The Boneshaker

Which mode of transportation had an early version known as a "boneshaker?"

And the answer: the bicycle.    

Also known as a velocipede, a boneshaker was an early bicycle built in the 1860s. It got its name from its iron wheels, wood construction, and lack of springs, all of which made for an extremely uncomfortable ride.

Photo credit: public domain. 

German baron Karl von Drais might have invented the boneshaker, but the bicycle as we know it today was still far from a reality. This early bike has no pedals or breaks and used momentum to propel its users forward. Naturally, the prototype only enjoyed a brief stint in the spotlight before falling out of fashion. Luckily, though, other European inventors were already working on improvements.

Yet, the path to success was just about as bumpy as a ride on the boneshaker itself. The next iteration of the bicycle, the "penny farthing" or "ordinary," sported an oversize front wheel added in the hopes of creating some stability. In the 1870s and '80s, the penny farthing became all the rage, giving way to competitions and races. Famously, a man named Thomas Stevens even rode a high-wheeler around the globe in 1884.

Even the penny farthing was too unstable for widespread use, though (seriously, try putting training wheels on that). So, in 1885, a man named John Starley completed a model of a "safety bicycle" that featured wheels of equal size and a chain. From there, brake updates and tire fixes introduced a modern bicycle that is widely recognizable today.

Learn more about the history of the bicycle here.


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