By most accounts, the Divvy bike-sharing program has had a strong start, but it's likely to face a major test as it goes through its first Chicago winter. The Italian pro cycling team Lampre-Merida has its own share of troubles after more than 100 bikes worth almost $1 million were stolen last weekend from team headquarters. Regardless of the challenges ahead, we're peddling these 10 facts:
1 In the book "The 100 Greatest Inventions of All Time" by Tom Philbin, the wheel comes in No. 1, while the bicycle is No. 95, just behind the oven and ahead of the tape recorder.
2 President George W. Bush made headlines at the G-8 summit in Scotland in 2005 by losing control of his bicycle and slamming into a constable. The president suffered only abrasions; the lawman was treated at a hospital. The incident was foreshadowed six years earlier by the pilot episode of "The West Wing," in which a bicycling president runs into a tree. When chief of staff Leo McGarry is asked, "Is anything broken?" he answers: "A $4,000 Lynex Titanium touring bike that I swore I'd never lend anyone."
3 Susan B. Anthony, the civil rights leader, considered the bicycle a great tool for the women's rights movement. During the huge cycling craze in the 1890s, which was enjoyed by both genders and which saw women straddling the bike in bloomers instead of riding sidesaddle in dresses like on a horse, Anthony said, "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel."
4 It didn't take long for the Tour de France to descend into scandal. In 1904, just the second year of the bicycle race, the top four finishers were disqualified for blatant cheating, which included taking the train and hopping rides on cars. Race founder Henri Desgrange was so discouraged afterward that he said, "The Tour de France is finished, and I'm afraid its second edition has been the last."
5 Bike technology has influenced plenty of other technologies. Pneumatic tires, essential for auto travel, were first mass-produced for bikes. The development of the bicycle also led to advancements in ball bearings, which were later used in roller-skating, fly-fishing and aviation. And speaking of aviation, let's not forget two stellar bike mechanics named Orville and Wilbur Wright.
6 Author Ray Bradbury, an avid bicyclist, never got a driver's license.
7 The bicycle is such a logical idea that it's an amazing fact that the invention is only a century and a half old. An early 19th-century forerunner was called the "draisine" or "dandy horse" or "velocipede," a two-wheeled vehicle powered by the rider pushing along the ground with his feet and coasting down hills. In the 1860s came an improved contraption with pedals that was called a bicycle.
8 Marcel Duchamp's "Bicycle Wheel" — a bike wheel attached to a stool — is an icon of modern art. But the version at the Museum of Modern Art in New York is not the 1913 original, which is considered "lost." (That means if you find an old bike wheel on a stool in your garage, it might be worth millions.) The later MoMA version, created by Duchamp in 1951, went missing, too, in a little-publicized incident in 1995. A mystery man picked it up, carried it out of the museum and escaped in a cab. A day later, it reappeared — tossed over MoMA's garden wall, with no explanation.
9 The annual Bike the Drive, which closes down Lake Shore Drive's eight lanes to auto traffic for four hours on a Sunday morning, attracts more than 20,000 riders. But the one-day-a-year event pales in scope to Ciclovia in Bogota, Colombia, which shuts down nearly 100 miles of streets once a week from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Begun in the late 1970s, the Ciclovia idea — and similar programs like Open Streets and Free Sundays — has spread to dozens of cities around the world, including Tokyo, Kiev, Ukraine, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Evanston. But you can have too much of a good thing. After the early success of Bike the Drive, when activists began pushing for a more frequent event, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley put the kibosh on the idea: "You can't. Let's get common sense."
10 An innovative alternative to bike helmets has been developed in Sweden. The Hovding air bag is worn like a fashionable neck wrap by a bike rider and inflates to protect the rider's head when a sensor detects a bike accident is occurring.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
Sources: "Bicycle: The History" by David V. Herlihy; "Bicycling Science" by David Gordon Wilson; "The Secret History of Balls" by Josh Chetwynd; "The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Volume 6" edited by Ann Gordon; Chicago Tribune; The Guardian; VeloNews; Outside; forbes.com; imdb.com; hovding.com; openstreetsproject.orgCopyright © 2015, CT Now