On June 12th, 1817, a German inventor took a spin around Mannheim on his dandyhorse.
Local aristocrat Baron Karl von Drais managed a 14km trip in less than an hour.
The dandyhorse or draisine was more pony-sized than horse-sized.
After all, the rider’s feet had to reach the ground.
It had a saddle, handlebars and a steerable front wheel. But no pedals.
“It’s a horse! A horse that eats nothing and isn’t a horse,” exclaims an alarmed housemaid onstage in a new musical about that historic trip.
A basic dandy horse in 1818 cost the equivalent of about $800 today, a rather expensive toy.
The best of these bicycles were constructed by carriage builders.
The more crude ones were cobbled together by blacksmiths.
Recently, scientists have created a prototype dandyhorse that, while still wooden, carries an electric motor, battery, sensors and mini-computer.
The year without a Summer
1816 was famously called “the year without a summer”.
Temperatures from Mexico to Vienna dropped below freezing in July.
Snowstorms and freak rainstorms stopped travel and washed away farms and grain storehouses.
Livestock, including horses, died by the tens of thousands.
With the failure of crops, the price of oats rose to 8 times the norm.
Those horses that didn’t die from the cold, disease or famine were frequently targeted by mobs of starving peasants.
Maybe this started the Baron thinking about the problems of mortal (and fleshly) horses, and how those factors affected posh gentlemen?
In any case, an estimated one billion bicycles have been produced in the two centuries since.
British penny-farthings, Dutch gazelles, Chinese flying pigeons. And so on.
It’s 200 years since the first bicycle was invented. Here’s a look at its evolution: