10 Curious Facts You Never Knew About the Humble Bicycle

In Cycling

It’s the 200th birthday of one of the greatest friends society has ever had the privilege of making – the bicycle. Whether it’s Chris Hoy winning Olympic medals, or an avid cycle fan biking to work every day, come rain or shine, or the little girl learning to stay upright on two wheels, we all owe a thank you to such a fantastic, society-altering invention.

It’s been 200 years since German inventor Baron Karl von Drais exhibited his cutting-edge invention, the ‘draisienne’ – a two-wheeled, mechanical contraption which moved forward from the energy of its rider, no horse needed. The invention was met with a mix of awe and scepticism; In 1818, the Liverpool Mercury cautiously noted that “Draisiennes appear to be convenient for the country and for short journeys on most roads.” The Baltimore Morning Chronicle called it a “strange invention” in May 1819, and the Journal de Paris claimed it was slower than a band of children.    

So, here at Invision, we wanted to pay homage to one of our favourite things in the whole world and bring you 10 interesting facts you didn’t already know about the modest bicycle.

FACT #1 - there are more bikes in the world than any other method of transport

There are roughly one billion bicycles in the world, 400 million of which are in China. In fact, in 2007, China was producing roughly two out of every three bikes made worldwide. That means there are far more bikes out there than there are cars, trains, buses or any other method of transport. In the Netherlands, the numbers are astounding – 1.1 bicycles per person, with some families easily owning more than their head count! More on the Dutch in a moment.

With so many bicycles in the world – it’s a wonder that cycling participation figures aren’t higher. After all, the bike is relatively inexpensive, non-polluting, better for urban life and good for our health. What’s not to like?

Draisine (ca. 1820), earliest two-wheeler and archetype of the bicycleDraisine (ca. 1820), the earliest two-wheeler and archetype of the bicycle. Also called Laufmaschine ("running machine"), displayed at the Kurpfälzisches Museum in Heidelberg, Germany. Via Wikimedia Commons.


FACT #2 – cycling to work can lower your risk of an early death

It’s not earth-shattering knowledge that cycling is good for our health. In a study of 264,337 people carried out by Glasgow University in 2017, it was proved that cycling to work reduces the risk of developing cancer by 45% but the study also found that it lowers your risk of dying early by 40%.

The NHS recommends 150 minutes of exercise each week to reduce risk of serious health issues – an easy feat if you’re cycling to and from work five days a week.

FACT #3 – 208mph is the highest speed ever reached on a bike

Unfathomable it would seem, but untrue it is not! In 1995, Bruce Bursford reached 208 miles per hour (mph) on a specially designed bike that had helium-filled tyres and an oversized chain – enabling him to pick up speed faster. Nonetheless an incredible feat!

For those who might question Bursford’s attempt due to the ‘modifications’ on his bike, we give you Dutch cyclist Fred Rompelberg, coming a close second – also in 1995 – when he reached a speed of 167.044mph in the slipstream of a specially-designed car on the salt flats of Utah, US.  

In attempts such as these, the cyclist rides directly behind the car, meaning that there is no wind resistance – allowing them to reach such high speeds. Don’t try this at home!

Fact #4 – the bike is the most efficient vehicle on the planet

That’s right – the little old bicycle is, in fact, the most efficient mode of transport on Earth. By efficient we mean that the energy exerted to move the bike, in comparison with the distance you get, is much better than any other mode of transport, including your legs.

Stereoptic card, c. 1900. Image: via Wikimedia Commons.Stereoptic card, c. 1900. Image: via Wikimedia Commons

For example, a car uses 50 to 80 times more energy to achieve the same distance that you would get from a bike. Cycling is even five times more efficient than walking – and, suffice to say, much faster, too!

Fact #5 - the most ardent cycling fans? The Dutch

Of course! This fact will come as no surprise to most, the bike in the Netherlands is perhaps more synonymous with the country than its actual flag (red, white and blue horizontal lines for anyone currently scratching their head). Its incredible cycling infrastructure and a real desire to move away from the pollution created by cars in cities has meant that in the Netherlands – the bike rules.

According to Cycle UK, around four in 10 Dutch people (43%) cycle every day – that’s almost half the population! The UK and US figures pale in comparison. In the UK, just 3% of people cycle a mere five times a week, while in the US just 14% said they cycled twice a week. 

Fact #6 – Almost two thirds of over 18s in the UK never cycle

Disappointingly, a resounding 69% of those aged over 18 in the UK said that they never use a bike, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey 2016. This underuse is synonymous with our lack of physical activity as a nation in general, with an astounding 63.3% not doing the recommended levels of physical activity.

Fact #7 – around the world in 80, well, 79 days…

The record for circumventing the globe via bike was smashed in September 2017 by Scotsman Mark Beaumont – covering an astounding 18,000 miles in just 79 days. In order to complete the journey Beaumont had to cover around 240 miles daily… No mean feat!

It turns out that setting the record for going around the world by bike is a somewhat competitive endeavour, with new records regularly broken. Before Beaumont, the record was 123 days, set by Andrew Nicholson from New Zealand in 2015. This time, Beaumont’s record will take some beating.

Fact #8 – the average price of a bike is higher than you think

Surprisingly for some, according to the European Bicycle Market and Industry Profile, the average price of a bicycle in Great Britain is around £480. That might seem expensive, but specialist bikes nowadays can be sold for tens of thousands of pounds – making £480 seem a little more manageable!

In the US, according to Statista, the average price of pedal bikes from specialist retailers was $673 – not all dissimilar to the UK. If this feels tight on the wallet, it might be worth considering a second-hand bike, particularly if cycling is new to you. It can save you a lot of money while still affording you a fantastic piece of kit!

Fact #9 – 297,000 bicycles are stolen every year in the UK

Having heard the average price, it might make you wince to hear that, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, there were around 297,000 bike thefts in 2016. It also found that you’re more likely to have your bike nicked if you’re a student, a young adult (16 to 34), if you’re household income is less than £10,000, you’re living in a flat or a maisonette and if you live in an urban area in general.

Having a bike stolen isn’t just annoying and expensive, but for some it can feel like losing a limb. With such a high number of thefts each year – what can you do to ensure your bike stays in your possession?

Firstly, invest in a good lock. Locks are usually rated from bronze up to gold, based on how sturdy they are. Don’t be tempted to scrimp – cheap locks can be sawed through with just a simple hacksaw, which many thieves are equipped with.

Secondly, always try to leave your bike in a location that is in plain view and is also watched by cameras – this should deter any opportunists. Additionally, register your bike with BikeRegister, they put your bike on a national database, send you a kit to mark your bike with a security number and a warning label to go with it.

Fact #10 –  ‘Wanton or furious driving’ is the ancient law you might get done for

Many cyclists think that sanctions for erratic driving only apply to motorists, but this isn’t the case. In fact, the 1861 charge of wanton or furious driving applies as much to those of us on two wheels as four.

The law essentially says that anyone in control of any vehicle who causes harm to another person by driving recklessly can be prosecuted – and face up to two years in prison.

Here’s what you’ll be paying for a few common cyclist offences:

  • Cycling carelessy (without due care and attention): £1000 max fine
  • Cycling dangerously: £2500 max fine
  • Cycling furiously: £1000
  • Jumping a red light: £50
  • Being drunk or high: £1000

You can see the whole list of legal do’s and don’ts when it comes to cycling on the Cycling UK website.

So – there you have it, 10 intriguing facts about the humble old bicycle. Since its inception, it has been used to connect people, to break records, take us to work and even travel around the world. Just imagine what the next 200 years might hold?

Image Copyright: Draisine By Gun Powder Ma (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.