The Most Influential Gear of All Time: Safety Bike


The original safety bike

The original safety bike     Photo: Courtesy of Trek Bicycles

Colonel Al Pope, a former officer in the Union Army, fell in love with high-wheelers at the 1876 Centennial Expo in Philadelphia. Using money he’d made in the post-war shoe industry, Pope started collecting bike patents, importing bikes from England, and finally manufacturing them himself in an old sewing machine factory he turned into a bike factory.

The safety bicycle was different from other two-wheeled human-propelled vehicles because it positioned the rider low between the wheels where he or she could propel the bike with a sprocket and chain rear-wheel drive system. This basic diamond frame rear design is still standard.

Eventually, Pope’s safety bike frame design was coupled with inflated rubber tires that made the ride a bit smoother than did the previously used solid rubber. Schwinn was the first to mass-produce a bike in this general style in 1895, and bring “the joy of biking to the masses." The price of bicycles dropped steadily as manufacturing methods improved, making them suitable for both business and pleasure—transportation and recreation for people of all income brackets.

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