against the ground. People called these bicycles ‘pushbikes’.

Voice 2 

In the 1850’s and 60’s French inventors changed the design of the bicycle. They made the front wheel larger. And they put pedals on it. Riders used their feet on the pedals to push the bicycle forward. They made this bicycle with a heavy steel frame. And they made the wheels out of wood and iron. People called this bicycle the ‘boneshaker’. On the stone streets of that time, the bicycle shook the rider very hard. It was a painful ride!

Voice 1

Over the next ten years, inventors changed the design of the bicycle even more. They made the front wheel even larger. This increased its speed. They also added rubber tires on the wheels. People called this bicycle ‘the ordinary’. But these kinds of bicycles were difficult to ride. They were difficult to push forward. And it was difficult to change directions while riding.

Voice 2 

In 1885, JK Starley invented the first modern bicycle. It looked very similar to the bicycles people ride today. Starley put similar sized wheels on the front and back of the bicycle. He also added a thin metal chain that worked between the pedals and the wheels. The chain let bicycle riders use the back wheel to change directions. He also added a better seat.

Voice 1 

Starley’s bicycle design was a large improvement from the old kind of bicycles. But it was still difficult to ride a Starley bicycle. It did not offer a very smooth ride. But in the 1890’s inventors made more improvements to the bicycle. They used better rubber for the wheels. They developed good brakes to stop the bicycle. It was not long before people all around the world used bicycles for sport and play.

Voice 2 

People also started using bicycles as their main form of transport. Bicycles helped people get from place to place easier. Riding a bicycle is faster than walking. People also say that making bicycles helped scientists and inventors make better machines. In fact, famous inventors like Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers used bicycle technology to create cars and airplanes!

Voice 1 

Bicycles also had large effects on societies around the world. For example, the bicycle changed life for women in many ways. Before bicycles were invented, in Western countries women usually wore large, close-fitting dresses. But when women started riding bicycles, they started wearing different clothes. They wore trousers like men usually wear. They also stopped wearing such close-fitting shirts or tops. Bicycles also made it possible for women to get around more. Some experts say that bicycles made women feel more independent. They made more women desire and demand freedom and respect.

Voice 2 

Bicycles also changed the lives of people in cities. They helped reduce crowding in cities. People could live outside the city. Then they could ride bicycles into the city to work. Bicycles also made it easier for men and women to meet and marry. It expanded families because men and women could meet people who lived outside their small towns.

Voice 1 

Many things have changed since the first bicycle. More people use cars, buses and trucks for transport now. But inventors have made great improvements to the bicycle. Today’s bicycles are easy to ride. They are much more comfortable. And they can go very fast. Bicycles continue to be a popular form of transportation in many parts of the world. In fact, in many places, bicycles are still the main form of transportation.

Voice 2 

There are many good reasons to ride a bicycle. Bicycles do not damage the environment like cars do. Riding bicycles is good for your health! Also, riding a bicycle costs less money than driving a car. You do not need gas to ride a bicycle. And bicycles cost less money to fix.

Voice 1 

Imagine what your city would look like if everyone used a bicycle to get around instead of a car or bus. There are some cities in the world that do look like this. Many cities in China and the Netherlands contain more bicycles than cars.

Voice 2 

But in many cities around the world, people do not respect bicycle riders. In fact, in many modern cities, it can be very dangerous to ride a bicycle. Many people die every year in bicycle and car accidents. This is one reason why people ride their bicycles in a critical mass. They want people to recognize bicycle riders. They want people to learn to watch for them on the road. They want people to understand that bicycles are still an important form of transportation today.

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Sara DeKoster. The producer was Luke Haley. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called ‘History of the Bicycle’.

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Do you ride a bicycle? If yes, do you ride it for fun or for another purpose?


