E-Archive

Off the Beaten Track

in Vol. 25 - May Issue - Year 2024
The "Laufmaschine" or Running Machine

Often inside of the world of ‘ideas’ there are tiny things that contribute to the universe in ways we can never imagine. If someone told us that significant advancements in human history revolutionizing transportation, agriculture and industry were actually possible because of 3500 BCE invention of a ‘wheel’, we would never believe them. 

In the quest of excellence and betterment humans have succeeded in achieving evolution like no other living being in world. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Undeniably, we humans have created this world a fantasy land of astounding discoveries, inventions, and innovations.

A discovery is recognizing something that already exists for the first time, that nobody has found before. An invention is creating something totally new with one’s own ideas and development, often the results of years of research and development. Whereas an innovation is bringing new ideas, or solutions that help transforming concepts that improve efficiency and effectiveness. 

As a ten-year-old my most loved possession was my bicycle. There were many memories attached to it, but the fondest was going uphill on it. Applying all my power and might, I would climb up with lot of excitement. I thought I discovered what was it to fly every time I unleashed myself down the hill! That was long ago, but in the present day when I maneuver around city traffic on my e-cycle, I think it has come a very long way, probably to the other universe and back. Moreover the 21st century modern materials, and computer aided design, finite element analysis, allow lighter frames and aerodynamic design. Electronic gadgetry has expanded from just cyclocomputers to now include cycling power meters and electronic gear-shifting. 

I always wondered how was the bicycle invented?!


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In 1818, at Germany, Baron Karl von Drais, a civil servant to Grand Duke of Baden, holds the credit for inventing “Laufmaschine” or “running machine” that was called Draisine by the press. On his first ride from Mannheim on June 12, 1817, he covered 13 km (8 miles) in less than an hour. It did not have pedals but you simply moved forward through your legs.

In an effort to find an alternative to the horse, in 1816 crop failure caused starvation and death of horses, Drais constructed his running machine entirely of wood, weighing 22 kg, had brass bushings with wheel bearings, iron shod wheels, a rear wheel brake and 6-inch trail of front wheel for a self-centering caster effect. By pushing off the ground with feet, rider propel themselves forward in a gliding motion, making the draisine the world’s first human-powered means of transportation.

The invention of the draisine sparked a flurry of experimentation and innovation as inventors sought to improve upon its design and functionality. In 1839, Kirkpatrick Macmillan, a Scottish blacksmith, built first mechanically propelled two-wheel vehicle. The first widespread commercially successful design was French. Developed around 1863. It used rotary cranks and pedals mounted to the front wheel hub. 

In 1880s, the development of the safety bicycle was arguably the most important change in the history of the bicycle. The bicycle featured equal-sized wheels, a chain-driven rear wheel, and was easier to mount and ride. Forward from here, it revolutionized transportation for individuals to travel faster, farther and greater ease than ever before. 

If someone had told Baron Karl von Drais that his invention would not only inspire and captivate the world, but also remind the power of innovation and the enduring appeal of human-powered transportation, he would never believe it! 

So, we must keep inventing and innovating through our ‘ideas’, however small that could be, because we really have no ‘idea’ how valuable our contribution can be. 


MFN Trainer and Head of Operations of Daksha: rishabh.shah@daksha.net