History of the Bicycle

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Christy VanArragon and Bruce Gulland tell the history of one of the most important inventions in history – the bicycle!

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Christy Van Arragon.

Voice 2 

And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Click here to follow along with this program on YouTube

Voice 1 

A busy city street. Cars and trucks pass quickly. A few people wait to cross. But then, all traffic stops. Suddenly, hundreds of people riding 2-wheeled bicycles fill the street. They are all riding together. After many minutes, the bicycles have all passed by. The traffic starts again. What just happened?

Voice 2 

This was a ‘critical mass.’ A critical mass is any large group of people riding bicycles together for one purpose. In China, the idea of a critical mass started for safety. Bicycle riders would stop at street crossings. They would wait until more bicycle riders stopped too. Soon, a large number of bicycle riders gathered. Then they all crossed the street together. They believed this kept them safe. It is difficult for one bicycle rider to cross a busy street alone. But, it is easy for car drivers to see a large group of bicycle riders.

Voice 1 

Today, there are critical mass bicycle rides all over the world. Sometimes they are a kind of protest. But sometimes, they are just to show the importance of bicycles! Bicycles are important for transportation around the world. But how did they become so important? Today’s Spotlight is on the history of the bicycle!

Voice 2 

No one person invented the bicycle. Instead, many people worked together over time. Experts say that the first plans came from Leonardo da Vinci. This famous inventor and artist wrote plans for a modern bicycle hundreds of years ago. But inventors did not create the first working bicycle until the early 1800’s.

Voice 1 

The first bicycle had wheels. But it did not have pedals to move the wheels. The rider pushed the bicycle forward by pushing his feet against the ground. People called these bicycles ‘pushbikes’.

Voice 2 

In the 1850’s and 60’s French inventors changed the design of the bicycle. They made the front wheel larger. And they put pedals on it. Riders used their feet on the pedals to push the bicycle forward. They made this bicycle with a heavy steel frame. And they made the wheels out of wood and iron. People called this bicycle the ‘boneshaker’. On the stone streets of that time, the bicycle shook the rider very hard. It was a painful ride!

Voice 1

Over the next ten years, inventors changed the design of the bicycle even more. They made the front wheel even larger. This increased its speed. They also added rubber tires on the wheels. People called this bicycle ‘the ordinary’. But these kinds of bicycles were difficult to ride. They were difficult to push forward. And it was difficult to change directions while riding.

Voice 2 

In 1885, JK Starley invented the first modern bicycle. It looked very similar to the bicycles people ride today. Starley put similar sized wheels on the front and back of the bicycle. He also added a thin metal chain that worked between the pedals and the wheels. The chain let bicycle riders use the back wheel to change directions. He also added a better seat.

Voice 1 

Starley’s bicycle design was a large improvement from the old kind of bicycles. But it was still difficult to ride a Starley bicycle. It did not offer a very smooth ride. But in the 1890’s inventors made more improvements to the bicycle. They used better rubber for the wheels. They developed good brakes to stop the bicycle. It was not long before people all around the world used bicycles for sport and play.

Voice 2 

People also started using bicycles as their main form of transport. Bicycles helped people get from place to place easier. Riding a bicycle is faster than walking. People also say that making bicycles helped scientists and inventors make better machines. In fact, famous inventors like Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers used bicycle technology to create cars and airplanes!

Voice 1 

Bicycles also had large effects on societies around the world. For example, the bicycle changed life for women in many ways. Before bicycles were invented, in Western countries women usually wore large, close-fitting dresses. But when women started riding bicycles, they started wearing different clothes. They wore trousers like men usually wear. They also stopped wearing such close-fitting shirts or tops. Bicycles also made it possible for women to get around more. Some experts say that bicycles made women feel more independent. They made more women desire and demand freedom and respect.

Voice 2 

Bicycles also changed the lives of people in cities. They helped reduce crowding in cities. People could live outside the city. Then they could ride bicycles into the city to work. Bicycles also made it easier for men and women to meet and marry. It expanded families because men and women could meet people who lived outside their small towns.

