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German city celebrates 200th anniversary of the bicycle

A two-day street festival in Mannheim celebrates 200 years since the ever-popular bicycle was first invented in the south-western German city.

A number of stalls were set up to provide information as street musicians and performance artists enlivened the scene. At the historic city’s Water Tower landmark new bicycle models were on display, while there was also a market for used bicycles. Among the festival events was a discussion on the controversial issue of compulsory helmets for cyclists. Another theme was the construction of cycle freeways.

Monnem bicycle Mannhein Germany

Image: mannheim24.de

The bicycle is arguably one of the lowest-tech items around, yet ingenious in its the way it teams muscle power with a simple machine. Credit for the bicycle goes, historians pretty much agree, to a German: Baron Karl von Drais, who on June 12, 1817 climbed aboard his two-wheeled “running machine” for a test scoot in his home town of Mannheim, in south-western Germany.

Mannheim bicycle festival

Image: mannheim24.de

With a wooden frame, two cast-iron wheels and no pedals, the “Draisine,” as the Germans called it, was patented by the baron in 1818. The nobleman’s hobby horse was not a commercial success. But, in a manner of speaking, the bicycle was off and running.

Among the events in Mannheim were a stunt show put on by cyclists from Belgium. But the highlight was a folding bike race around the Water Tower in which some 200 people took part.

Image: morgenweb.de

Thomas Kosche, of the city’s Technoseum technical museum, told Germany’s dpa news agency that today’s Fixie – a single-speed, fixed-gear bike – is astonishingly similar to a bicycle that came onto the market around 1890. Kosche said it could be debated whether Baron von Drais’s running machine, weighing some 25 kilograms with a frame made chiefly of ashwood, really provided the engineering foundation for the later development of the bicycle. But he said the baron’s basic idea of a steering fork and two aligned wheels to give gyroscopic stability is unchanged to this day.

Thanks – Wolfgang Jung and Soenke Moehl, dpa

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