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A success that keeps going and going!

A wooden vehicle with two wheels and no pedals: this was the precursor to today’s bicycle. Karl Drais came up with the idea in 1817.

The year 1816 was to go down in history as the “year with no summer”: severe storms had led to crop failures and famine in Western Europe and North America. Horses became a luxury item. So a horseless vehicle was needed. 

Karl Drais thought so too. His full name was Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn. He had studied architecture, agriculture, and physics in Heidelberg. He then became a forester. And he was a gifted inventor. In 1810, he was released from his work as a civil servant to focus on his ideas. One of these was a bicycle made of wood – a vehicle that did not need a horse at all. The two wheels were considered a stroke of genius at the time. Drais is said to have been inspired by ice skating. His bicycle consisted of a wooden frame and two equally sized wheels. The front wheel could be steered with a pivoted handlebar. The “Draisine”, as the vehicle was later called, referring to its inventor, had no pedals. Instead, the rider had to push himself along the ground – reaching speeds of more than 15km/h. A sensation at the time! 

Two wheels on a big journey

Drais’s first test ride took him from Mannheim to Schwetzingen, seven kilometers away. Later, he also offered public rides, including “long-distance rides” from Karlsruhe to Kehl. He published journal articles to tell people about his invention. On January 12, 1818, Karl Drais received a “Grand Ducal Privilege” for his vehicle, comparable to today’s patent, which meant that from then on, every Draisine bore a license mark on the handlebar. Who knows whether the bicycles we know today would exist without Drais’s ingenious invention ...?

(Images: Oleksandr Babich –

Gezeichnete Illustration des ersten Zweirads

Test drive of the invention

From Square M1 8 to Schwetzinger Relaishaus, (Rheinau) Mannheim