Cycling – A Truly Technological Revolution

Image of Karl Von Drais
Baron Karl Von Drais and the Draisenne

Happy Birthday Cycling! Today sees the 200th anniversary of the very first bicycle ride, by one Baron Karl von Drais, in Mannheim, Germany. Legend has it that on that day, Herr Drais revealed his new invention to an expectant crowd – a two-wheeled vehicle propelled by its rider called “The Draisienne” – before setting off on an 8 mile round trip which he apparently completed in just under an hour. And thus, cycling was born.

The modern day equivalent of this activity bears very little resemblance to Drais’ first excursion, such are the innovations and technological advances that cycling has witnessed in the past two centuries, especially since the turn of this century. If Drais was to repeat that first journey today, it would be unrecognisable from his first jaunt. Firstly, the bike itself would be radically different – he could opt for a lightweight road bike with a frame made purely of carbon, complete with a pair of equally light wheels (also made of carbon) and the very latest in components, even including electronic gears! These innovations would mean that, regardless of fitness, Herr Drais could expect to complete the 8 miles in a lot less than one hour. Not that he’d have to estimate this – every movement of the journey could be tracked in real time by Strava, a GPS app installed on his smartphone or bike computer. On completion of the ride he would instantly be able to assess his performance along the route with a wealth of data readily available to him – not only speed and distance but also elevation gain and even physiological stats such as heart rate and power. He would be able to compare his ride to that of fellow cyclists and analyse individual parts of the ride (or “segments” in Strava parlance) to assess improvements in his fitness and performance. And the technological advances in modern cycling don’t end there. 21st Century Drais would also have the option to share his ride via social media and upload videos of the ride captured by a camera mounted on his helmet.

Cycling has certainly come a long way since June 12th 1817. The level of technological revolution achieved since Drais took his first momentous ride are astounding and it leaves you wondering where we’ll be in another 200 years. But for now, I think we’ll just wish cycling a happy birthday and head out for a ride.