How a Volcanic Eruption Led to the Birth of the Bicycle

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Why Global Crises Are the Mother of Invention 

In 1815 a volcanic eruption wreaked havoc around the world. But it led to the birth of the bicycle

BY Tom Standage 

The eruption in April 1815 of Mount Tambora, a volcano in what is now Indonesia, was one of the largest in recorded history. A vast plume of dust and ash spread around the world, blocking out the sun and reducing global temperatures. In China the cold weather killed trees, crops and water buffalo. In North America a “dry fog” reddened the sun and there was summer snowfall in New York. Riots and looting broke out in Europe as harvests failed. Food prices soared and tens of thousands of people died from famine and disease. Horses starved or were slaughtered, as the high price of oats forced people to choose whether to feed their animals or themselves.

This last predicament prompted Karl von Drais, a German inventor, to devise a personal-transport machine to replace the horse: a two-wheeled wooden contraption which he called the Laufmaschine (literally, “running machine”). Sitting on a saddle, Drais propelled it by planting his feet on the ground and pushing every few metres, while steering it using a tiller. A demonstration ride, in which he travelled 40 miles in four hours, showed that it was as fast as a trotting horse, and could be powered by its rider without much effort. The tricky part was keeping it balanced while gliding along, which took some practice.

Source; The Economist

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