Ah, the wind in your hair and the burn in your thighs produce nothing but smiles across your face as you speed through the neighborhood. You try to maneuver faster and faster to impress all those who look on admiring the coolness before them. The chrome reflects the summer sun and the smell of the rubber on the asphalt are like nothing else. Behold your awesome new bike. Tricycle bike that is.
We have all experienced that childhood joy of the tricycle and if not we certainly have become accustom to seeing them blazing around parks and your local vicinity. But I am willing to bet that not many of us thought much about from whence these strange little vehicles came.
Today, in America, when we think of ‘tricycle’, most of us likely imagine the little red and chrome three wheeled vehicles with plastic ribbons on the handles and the little ‘ching ching’ bell. But the tricycle has come a long way baby. In fact, in years past, these little bikes were not for babies at all, nor were they little.
In 1680 there was a paraplegic German man who found himself in need of transportation in order to make it to church on Sundays. Stephan Farffler was his name and he painstakingly created the very first known tricycle which was powered by a hand crank. This really puts my under deserving pride into check after beating my chest for skillfully putting together my daughter’s Radio Flyer.
Later in 1789, two men by the names Blanchard and Maguier invented a foot pedaled tricycle. This gained enough popularity for the Journal de Paris to define the words tricycle and bicycle for the very first time. The first patented tricycle was in England by Denis Johnson in the year 1818.
As the evolution of the three wheeled bike continued, James Starley created the Coventry Lever Tricycle which was a side driven lever variety and this is the one that started a trike craze in England. By 1884, Great Britain was over run with 120 various models of the tricycles. Many believe that the greater love of these bikes over the two wheeled bicycles was due to safety and convenience. The added third wheel gave the bike more stability thus preventing injuries.
During this tricycle bonanza, children were finally figured into the mix. Most were homemade out of wood for the kiddos. And this product idea quickly made its way across the ocean and became a part of life for the American children. Later in the 1880s the tricycles started being made from steel. Also, during this time, it was discovered that front steering and chain driven tricycles were the better way to go – again for safety concerns.
There is typically (but not always) one of three types of tricycles:
- The Delta. This is the most popular with 2 wheels in the back and 1 in the front. The back wheels drive the bike while the front wheel is for steering.
- The Tadpole. This one has 2 wheels in the front which do the steering and one wheel in the back for the driving. Essentially the opposite from which we are familiar.
- The iL3. This tricycle is a 3 wheeled inline bike. 2 of the wheels again are for steering and one for driving.
In the US, most of those reading this have probably always considered the tricycle to be a child’s toy. But as you can see, it certainly did not start out that way. And we seem to be entering a new trike era as adults are now beginning to see their appeal once again.
Aside from being used for load carrying and freight (including the trike rickshaws – why does Kramer pop into my head?), recumbent tricycles are becoming all the rage for American adults. Whether it is the comfort, the greater stability or the ability to turn on a dime – recumbent trikes fulfill a desire for many enthusiasts across the country. And they also provide a source of transportation for those with special needs.
Some say that the invention of the wheel was the single most important development in human history. But I have a feeling that putting three of those wheels together is what is truly appreciated by quite a few – from that bell ringing kid down the block to the avid racer whizzing by daily. After all, how much fun can you really have with just one wheel?