The exact origins of what we today know as the bicycle are widely debated, with the first designs being attributed to a number of people, including Lu Ban, a Chinese inventor who lived 500 years BC, and Gian Giacomo Caprotti, a sixteenth-century artist and pupil of Leonardo Da Vinci.
Whoever was ultimately responsible for its first designs, the bicycle only became a mainstream and commercial success in the 1860s after the Frenchman Pierre Lallement’s design was produced en masse.
As recreational use of the bicycle increased, it only makes sense that the very first recognised bicycle race was held in the country that is now host to perhaps the most popular multiple stage bicycle race in the world. The 1,200-metre race between the fountains and the entrance of Saint-Cloud Park near Paris was won by the 18-year-old expatriate Englishman and Parisian, James Moore, on 31 May 1868. The first city-to-city race followed shortly after, on 7 November 1869, and it wasn’t long before road racing became a common occurrence in continental Europe.
Cycling caught on in the United States thirteen full years before the invention of basketball (and only two years after the inception of professional baseball), and the first recorded race in the US took place in Boston on 24 May 1878.
Improved road conditions popularised the racing format even further, and led to the establishment of such illustrious international competitions as the Tour de France (first held in 1903, with races held every year since, save the races that did not take place due to World Wars I and II), Italy’s Giro d’Italia and Spain’s Vuelta a España.
Locally, the Cape Town Cycle Tour has established itself as the largest timed cycle event in the world, the Absa Cape Epic tests the skills and grit of mountain bikers across an eight-day stage race – categorised as “Hors catégorie”, or “beyond categorisation”, by the Union Cycliste Internationale, due to its difficulty – and the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge sees tens of thousands of cyclists navigate the streets of eGoli every year, often for a good cause.
It is mind-blowing that the humble origins of the two-wheeler have resulted in a sport that is revered and practiced all across the globe. Who knows how cycling will evolve over the next hundred years?