Sustainable development

The History and Importance of Cycling

By 11.01.2021 0 Comments

Preamble

Regular physical activity protects you from serious health diseases such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, mental illness, and arthritis. Riding a bicycle reduces the risk of health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle. This blog is part of a series in which the Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies aims to look at cycling as a sustainable solution for inter-city mobility and betterment of the environment.

Research Questions 

  1. Why is cycling important? 
  2. What is Cycling Infrastructure?
  3. Should Pakistan look to invest in Cycling infrastructure? 

Introduction

As the world experiences a massive shift in trends related to health and environment, cycling becomes increasingly relevant. Cycling is gaining popularity in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, where more than half their population cycles regularly (Moskvitch, 2015). It is now considered the most efficient method of self-powered transportation so far. The first-ever cycle started out as a wooden frame with two wheels which could not be steered. The human-powered machine was dragged by two feet, and due to unavailability of smooth and paved roads, wooden wheels were not a source of comfort. With time, the cycle took on different shapes and ultimately stopped at the present-day form, which is used widely all around the world. Cycling was, at first, seen as a hobby, but eventually, it became more useful for travelling to work and carrying goods. With the introduction of automobiles, people have significantly reduced their physical activity, and there is a rise in non-communicable diseases worldwide. Therefore, cycling is a healthy alternative to motor vehicles and a source of physical health; it is also beneficial for the environment.  

History of The Bicycle

The first known human-powered vehicle was created long before bicycles became a practical form of transportation. According to the International Bicycle Fund (2017), in 1418, an Italian engineer, Giovanni Fontana (or de la Fontana), constructed a human-powered device consisting of four wheels and a loop of rope connected by gears. Four hundred years later, a German inventor named, Karl von Drais, worked on his own version of a human-powered machine. Then in 1817, Drais invented a two-wheeled vehicle in response to widespread slaughtering and starvation of horses, the consequence of crop failure a year before, known by many names such as dandy horse and hobby horse (Karl Drais Memorial, 2017). Later, after the crop yield returned to normal, these machines were prohibited from using since they occupied the same space as sidewalks and were difficult to maintain balance on. 

Bicycles made a comeback in the 1860s with the introduction of steel wheels, pedals, and a fixed gear system. Although the inventor of this ‘velocipede’ remains unknown, a German named Karl Kech claimed he was the first to attach pedals to hobby horses in 1862 (International Bicycle Fund, 2017). In 1870, a new type of machine called ‘high-wheelers’ came, which can be called the first bicycle. The pedals were attached directly to the front wheels and the larger the wheel, the more distance it could cover with one rotation of the pedal. The bicycles enjoyed massive popularity, and on average, it would cost six month’s average salary to pay for them. But according to the National Museum of American History, the patent for the device was given to Pierre Lallement, a French carriage maker in 1866. In 1870, cyclists became fed up with the lumbering bone-shaker design and manufacturers responded with newer designs, and by 1870, metallurgy became advanced enough to make steel frames for bicycles (International Bicycle Fund, 2017). Later in 1871, Stanly introduced the “Ariel”. The tension absorbing front wheel helped make riding a bicycle comfortable. Then in 1885, Stanly introduced the ‘rover’ which had equal-sized wheels and was the first practical iteration of the bicycle. 

Starting out, bicycles were an expensive hobby, but mass production made bicycles a practical mode of transport for working men. Bicycles were also responsible for better road conditions, and the bicycle had a direct influence on the introduction of automobiles. According to the National Museum of American History, bicycle parts were later incorporated into automobile parts. Many automobile manufacturers were at first, bicycle manufacturers. Over 100 million bicycles are manufactured each year (Bicycle History, 2021). A person walking into a store has many different options today, and rides can also choose between the type of brakes, gears, shape of seat, position and bend of handlebars, and to have suspension or not. There are now options for many surfaces too such as rough, dirt, rock, mountain, and smooth paved city roads. This shows that not only cycling has come immensely far in its development and innovation; it also has ample demand to intrigue, new inventors and manufacturers, to continue putting effort in future designs and sustainability. 

Why Cycling

Physical activity helps to protect from serious diseases and is essential to keep the body fit and healthy, and riding a bicycle regularly reduces the risk of health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Cycling is not only a healthy and low impact exercise which can be enjoyed by all individuals, be they young or old; it is also cost-effective and good for the environment. It does not require rigorous training and causes less strain and injuries than most other forms of exercise. As all the major muscle groups are engaged in cycling, it also serves as a complete body workout. Cycling also increases strength, stamina, and aerobic fitness. Lastly, looking at traffic congestion in almost all the major cities of Pakistan, cycling is time-efficient and replaces the sedentary time spent in cars, motorcycles, and buses. Cycling is the most effective method of promoting sustainable mobility in urban areas. Sustainable mobility is fast becoming one of the main objectives of transport policy at local, regional, and national levels. 

As cities become more and more congested with poor air quality, more noise, and generally less liveable conditions, increasing the number of people who use bicycles can be an important step towards more sustainable and liveable cities. Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are gaining popularity in the world. They are equipped with batteries and a small motor to assist and support the cyclist, resulting in longer distances covered easily. The main target groups for the e-bikes are commuters and the elderly. For commuters, the e-bike is often an alternative for the car; for the elderly, it is a way to stay mobile. In general, the e-bike is more flexible and faster in cities than the car or public transport. The bicycle can also be used to transport goods. In some countries parcel delivery in highly urbanised regions takes place by cycling messengers. These bicycles can be a cheap alternative for a car and possibly provide a faster way of delivering goods in inner cities. Another type of bike is the cargo bike where one or more people cycle a heavier load.

Conclusion

The world is increasingly recognising the need for a healthier lifestyle, followed by a cleaner and less polluted environment. As motor vehicles are the main source of pollutants in urban areas, cycling can offer a cheap and effective way to induce healthy activity and reduce pollutants in the air. Bicycles have come a long way from being built on non-agile wooden frames to innovative steel and aluminium designs for increasing efficiency. Cycling is not only a fun activity to enjoy, but it can also solve the need for urban transportation and reduction of air pollution. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Physical activity helps to protect from serious diseases and is essential to keep the body fit and healthy, and riding a bicycle regularly reduces the risk of health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle. 
  2. Starting out, bicycles were an expensive hobby, but mass production made bicycles a practical mode of transport for working men.
  3. Cycling is not only a healthy and low impact exercise which can be enjoyed by all individuals, be they young or old; it is also cost-effective and good for the environment.
  4. Cycling is the most effective method of promoting sustainable mobility in urban areas. 
  5. Sustainable mobility is fast becoming one of the main objectives of transport policy at local, regional, and national levels. 

Bibliography

Bain, A. (2013). Reclaiming the streets in Bogota. Retrieved from BBC Travel: http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20130828-reclaiming-the-streets-in-bogata

Moskvitch, K. (2015). How to get a city cycling. Retrieved from BBC Future: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20150324-how-to-get-a-city-cycling

Bicycle History. (2021). Bicycle History. http://www.bicyclehistory.net/

International Bicycle Fund. (2017). Bicycle History (& Human Powered Vehicle History). International Bicycle Fund. https://www.ibike.org/library/history-timeline.htm

Karl Drais Memorial. (2017). Karl Drais. Karl Drais. https://www.karldrais.de/?lang=en&sid=bd15ff8c6ef29db0e7dd1d7e6e1680ae

National Museum of American History. (n.d.). The Development of the Velocipede. National Museum of American History. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object-groups/si-bikes/si-bikes-velocipede

 

 

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