The bike at 200: World's craziest rides, then and now

Celebrate the 200th anniversary of the bike with a romp through bonkers bicycling creations from a hoverbike to a 19th-century quad-cycle.

Amanda Kooser
1 of 17 Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

The beginning of bikes

On June 12, 1817, German inventor Karl Drais saddled a strange two-wheeled creation and rode it in public. The contraption had no pedals, so he pushed it along with his feet. The draisine is now widely recognized as the earliest form of bicycle, which leads us to 2017 being the 200th anniversary of the bike. 

This 1818 draisine is part of the collection at the Smithsonian in the US. 

2 of 17 Cardboard Technologies

Cardboard balance bike

This balance bike might look pretty normal, but note its unusual construction. The bike is made primarily from recycled cardboard. The company behind it, Cardboard Technologies, hopes to release the bike for kids sometime in 2017 as a precursor to a full-size, pedal-powered cardboard bike for adults.

3 of 17 Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Is a hoverbike still a bike?

Star Wars helped popularize the concept of the hoverbike, a flying vehicle ridden like a regular wheeled bicycle. Here, inventor Colin Furze wrangles an experimental homemade hoverbike held aloft by powerful propellers in place of wheels. It may not qualify as a bicycle, but it's definitely a futuristic take on the bike concept.

4 of 17 Schiller Bikes

Schiller water bike

Pedal-power your way through the water with the Schiller Water Bike. It's got all the features of a ground-bound bike, except it rides over the waves on a pair of pontoons instead of wheels. Schiller says the vehicle can reach a speed of up to 10 mph (16 kph). 

5 of 17 YikeBike


The YikeBike offers an unusual take on a folding electric bicycle. The eye-catching design is meant to be compact, portable and fun, and it features a different sort of riding position with handlebars that wrap around from the back. This image shows the bike in a three-wheel configuration, but more advanced riders can graduate to a two-wheel setup.

6 of 17 Richie Trimble


Meet the reigning Guinness World Record-holding tallest rideable bicycle. The Stoopidtaller bike is the creation of Richie Trimble, who managed to make a functioning bike that's over 20 feet (6 meters) tall. It earned its record in 2013.

7 of 17 Dezien

Levitation concept bike

The Levitation concept bike from Dezien gives a glimpse at a possible high-tech future for bicycles. The concept integrates a generator and battery that powers your devices using energy captured from pedaling. The designers also imagine including a Wi-Fi hotspot and touchscreen LED display. 

The bike gets even more futuristic with the addition of magnetic levitation meant to reduce resistance and provide a smooth ride over uneven ground. Will this ever be a real bike? It may just have to live in our sci-fi dreams.

8 of 17 Fliz

Fliz bike

The Fliz concept bike, a prototype from 2012, owes a lot to the original Karl Drais idea for a two-wheeled, foot-powered bike with no pedals. Instead of sitting on a saddle, the rider is suspended from the tall frame. The cycle works through a combination of running, walking and pushing yourself along.

9 of 17 Library of Congress

'Victory' bicycle

This may look like a fairly standard bicycle, but it's a "Victory" bike made in 1942 during World War II. At a time when many materials were rationed to aid the war effort, the Library of Congress notes, "strategic war materials were eliminated in the manufacture of the bicycle."

10 of 17 Library of Congress

A compact bike in 1920

Super-portable bicycles aren't just a modern-day fad. This photo dates to around 1920 and shows a very unusual kind of bike featuring a recognizable chain and pedals, but also an incredibly compact design. It rides on two tiny wheels, and the seat and handlebars appear to be uncomfortably close together.

11 of 17 Library of Congress

Evolution of the bicycle

The evolution of bike technology is on display in this photo from 1919 showing three different kinds of bicycles. 

The bike with the large wheel is known as a penny-farthing or a high-wheel bike and represents one of the earliest forms of bicycles. A more recognizably modern-style bike stands next to it and a strange compact version with tiny wheels sits to the far right.

12 of 17 Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress


The Library of Congress information on this image is a bit sketchy. It's believed to date from 1917 or 1918 and shows a woman riding a chain-driven motorized bike, making this an interesting hybrid between a motorcycle and a bicycle.

13 of 17 Fred W. Glasier/Library of Congress

Upside-down bike ride

Diavolo, a bike-riding performer, enchanted audiences in the early 1900s with his daredevil loop rides that took him completely upside-down while he zipped along at high speeds. This image from around 1905 shows Diavolo in mid-stunt as a large crowd watches.

14 of 17 Underwood & Underwood/Library of Congress

Bike stretchers of yesteryear

This stereograph double image dates to around 1905 and shows medical personnel using a bicycle stretcher to transport a wounded Russian soldier during the Russo-Japanese War. Notice how the stretcher sits between two bicycles while horse-drawn wagons wait in the background.

15 of 17 George H. Van Norman/Library of Congress


We're all familiar with tandem bikes built to hold two riders, but this quad-bicycle dates back to around 1898. These four stylish gentlemen look like they're ready to race as they tuck into an aerodynamic position. The photo caption reads "OrientQuad."

16 of 17 Platt Brothers/Library of Congress

Bike stunts of yesterday

Bike-riding daredevils have been around since long before the X Games got started. This image dates to 1884 and shows a brave soul riding a bicycle down the steps of the US Capitol building. Remember, this is long before the development of mountain bikes with shock absorbers. The photo is titled "A perilous ride."

17 of 17 Charles W. Oldreive/Library of Congress

A very strange tricycle

This bizarre contraption is the work of Charles Oldreive, who patented the design in 1881. The image, which dates to 1882, shows the three-wheeled tricycle with a passenger sitting inside. The unusual trike was also called "the New Iron Horse," though it failed to replace the steam locomotives that were the original iron horses.

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