The bicycle — make that the primitive contraption that got the bike trend rolling — turns 200 in 2017, and Mannheim, Germany, is ground zero for the celebration.
It was in this city in southwest Germany that, on June 12, 1817, Baron Karl von Drais first took his two-wheeled invention out for a spin to the suburbs.
Leonardo da Vinci and other visionaries previously had played around with the design of a bicycle, but no one actually did anything about it until Drais. His unconventional mode of transportation was made of wood.
The heavy device had a steering mechanism, but it lacked pedals, so the rider had to push his feet against the ground to propel the machine forward. That’s why this precursor to the bicycle we know today was called a Laufmaschine, or running machine.
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Replicas of the running machine and other early bikes are on display at Mannheim’s Technoseum, whose “2 Wheels — 200 Years” exhibit launched in November and will continue through June 25; www.en.technoseum.de.
The exhibition traces the evolution of the modern-day bike, as well as the bicycle’s decline in the 1950s during the automobile boom and its subsequent rise in popularity in the wake of the oil crisis in the ’70s. The exhibit also describes the emergence of mountain bikes in the ’80s and how cycling evolved into a much-needed form of transportation in traffic-clogged cities.
Visitors to the technology-focused museum can ride a running machine replica and other bicycles, as well as learn how to change a flat tire — a skill that wasn’t necessary with Drais’ invention, which had to be built for customers by wainwrights.
Mannheim is in the midst of planning several events in honor of the bicycle’s bicentennial celebration, such as special rides June 12. Check for specifics as plans get finalized at www.tourist-mannheim.de/en.