Avatar Spotlight
said on December 26, 2011

Excellent program and good topic! I love the bike, thanks a lot!

humble71's avatar
said on December 27, 2011

I love riding in my bike , it’s the best exercise that I can practice at any time I don’t have to ask permission to any friend , I know it’s a lonely sport like walking in the park but it’s the perfect method of transportation if there are bikeroads with safety. In Quito city where I live all sundays the main highways are only for bikers from 8:00 am to 14:00 pm and a critical mass occupy the streets and parks and you can see the car drivers in their faces they are annoyed about this situation , but we are hundreds of people that want to exercise, to watch the nature , to breath and demonstrate that we are protecting the environmenet and our health no using cars only for that morning.
  I hope governments can deliver laws for protecting bikers in the streets and of course when you’re riding in a bike you feel free.
  Interesting program my friends ,thanks for it.

Lenskiy's avatar
said on December 28, 2011

Sadly In countries with cold climates to use bicycles isn’t good idea

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said on December 29, 2011

i am newcomer i’d like to thank spotlight programme .it is very good method to learn english. bicycle is very good mean of transport but sadly it is very difficult to use in Egypt because rosds are very crowded

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edwin espinoza
said on December 30, 2011


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said on January 01, 2012

Guys, thanks. I love this course.

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said on February 12, 2013

I think bicycle is one of important inventor of human,from idea about invent bicycle,the scientist invented more as car or airplane.Ride bicycle help us having a good health,beside that ride bicycle have no damage enviroment like as cars or truck,bus…I hope in the future bicycle will be spreading around the world,as have a legal law for bicycle rider .They also need be respect,protect as car drivers…Thanks!

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Rain Bows
said on February 12, 2013

Thanks for the article.
I was in the Netherlands in 2010 for my birthday, it was awesome for me to watch all those people riding them bikes everywhere even wearing really nice clothes, like suits for example.
So nice. I love riding bikes!


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said on February 17, 2013

I love this program. Thank you

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abo ghanem
said on March 27, 2013

thanks for this article,but i love riding a bicycle,in Saudi we used a bicycle ,with car and bus
and airplane to travel from city to city

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said on February 27, 2015

I have ridden bicycles since I was 9th year old. I love it. I used it for going to school, market. It always makes me comfort, i can feel the fresh air in my rural streets. Sometimes, I and some friends celebrated a bicycle race, that is wonderful memory in my childhood. I love it and love my bicycle!

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said on February 28, 2015

In addition, there is an indispensable fact riding the bicycle can even be used as physical activity to improve our health just as keep good fitness too! Doctors often recommend people this exercising.
Thanks for great topic!

hellokitty's avatar
said on March 18, 2015

I don’t ride a bicycle often. Because I don’t like riding bicycle so much..
But I was in a freak when saw the text! I want to ride a bicycle even if tomorrow!

I love this program thank you!

Benjii's avatar
said on December 09, 2015

Yes, i ride it go to school

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on December 10, 2015

Dear Christy Van Arragon and Bruce Gulland:

No. I do not. I have never learnt to ride a bicycle. But, if I could how to ride a bicycle , I would ride it for fun in a safe place because here in Brasil the streets and roads are very dangerous and in them there are many accidents between cars, trucks, and people. Thank very much for all the importants matters that you have shown in the spotlight.
All the best,
Severino Ramos - from Brasil.

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on August 08, 2016

Yes, I did. When I child I bought bicycle and I used it for both, fun and going to school. Actually I was very happy.
God bless you

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said on June 03, 2019

When I’m driving my car I’m very worry about the security of people riding bicycles among cars and buses. They don’t imagine the risks that they are going…

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said on June 06, 2019

The bicycle has its history. Bicycles are used for traveling, exercise, sport and more today. Bicycles cause less pollution. Bicycles cause less serious accidents. Development of science and technology serves human life. Human can do big things. However, today we are facing big problems such as pollution, climate change, etc. Human life has difficulties in past and human life has difficulties at present. The bicycle has its history. Bicycles are used for traveling, exercise, sport and more today. We learn and train to live to be good persons. We learn and train to live to be happy.