The summer holidays are almost behind us, and all across the country countless students are getting their bicycles ready to commute to school. In addition, the auto-show season is just about to begin anew. Carmakers will display their newest vehicles, but a number of them will also show bicycles — as the newest (?) form of green, alternative transportation.
The wheel started it all; it got things rolling, as the timeworn cliché says.
Skipping the invention and early progression of the wheel to load–carrying and war-making implements, the wheel turns out to be one of the most important things ever devised by humans.
Surprisingly, we learn that bicycles have been wheeling around for less than two hundred years.
As the industrial revolution got rolling, –there is that cliché again- and machines were able to draw steel wire, the wooden spokes of early bikes made way for wire spokes.
By the time John Dunlop made bike riding softer on our bones, numerous bicycle-makers had grown into industrial giants of their time.
At the same time, the internal combustion engine (ICE) was making strides in being useful for other application than powering sawmills – which made wooden spokes and rims and frames.
Miniaturization started a long time ago, and we foresee no end to it. Next to the wheel, we have to consider threaded fasteners as one of humankind’s most important developments. The tiny nuts holding the wire spokes to a steel rim made it easy for unskilled workers to assemble a wheel, when comparing it to the skill necessary to fabricate a wooden buggy wheel a century or two ago.
Because of industrial progress, bicycle makers became bicycle manufacturers became auto-buggy makers who became automobile manufacturers.
A strange but true example of the connection between bikes and cars is this: The French magazine L’Auto started the Tour de France bicycle race in 1903 to increase interest in automobiles.
A parallel –or opposite- to that may be the Dayton Daily News’ founding of the soapbox derby, which now has auto manufacturers competing against each other in hi-tech gravity racing.
Back in the early days, at least five of today’s major carmakers started out as bicycle makers. In today’s era of ‘going green’, at least twenty-one automakers offer mostly hi-tech bikes, from a few hundred dollars all the way into the thirty-thousands.
Peugeot started out making two-wheelers, and still does. This two-hundred year old company proves that “old dogs can learn new tricks” by winning the 24 Hour Le Mans race with a diesel prototype sportscar in 2009, and this year smashing the Pikes Peak hill climb record in a small Type 208; success in endurance and sprint, just as in the Tour de France.
The French, who first coined the word ‘automobile’ –so it is said– prove the connection between bicycles and cars is a long-lasting one — and they added style.
That whole process –from auto-buggies to today and beyond- is describes in short stories –like this one- in this writer’s series of eBooks, abundantly illustrated. Since writing these articles is a labor of love rather than earning even a small fortune, we hope that you will tolerate the occasional ‘plug’ for his considerable work.
At a time when the auto industry is coming full circle by re-inventing itself with the advent of electric vehicles (EV), that industry is also coming back to the simple bicycle as ‘alternative transportation for a greener future’.
‘Coming full circle’ might open up into “concentric spirals” with the Chinese migration from bikes to e-bikes to cars to …. who knows what. As long as wheels are turning, progress is “driving ahead”.
By August 2013 these car manufacturers are offering bikes:
Note: This list may not be complete; please advise the writer if you know of any others.
This interesting article connecting bikes and cars was published just three days after the above.
And this: This is not Ford Motor Company’s first venture into two-wheeled mobility.