Two Wheels Good

Graham Robb

  • Bicycle: The History by David Herlihy
    Yale, 480 pp, £15.99, August 2006, ISBN 0 300 12047 8

In September 1814, the European powers were meeting at Vienna to carve up the continent after the fall of Napoleon. The delegation from the Grand Duchy of Baden was hoping to consolidate the territorial gains it had made under the French empire and to prove itself worthy of a major role in the new Europe. Duchy officials were alarmed, therefore, when they heard that Baron Karl von Drais, a publicity-seeking eccentric who was employed by the Duchy as a forest master, intended to use the Congress as a showcase for his horseless carriage. He was warned that if he paraded his hare-brained contraption he would ‘greatly risk compromising the honour of the delegation’. Drais ignored this letter and displayed his leg-driven, four-wheeled carriage to an indifferent audience.

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