Shortlist: 8 times the bike has revolutionised the world
Following on from our story about World Bicycle Relief’s incredible work, we got to thinking – what other ways has the beloved bike had an impact on society? So without further ado, here’s the Invision shortlist of the top 8 times in which bicycles have changed our world.
1. Empowering schoolgirls
We had to start this list with our favourite charity – World Bicycle Relief who has helped more than 100,000 students stay in education across Africa, South America and Southeast Asia since its inception. What’s more, evidence is emerging that providing schoolgirls with bicycles is having a positive impact on pregnancy rates and WBR is now working on a longitudinal study. You can find out more about what they do in our article World Bicycle Relief: transforming communities one bike at a time.
2. Feminist pedal power
Although the bicycle is now officially 201 years old, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that women started to get involved. This was largely due to the notoriously bulky dress that Victorian women wore, which made pedalling difficult. But in 1881 the Society for Rational Dress was formed, followed four years later by the invention of the ‘safety bike – think Robert Redford in the iconic cycling scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Although some equated these advances with a decline in morals, American women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony said in an interview with the New York Sunday World in 1896: “I think [bicycling] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world."
3. Cyclists! Your country needs you!
Armies around the world have deployed volunteer cycle units during times of combat. In the 1880s, Britain used them for reconnaissance and communication – bikes being quieter and a lot less hassle to maintain than a horse – and at the start of the First World War some 14 bicycle battalions were raised. One particular group saddled up to carry out a daring raid on German ammunition wagons Later, in 1937, Japan deployed around 50,000 bicycle troops in its invasion of China and most Polish infantry divisions in the Second World War included a company of bicycle-mounted scouts. During the Vietnam War bicycles were integral in moving North Vietnamese supplies along secret jungle trails.
4. Aliens love bikes
Okay, so E.T. isn’t real but the film had an extraordinary impact on sales of Kuwahara BMX bikes – made in Osaka, Japan. When one of Spielberg’s assistants called the company to order 40 bikes, the person on the other end thought it was a joke and hung up. Luckily, the assistant persisted and eventually Universal Studios signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Kuwahara and the US distributor Everything Bicycles, owned by Howie Cohen. After the film was released Kuwahara mass-produced three types of E.T. bike and Cohen ended up taking orders for Elliott’s Model 3003 from more than 1,000 retailers. For more iconic bikes on film moments, take a look at Bikes on Film: Moments that Pedalled Their Way to Oscars Glory.
5. The open road
In the late 19th century Britain’s roads were crumbling. The rise of rail transport had all but killed off the coaching trade and the car hadn’t yet been invented. But this was also a golden age of cycling, with an increasing number of working class families moving out to the suburbs and pedalling to work. UK’s Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC) that first lobbied for safer roads and improved infrastructure. According to the Department of Transport for every mile of UK motorway there are 95 miles that were originally intended for non-motorised forms of transport, like the bike. Incidentally, the British gene pool also owes a debt of gratitude to the bike: the rise in cycling’s popularity meant it was easier for men and women to meet outside of their villages and towns.
6. Those magnificent men on their cycling machines
Anyone with a passing understanding of flying will know that the industry was pioneered by Orville and Wilbur Wright. But they were bicycle men first, setting up a successful repair, rental and sales business in 1892. Their passion for two wheels lies at the heart of some of their flying experiments: profits from the Wright Cycle Company financed their work and bicycle parts were used in some of their early experiments. They also built a six-foot wind tunnel at one of their six repair shops and drew on several important cycling principles when designing their aeroplane, such as the importance of balance.
7. Dinner is served…on two wheels
As far back as the 1860s we were using bikes to deliver things and these days London’s bike couriers could be carrying anything from legal documents to blood samples. But, increasingly they’re delivering our dinner, thanks to the rise in popularity of services such as Deliveroo. With its distinctive turquoise branding, the company says it has helped restaurants that partner with it increase their revenue by up to 30% while cutting delivery time by 20%.
8. Shared bike programmes
The idea of sharing a bike did not start with former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. In fact, the first record of such a programme dates back to 1965 and the Dutch White Bicycle plan. Devised by Luud Schimmelpenninck, part of the Provo anarchist movement, which encouraged radical news ways of living, 50 white bikes were distributed – unlocked – around Amsterdam for anyone’s use. Trouble was, leaving a bike unlocked was a criminal offence, and police soon cracked down. Provo retaliated by adding locks and painting the code on the frame, but even so, the scheme never really took off. Today, it is regarded the seed from which all other bike share programmes grew and more than 1,000 cities now have some sort of programme running.