200 years of the bicycle

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It is hard to know where to start when singing the praises of the bicycle. After all, riding a bike is not only healthy but also environmentally friendly. Bicycles are relatively easy to handle, need not be expensive, and are fast into the bargain – in fact, they are the fastest way to get around within a five-kilometre radius, beating not only buses and trams but also cars.

Bicycles for the masses

1885 saw the prototype for today’s bicycle patented, equipped with two wheels of equal size and a chain drive: the safety bicycle. When this model went into mass production, the bicycle finally became a must-have for everyone. Postmen, soldiers, lorry drivers and farmers were all able to make good use of the bike. Cars began to reduce the popularity of the bicycle, from the 1920s in the USA and from the 1960s in Germany, though bikes began even in the 1970s in Germany to experience a renaissance that continues to the present day.

Faster and lighter, and once around the world

The popularity of the bicycle can be seen from some statistics, as can its ability to set records. Here are five examples:

  • The highest speed ever achieved on a bicycle is 268.8 kilometres per hour.
  • Once around the world by bike? The Scot Mark Beaumont was the fastest, taking just 195 days to complete the 30,000 or so kilometres – averaging 154 kilometres per day.
  • The lightest bicycle weighs roughly 2.7 kilograms.
  • Germany has almost as many bicycles as inhabitants.
  • 98 percent of Germans can ride a bike.

Current bicycle research

Even 200 years on, bicycles are continuing to evolve. Examples include bamboo bikes, cargo bikes and the increasingly popular electric bikes. Bicycles are studied from all kinds of different angles at German universities and research institutions. The development of lighter bicycles is one area, while others include safety and mobility research.

Making electric bicycles safer

Researchers at Technische Universität Kaiserslautern are hard at work to make electric bicycles safer. To this end, scientists from the Department of Civil Engineering have teamed up with colleagues from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering on the project Safety-Oriented Driver Assistance Systems for Electric Bicycles (SIFAFE) (only in German). The assistance systems are designed to alert cyclists to potentially hazardous situations in good time. The researchers in Kaiserslautern analysed accidents and plan to come up with prevention concepts on this basis, including sensor-based concepts for monitoring the cyclist’s surroundings based for example on cameras, radar or ultrasound. The goal is to develop bike-friendly functionality that can help the rider switch lanes or warn of a possible collision.

Bicycles in society

Sociologists are also conducting research into the bicycle, for example at the Institute of Social Sciences at Technische Universität Braunschweig. A project entitled "Future of the Mobility Chain: the Bicycle as a Hinge" (only in German) is underway there until September 2018. In the greater Braunschweig area, the sociologists are studying the interplay of all different types of environmentally-friendly locomotion, including bicycles, pedestrians, public transport and car-sharing schemes. The researchers are keen to find out how bicycles can best be combined with other means of mobility. To this end, they are first analysing movement patterns of people in their everyday lives. The project’s objective is to find answers to the following question: Which incentives are needed to encourage people to use their bicycles more often?