Voice 1 

Many things have changed since the first bicycle. More people use cars, buses and trucks for transport now. But inventors have made great improvements to the bicycle. Today’s bicycles are easy to ride. They are much more comfortable. And they can go very fast. Bicycles continue to be a popular form of transportation in many parts of the world. In fact, in many places, bicycles are still the main form of transportation.

Voice 2 

There are many good reasons to ride a bicycle. Bicycles do not damage the environment like cars do. Riding bicycles is good for your health! Also, riding a bicycle costs less money than driving a car. You do not need gas to ride a bicycle. And bicycles cost less money to fix.

Voice 1 

Imagine what your city would look like if everyone used a bicycle to get around instead of a car or bus. There are some cities in the world that do look like this. Many cities in China and the Netherlands contain more bicycles than cars.

Voice 2 

But in many cities around the world, people do not respect bicycle riders. In fact, in many modern cities, it can be very dangerous to ride a bicycle. Many people die every year in bicycle and car accidents. This is one reason why people ride their bicycles in a critical mass. They want people to recognize bicycle riders. They want people to learn to watch for them on the road. They want people to understand that bicycles are still an important form of transportation today.

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Sara DeKoster. The producer was Luke Haley. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called ‘History of the Bicycle’.

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Do you ride a bicycle? If yes, do you ride it for fun or for another purpose?

Join the discussion

27 comments
  • In my city every year the lanes dedicated exclusively to the transit of bicycles increase. For many administrators, the promise of new bike lanes is an excellent political propaganda topic. Children learn to ride a bicycle as early as three or four years old and continue to use it sometimes even into their nineties. I envy the many people who cycle peacefully in traffic, because I couldn’t do it: I would be a danger to myself and to others. I think I’m the only inhabitant of the city who doesn’t own a bicycle, but it’s a secret I try to keep as long as possible, so as not to suffer discrimination, which would be even greater if it were known that I really like cars, especially those with air conditioning.

  • I don´t ride a bicycle because I never had one. Now I spin on a stationary bike and it’s an excellent exercise for me.I go to walk with my dog daily and I can see that there are cyclists who carry their dog in the baskets or running next to them.
    I also like to see the competitions in the Olympic Games such as the speed races or through the mountains and of course the Tour of France.

  • I am learning inglés, and this kind of progarm is important to increase my vocabulary.

    I learned to rinde bycicle when I was a child. Today in my job a have to ride daily because I am fast food delivery.
    I think that use a bycicle instead of motocycle is better to my health, for that reason when place is near, I prefer to used the bycicle. When the place is far I must use the motocycle.

  • Yes, all on the rode see bicycles riders as They also do not exist on rode that is bad , , I hope to authorities put judgmental to help bicycles riders

  • Yeah, I love ridding a bicycle!
    I ride it for fun!

    Thanks a lot for this spotlight about the history of the bicycle!

  • I used to ride bicycles when I was younger for fun.
    I really loved it!

    Thanks a lot for posting about the history of the bicycle it’s very interesting!

  • Thanks for choosing a very beautiful text. But
    In my opinion, music over the text causes distraction and reduces focus on learning. So, I suggest not playing music over the text

  • of course, i ride bicycle. i learn to ride it since my childhood, in that period, i was ride it for fun. but, for now; i’m riding it for sport and i’m enjoying it.

  • Before that, when I was young, I used to ride bicycle to enjoy the sport and to train for it; But riding made me sick to my testicles; And that’s why I stopped riding the bike

  • Last time i ride i bicycle in my childhood, since then i’ve never ride one! But i hope i will soon

  • I like this episode!
    I didn’t ride bicycle never i am always ride car to get from place to place, but i will buy bicycle soon and ride it.

  • Hello , this is my first comment in spotlight
    , ok i liked this program too much !
    And i understand around 95%
    OMG , i’m so happy , beacuse i want to improve my english lunguage . ♥️
    And my answer about your question , Yes i like to ride bicycle so much when i was little girl , I ride it for just fun beacuse in my country , the girls can’t ride the bicyle beacuse of thier bad ideas and traditions
    And yess best wishes for you .

  • I rode a bicycle for fun
    And I want to say this episode is very important and helpful for beginners
    Usually, I listen to it before I go to sleep
    I think this podcast will improve my listening skill and reading too.

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