The answer to who invented the bicycle isn’t as clear cut as we’d like for such an important invention. Typically the honor has been attributed to Karl Drais, a German inventor, who created the precursor to the modern bicycle in the early 19th century. Despite the common attribution however, it is widely understood that similar inventions had been created in different locations around the world at the same time. Its therefore difficult to say for certain who created the idea first, but Drais’ invention was clearly one of the first if not THE first.
Karl Drais was born in 1785, in Karlsruhe, Germany. He had a keen interest in engineering and innovation from an early age. Drais held various positions within German public administration at the time, but his passion for inventing led him to focus on creating practical solutions to everyday problems.
In 1817, Drais introduced the “running machine” or “laufmaschine,” commonly known as the draisine or hobby horse. This early version of the bicycle lacked pedals, but it featured a wooden frame with two wheels and a handlebar for steering. Riders propelled themselves forward by pushing their feet against the ground. The draisine gained popularity for its simplicity and the freedom it offered, becoming a precursor to the modern bicycle (and essentially mimicking what we’d recognize today as a heavy, basic scooter).
Drais’ invention addressed the need for more efficient personal transportation. As a result, the draisine became widely adopted, and its design evolved over time to include pedals, leading to the development of what could be considered the first true bicycle.
Widely acknowledged as financially destitute later in life, Drais continued to innovate and contribute to various fields until his death in 1851. Karl Drais is remembered as the “father of the bicycle” for his pioneering work, despite not necessarily creating the form we see today. Do raise a glass to his contributions next time you’re on a mid-ride beverage break!