Worcester, Mass.
May 11, 1997

Renaissance bike is a mystery

 Leonardo da Vinci and the invention of the bicycle

By Lynne Tolman

   More beguiling than the Mona Lisa, at least to me, is the sketch of a bicycle in one of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks.
   It probably was drawn about 1493, almost 400 years before the bicycle was actually invented.  Historians say no chain-driven, pedal-powered two-wheeler was built with the tools and materials of Leonardo's time, but it is possible Leonardo envisioned such a vehicle.  He had drawn other gear and chain mechanisms, and his spring-driven wagon was a forerunner of the modern automobile.
   Thus the bicycle, in tributes such as the current Leonardo da Vinci exhibit at the Museum of Science in Boston, is claimed as a product of the ideas of the Renaissance artist, scientist and inventor.
   The drawing is thought to have been made by Salai, one of Leonardo's favorite students, perhaps copied from his master's now-lost design.  It was discovered in the 1960s when Leonardo's "Codex Atlanticus" was being restored; it was next to some cartoonish doodles and Salai's name on the back of a page of architectural drawings, near the edge, and had been obscured by a windowpane mat framing back-to-back pages.
   Some historians suggest the bicycle sketch is a fake, planted in the notebook in modern times to endow Leonardo with even more foresight than he deserved.
   Popular credit for developing the modern bicycle usually goes to father and son Pierre and Ernest Michaux, carriage makers in Paris.  Their 1860s two-wheeled velocipede had cranks and pedals connected to the axle of the front wheel, like children's tricycles of today.
   A Michaux employee, Pierre Lallement, said the idea was stolen from his 1862 prototype, and he struck out for America.  In Connecticut, he and a partner got the first U.S. bicycle patent in 1866.  Boston manufacturer Albert A. Pope bought the patent and reaped a fortune making Columbia bicycles.
   Bikes with a chain pulling a toothed gear on the axle of the rear wheel -- more like the drawing linked to Leonardo da Vinci -- came later, from English manufacturer James Starley in 1884.  This innovation was the biggest boost to Pope's business and launched bicycling's American heyday in the 1890s.  Whether Leonardo da Vinci was the true inventor remains as mysterious as the Mona Lisa's smile.
   About 16 gym teachers will bike from Shrewsbury to Boston on Wednesday, the fifth annual Great Massachusetts Workout Day, for a Statehouse ceremony promoting the importance of physical education. The teachers are board members of the Massachusetts Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. They include Sandy Robichaud and Clark Masters from Gibbons Middle School in Westboro, and Andrew Heschles from Oxford High School. They'll ride to Hopkinton, then follow the Boston Marathon route.
    Town meeting voters in Berlin last week endorsed the proposed Wayside Rail Trail, a 23-mile recreational path from Berlin to Waltham.  Wayland and Sudbury town meetings also have voted yes, and Weston votes Wednesday.
   The Bicycle Coalition of Massachusetts is offering a nine-hour Effective Cycling course in Cambridge.  The nationally recognized education program, billed as "driver's ed for bicyclists,'' teaches bike handling and safety skills, such as quick turns and quick stops, and how to overcome fears of riding in traffic. Course topics include bike and helmet fitting, fixing flat tires, negotiating intersections, emergency maneuvers, nutrition, and group riding.
   The course will be taught in three sessions, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, May 28, June 4 and 11. Cost is $60, $50 for BCOM members. To register, send a $20 deposit to BCOM, 214A Broadway, Cambridge, Mass. 02138. For more information, contact Paul Schimek (617-494-3601 or
     TIP OF THE HELMET _ To the cycling teams of the University of New Hampshire, Wellesley College and Williams College, the three New England schools to qualify to compete May 24 and 25 in the National Collegiate Road Cycling Championships in Durango, Colo. Six teams from mid-Atlantic colleges will round out the roster of contenders from the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference.
   Eight individuals from other Eastern Conference schools also earned berths at the nationals, including Greg Swinand (Boston College) of Brighton; Johannes Huseby (Middlebury College) of Putney, Vt.; Jose Dundee (Middlebury) of Stockitt, Mont.; Alex Classen (Wellesley) of Kinston, N.C.; Megan Lawson (Williams) of Granby, Conn.; and Tracy Timms (Harvard) of Santa Rosa, Calif.

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