Infographic: The Evolution Of The Bicycle, From 1780 To 2000

A new chart spins the slow and steady ways two wheels and a frame–and its functionality–have changed over time.

Bicycles, believe it or not, killed the era of the corset. In the late 19th century, when a Scottish inventor who practiced veterinary medicine in Ireland developed the first pneumatic tire–rubber filled with compressed air, the kind we’re familiar with today–it made bikes the common man and woman’s method of transport. Women started commuting to their factory jobs on bicycles, consequently realizing they needed to breathe to do so. And thus, the death of the caged torso.


Whatever role the two-wheeled vehicle may have played in the advent of feminism, it actually arrived on the scene much earlier. Take a quick scan of the latest from the prolific Pop Chart Lab team, and it’s clear that the birth date of the bike clocks in around the early 1800s. Less clear, however, is which exact model came first. Was it the tricycle, or the Draisienne?

“This evolution categorizes bikes by utility, and not by form,” says managing editor William Prince. “So what you’re seeing is the way in which new bikes were developed for certain uses or applications.” A key at the bottom of the chart ticks off the many functions bikes serve: tandem bicycles, mountain bicycles, cruisers, and so on.

But despite this fragmentation, Prince says The Evolution Of Bicycles chronicles one of the most visually subtle product evolutions the Pop Chart team has seen (and this is after mapping out cameras and game controllers). “Bikes, on the other hand, look kind of similar to how they appeared at the turn of the century…two wheels, two pedals, and a frame.”

A caveat: Like a bike with bad brakes, the chart comes to an abrupt spill-over-handlebars halt in 2000. Prince explains that the 21st century has seen such a high-speed evolution in bicycle design, that there isn’t a greatest hits list available yet. And indeed, consider the state of the modern bike. Some swivel and fold up into a backpack-size bundle. Urban centers have computerized bike-share systems with teched-out docking centers. Given that driverless, flying bicycles may send all this the way of the corset in the century to come, it seems wise to hold off.

A print of The Evolution Of Bicycles goes for $27, and can be bought here.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.