Olympic Cycling Road Race History
Olympic cycling road race history would not be complete without a brief history of bicycles. It is because of the international popularity of bicycles that cycling has been part of the Olympic Games since 1896.
- The first bicycle did not have any pedals. It was invented in 1817 by Baron von Drais as a walking machine to help him get around gardens more quickly. It had two wheels the same size, one in front of the other. The rider could steer the front wheel while straddling a frame that was above the wheels. The rider would push his feet on the ground, creating a gliding walk, while the Draisienne or hobby horse, as it was called, would roll. It was made of wood and its popularity was more as a fad and not as a means of transportation.
- Pedals were not added until 1865. With the addition of pedals, the machine’s proper name was the velocipede, meaning “fast foot,” but it became known by its popular name, the “boneshaker.” At first, it was made of wood then later had metal tires, but either way was jarring to ride over the cobblestone streets of the 19thcentury. In big cities, large indoor riding academies were built for boneshaker enthusiasts resembling present day roller rinks or tracks.
- By 1870, the term bicycle was first used for these machines, and rubber tires with long spokes were added. The front wheel was very large and the back wheel was small. These bicycles were called high-wheelers, and were very expensive, costing up to six month’s salary for average workers. The high-wheeler was at its most popular during the 1880s and was primarily owned by middle and upper class young men. Safety and performance improvements were made to high-wheelers, including going back to the original idea of having two wheels the same size.
- In 1885, an English inventor, J. K. Starley, revolutionized the bicycle. He added a chain-and-gearing system that made bikes more stable and allowed for speeds as fast as the high-wheelers. The name of this bicycle was called the Rover Safety Bicycle and was a success throughout the world.
- Pneumatic, or air-filled, tires were added in 1888 by a Scottish veterinarian John Boyd Dunlop. He wanted to give his son a smoother ride. With the addition of these tires, and the recent success of the system of gears, bicycles were more popular, and easier to ride, than ever before.
- Cycling organizations formed in the United States and Europe at about the same time. In the United States, cyclists formed an organization called the League of American Wheelmen. This organization campaigned for better road conditions. It still exists today, only under the name of the League of American Bicyclists. In Europe, the cycling organization was the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), founded in 1900.
- The first Olympic cycling road race was held in Athens in 1896. It was the individual road race for men and consisted of two required laps around the original marathon course.
- Team time trials cycling road race were first held at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm.
- The first women's Olympic cycling road race was at the 1984 games in Los Angeles.
Posted on: Jul. 27, 2010