A Condensed History of the Bicycle - Part One-the 1800's
Leonardo Da Vinci sketched in detail what appears to be the first steel chain and roller bearing circa 1490. However it took until the 19th century and new metal technologies before steel chain and bearings became a reality.
Inventors saw that two toothed cogs linked together with a chain could provide propulsion. And if a larger diameter cog had cranks and pedals attached, and a smaller diameter cog was mounted on a wheel, one pedal rotation would yield more than one rotation of the wheel.
This multiplier effect meant that with proper gearing a rear-wheel drive bike could cover the same distance per pedal stroke as a high wheeler without a dangerously large front wheel. In 1880 Swiss engineer Hans Renold invented the efficient and durable bush roller chain, making rear-wheel drive bicycles both possible and practical.
In 1874 UK inventor James Starley was the first to patent the tangent-spoke designed wheel, where the spokes run as a tangent to the hub, cross each other, and then are laced to improve strength. This design makes bicycle wheels lighter, and stronger to withstand bumps and potholes, and is still used today.
In 1885, John Kemp Starley - nephew of James Starley - made history when he introduced the Rover Safety Bicycle. The Rover was a rear-wheel-drive, chain-driven cycle with two similar-sized wheels, so it was stabler than high wheeler designs but still as fast or faster. Real comfort was provided by Scotsman John Boyd Dunlop’s pneumatic tires - created in 1887, race proven in 1889 and commercially available in 1889. See Dunlop on his smooth-riding "safety" below.