Trends - Evolution
In the early 1800s a German Baron threw a leg over a board with two wheels connected in-line and rode it like a preschooler's kick bike. It could travel as fast as a runner, and it became a sensation. Within a few years a Scottish blacksmith devised a treadle and connecting rod system for this velocipede, creating the first pedal bicycle.
Like Darwin’s Finch, the two wheeler began to morph into many different forms, most of which are now extinct. In 1885, the chain-drive Rover brand safety bike was invented in England. Dunlop's 1888 pneumatic bicycle tires provided a smoother ride (the older high wheel bikes were called “bone crushers” for a reason). Soon bicycles were found all over the world, offering faster access to points farther away. They cost more than a horse, but you didn’t need to feed or stable them, and they didn’t leave messes on the streets. Conflicts with horses started almost immediately with cyclist mostly on the losing side.
Throughout the first-half of the 20th century, bikes increased in popularity in Europe, but in the US the internal combustion engine was the choice for transportation. When road access issues came up between the cyclist and the automobile, the bike lost both the physical and legal battles. Bikes were relegated to child’s toys.
Then came WWII. American GIs were introduced to the multispeed English and Italian racers, and they brought them home for weekend rides. Still the bicycle was more of a novelty in America. Their children, the Baby Boomers, rediscovered physical fitness in the 1960s, and the joy of riding Dad’s fast bike. New styles of bikes evolved for the Boomers’ pleasure and their children. When the oil embargoes of the 1970s hit, the bicycle market found a renaissance. In response to the high gasoline costs, desire for energy efficiency, and a want to rediscover this great nation's vast treasures, bike routes and bike tours across the country were used by the young and old alike.
In the 1970s a group of California hippy road-racers started to look around for places to explore. The mountain fire roads called, but the 10-speed bikes of the day were ill equipped for the dirt. The balloon-tired paperboy bikes could handle the rough stuff better, but most didn’t survive but a few days of abuse. Where there’s niche, evolution will specialize to fill the need. Almost as soon as the Breezer clunker filled the downhill mountain bike need, the cross-country mountain bike also evolved.
With the freewheeling nature of the off-road crowd, a cyclist schism developed between the new dirt and lycra-clad road bike culture, who looked down on the new sport as an abomination. Conflict again arose between the new mountain bikers and “HOHAs”, hateful old horse/hiker associations, with the mountain bikers on the all too familiar losing side.
Still, the mountain bike flourished, with many communities embracing the influx of money brought in by city slickers looking for a civilized outdoor experience. Now the mountain bike has diversified to fill niches from the long-distance cross-country market, to bikes designed for jump parks, up-and-down mountain trails, shuttle truck and ski lift down-only trails, and downhill race courses.
But the evolution hasn’t ended. As the Baby Boomers age, a new market niche has opened. E-bikes have a battery-powered energy booster for those with bad knees, bad hearts, bad diets, or other ailments of aging. These e-bikes don’t have a throttle, but require you to pedal, giving your legs a helping push to let you feel the freedom that you felt with your first bike. The e-bikes are evolving to fill same niches as the traditional bike and are spreading into new niches. E-bikes are the fastest growing cycling segment in Europe, Asia, and in bike-friendly US urban area where new versions are used for local delivery or by street vendors. Conflict again is rising. This time from young cyclist who haven’t yet experienced the ravages of aging. This too will pass as the bicycle continues to evolve.