Bicentennial of The Bicycle: 200 Years of Pedaling features the display of more than 60 bicycles from the 1920's to present day and follows the evolution of the bicycle, from it's humble start in 1817 as the "Hobby Horse" to its modern form, the "safety" bicycle.

The year 1817 marked the first public demonstration of an inline, two-wheeled, human-powered vehicle. While not a bicycle in the truest sense of the word, it was certainly the beginning of human-powered wheeled vehicles. The first commercially-produced, pedal-powered two-wheelers were sold in 1868. The preferred name was the “velocipede” from the Latin velox pedis or “swift of foot”, but with iron-hooped wooden wheels for added strength, they became known as “boneshakers”. The 1870s and 1880s saw the advent of the classic “high wheeler,” whose reputation for being fast but dangerous was justly deserved. This period also saw the beginning of bicycle clubs and organized racing.

For bicycles, as for automobiles, “racing improves the breed.” The chain-driven “safety bicycle” did not appear until 1885, and was almost simultaneously accompanied by the invention of the pneumatic tire in 1889. Within two years, the high wheeler was rendered obsolete, as even racers gravitated toward “safety”. 1903 marked the first year of the Tour de France, which has been run every year since except during the two World Wars.

The early 20th century was a time of industrial and evolutionary change, accompanied by better mass-production techniques and falling prices, which made the bicycle accessible for the average working man.

From the 1930’s to the 1970’s, an American bicycle was largely a single speed, balloon-tired, coaster brake affair. In England, the 3-speed hub and hand “caliper” brakes were popular, while in France and Italy, derailleur-equipped bicycles and dropped handlebars were preferred.

The 1970s saw a recreational cycling boom in this country; high school and college students began to commute on their “10 speeds”. Mountain biking began as a cult in Marin County, CA but became mainstream in the 1980’s. There was also an explosion of new thinking, which was reflected in frame design and materials, drivetrains, and brakes.

The 21st century sees the bicycle going in several directions at once, from folding commuter bikes to single speed “beach cruisers” to versatile “city bikes” to full-suspension mountain bikes to ultra-light road bikes that cost tens of thousands of dollars. On the eve of the 200th anniversary of human-powered wheeled vehicles, we reflect on all the things a bicycle has been over the years and contemplate all the things a bicycle could be.

* This is a long term exhibit and currently has no set ending date.


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