A bicycle is described as a human-powered, pedal-driven, single-track vehicle, having two wheels attached to a frame, one behind the other. This means of transport was introduced during late 19th Century in Europe, and by early 21st century, more than 1 billion were in existence at a given time. This machine is the principal means of transportation, recreation and sports in many parts of the world as a result of adaptations in design, but the basic shape and configuration of a typical upright or “safety bicycle” has changed little, since the development of the chain-driven model around 1885. While the word bicycle first appeared in English print in 1868, to describe “Bysicles and Trysicles” on the “Champs Elysées and Bois de Boulogne”, it was first used in 1847 in a French publication to describe an “unidentified two-wheeled vehicle, possibly a carriage”. The forerunner of the modern bicycle was called the Dandy Horse aka Draisienne or Laufmaschine. First invented by German Baron Karl von Drais and introduced to the German public in 1817, followed by Parisians in 1818, its rider sat astride a wooden frame supported by two in-line wheels and pushed the vehicle along with his or her feet, while steering the front wheel. In a disputed claim, the first mechanically-propelled, two-wheeled vehicle may have been built by Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a Scottish blacksmith in 1839, who is also associated with the first recorded traffic offense, when in 1842, a Glasgow newspaper reported an accident wherein an anonymous “gentleman from Dumfries-shire... bestride a Velocipede... of ingenious design” knocked over a little girl in Glasgow and was fined five shillings. In the early 1860s, Frenchmen Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lallement revolutionized the two wheeler, by adding a mechanical crank drive with pedals on an enlarged front wheel (the Velocipede), creating the first mass produced design. Several inventions followed using rear-wheel drive, the best known being the rod-driven Velocipede by Scotsman Thomas McCall in 1869. In that same year, bicycle wheels with wire spokes were patented by Eugène Meyer of Paris. The French iron and wood Velocipede was developed into the “Penny-Farthing”, featuring a tubular steel frame with wire-spoked wheels and solid rubber tires (Dunlop’s pneumatic tire was added to the bicycle in 1888). Englishman J.K. Starley, J.H. Lawson and Shergold introduced the chain drive, connecting the frame-mounted cranks to the rear wheel to produce the upright “Safety Bicycle” with lower seat height and better weight distribution. Starley’s 1885 “Rover” is usually described as the first recognizably modern bicycle with a seat tube and a double-triangle diamond frame. Further innovations increased comfort and the 1890s came to be remembered as Golden Age of Bicycles. Soon after, the rear freewheel was developed, enabling the rider to coast, which led to the invention of coaster brakes. Dérailleur gears and hand-operated Bowden cable-pull brakes were also developed during these years.

The design of the bicycle gave it great flexibility and diverse utility. It was therefore used (and continues to be used) for transportation, commuting, mail delivery, paramedic assistance, police, messengers, delivery services, military communications, reconnaissance, troop movement, supply and patrolling. The creation of the step through frame opened up a huge new niche as women could now ride the machine with ease.

In spite of its long history spanning more than a century, the bicycle continues to evolve in terms of material, design, customization, comfort and safety. The modern day bicycle reduces traffic stress, is a cheap and energy efficient way to commute, a super healthy and environment friendly means of travel for recreation and tourism.

I remember the bicycle shop on Lawrence Road in Lahore, where we obtained ‘bikes’ (short for bicycle) on rent for one anna an hour (the anna was a coin with wavy edges and sixteen annas made a rupee). I learnt how to ride the two wheeler on a “step through frame” or ladies machine, but quickly graduated to a regular one (due to peer pressure). My first very own bicycle was a ‘Raleigh’, given to me as a reward for doing well in school. Three other classmates and a couple of neighborhood kids soon formed a ‘bicycle group’, which my eldest sibling insisted on referring to as a ‘gang’. This new found freedom enabled us to explore exciting places as far away as Model Town and Walton - it got us into trouble too. Sometimes, we returned home with skinned knees and bruises, but every minute in the ‘saddle’ was worth it. So dear readers if you want to experience freedom and exercise of an exhilarating kind, get a bicycle, join a cycling club (the Federal Capital has some good ones) and go forth on an adventure that you will never regret.