News / Toronto

Happy 200th two-wheelers: Bike history in Toronto

A transport advocate takes us through the history of biking in Toronto.

The world has been moving on two wheels since 1817. We take a look at bike evolution.

File / Torstar News Service Order this photo

The world has been moving on two wheels since 1817. We take a look at bike evolution.

It's been 200 years since the concept of a bicycle was born, thanks to the genius of Karl Von Drais from Austria. Since then, moving on two wheels has evolved through different stages to get to where it is today. Metro looks at five important stages of that evolution in Toronto, through the eyes of local researcher and transport advocate Albert Koehl.

1817 Dandyhorse:

The very first type of bicycle invented by Von Dreis. Also called Hobbyhorse, riders kept their feet in ground and basically ran with the bike. Koehl says it was mostly a leisure fad for the upper class. He's not even sure it made it in Canada.

1870 Velocipede:

Also called the bone shaker, this was a front crank bike with equally-sized wheels. It was developed in England but there were riding schools in Toronto soon after. Also, complaints about riding on bikes started swirling around, because there weren't many good roads.

1882 High Wheeler:

It's the birth of the large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel, to increase safety while hitting holes. It was also called the penny-farthing, or the ordinary. This is the time when the Toronto Bicycle Club was established, and started organizing races and weekend rides across the city.

1896 Safety Bicycle:

The arrival of what's the modern bicycle, with even-sized wheels and no need for chain drive. This also came with the invention of pneumatic tires. But the popularity of cars in the early 1900s was rough on bike safety.

1972 Bike Boom:

The termination of Spadina Expressway, concerns over air pollution and energy dependence as well as lack of fitness all contributed to the rise of cycling in Toronto. The surge culminated in the 2001 Bike Plan, with the promise of building 500 kilometres of on-road bike lanes (by 2011, only 20 per cent of that had been achieved).

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