The Draisienne - The Birth of Freeriding?

Ever wonder where today's state-of-the-art, 27-speed, dual suspension, mountain bikes originated? Well, the blue prints for the first mountain bike were drawn in Europe nearly 200 years ago.

In 1817 the grand Duke of Baden, a direct descendant of the Romanov ruling family of Prussia, appointed Karl Von Drais the Master of the Forests. The Master of the Forests was a 19th Century term for a land surveyor. Von Drais was left with the unenviable task of trudging through miles of mountainous, severely rugged terrain while enduring the infamously inclement weather of the region. Baden was a massive land holding that stretched from Southwest Prussia (now Germany), west to the borders of France, south to Switzerland, and east to Bavaria. So, you can imagine the kind of real estate we are talking about. Von Drais cleverly set out to design a device that would help him navigate through the forests of Baden.

He chose to modify a hobbyhorse. Up to Drais' time, the only object remotely resembling a bicycle were hobbyhorses and celeriferes from across the Channel in England and in neighbouring France. Von Drais added a steering wheel to alleviate the awkwardness of the hobbyhorse and dubbed his invention a Draisienne. Up to this point hobbyhorses and Celeriferes were used exclusively as walking aides. Von Drais continued to advance his mechanized, wooden horse until slowly, through trial and error, he discovered the ease with which he could ride by merely balancing himself.

The freedom of coasting made the expansive acreage of Baden manageable and, to no one's surprise, the need for speed had begun. The Baden forest was now alive with men cascading down the mountainside, a precursor to modern day downhill racing. The intermingling of man and machine engrossed in their mechanized dance for speed and freedom had begun. For years to come, our fascination with the bicycle would create advancements in style, functionality, and technology. With controllable navigation the Celeriferes metamorphosed into Velociferes, another ancestor of today's modern mountain bike.

Richard Byington
Orlando Florida