The Ubiquitous Bike: Still A Creative Force?

In our high tech age, it is easy to overlook the creative force and impact of something as common and ordinary as a bicycle.

After all, the bicycle (as shown below) is nearly 200 years old and has been a staple of just about every nation and community for more than a hundred of those years.  Yet it is that very simplicity and ubiquitousness that has allowed the bicycle to impact so many aspect of our lives and create a history that is rich in innovation, creativity and social change.

Ubiquitous Bike

While the forerunner of  the bicycle, the Driasine, was created in 1817 as a simple form of walking transportation, its all wood construction made it an uncomfortable “ride”.  Yet, almost immediately this early bicycle captured the imagination and interest of young well-to-do athletic men as a form of recreational entertainment, thereby cementing its two most enduring roles in society —  as transportation and recreation  — and inspiring future innovations.

An Agent of Social Change

File:Bicycle suit punch 1895.jpgBy 1885, with improvement in comfort, safety and durability, the “safety” bicycle was born and became one of the worlds most efficient forms of personal transportation.  Transportation and mobility are and always have been key factors in the functioning of most people lives.  In the pre car days, a bike gave freedom from mass transportation, but without prohibitively high cost, care and space needs of a horse.

As affordability and mass marketing of bicycles took hold, it married well with the industrial revolutions need for a more mobile workforce, the women’s movement’s push to prove women as physically fit and mentally capable, and our social shift towards a more suburban (vs rural) lifestyle.

Bikes became for women and workers, and the generations of kids to follow, a great liberator, equalizer and expander of our communities.

A Recreational Device

While bikes were developed for adults, bike riding quickly became a hallmark of childhood.  The progression from tricycle to “big” bike was celebrated with great fanfare as a benchmark of personal growth and one of the rites of passage to becoming a “youth.”

Bike riding is all about freedom and control.

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From our first ride beyond our parents reach, we learn the thrill of speed with the wind flying in our faces and the painful tumble of mistakes made when speed, balance, and navigation are miscalculated.   We learn to assess risk, take chances, learn from our mistakes and thank the benevolent powers that kept us safe from serious injury.

It seems inevitable that bicycle enthusiasts would demand more from their “bikes.”  Not just through speed in racing, but by pushing the limits of where and how bicycles could be ridden and spawning the development of  mountain biking in the 1980 and BMX (bicycle motor cross) in the 1990s.

A Worker’s Tool

Creative minds are never willing to let good enough alone and bicycle enthusiast and creators were no exception.  They developed innovations — from wood to metal tension-spoked wheels, pneumatic tires, ball bearings, chain-driven sprockets.  Many of which were quickly incorporated into automobiles and other machinary.

From the very beginning bicycles became part of a workers tool kit.  Workers found way to adapt their bicycle to aid them in their required tasks – as scouts, curriers, delivery person, fire fighters, paramedics …

File:Firefighter bicycle.jpg

While bicycles seem to have waned in popularity in the US over the last 10 -15 years, I continue to be amazed at and fascinated by the inventive ways bicycles and pedal power are still being put to use and inspiring other forms of creativity.

Will the bicycle make a comeback?  I don’t know.  But I’m going to enjoy watching to find out.


Related posts:

~ Pondering the Possibilities: Sweat Worthy Entertainment



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