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Happy Bicentennial, Bicycle!

For the bike’s 200th anniversary we salute the two-wheeled beacon of our childhood (and look to its future)

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When you’re twelve-years old and your parents begrudgingly play the part of chauffeur – something they’ll be unhurried to forget years down the line, especially when it’s your turn for a chore or two – a bicycle can mean many things.

For one, it’s a solid gift that lasts well beyond what I like to call a ‘present’s honeymoon stage.’ When you receive a bike as a gift, it eventually becomes worn-in proof of your childhood: you get to know the way the handles turn against the curve of your driveway, or the gear that’ll set you up for a perfect spin-and-park landing at your friend’s front door. And even if your BFF has an identical model, yours is different because it’s yours. More importantly though, a bicycle represents freedom: the coming-of-age sayonara to depending on the schedule of a busy parent who – as mentioned – doubles as your taxi driver. There is no age limit for obtaining a license to drive one, and the only test is the one you impose on yourself down the steepest hill in the neighborhood (incurring a scraped knee or two along the way).  

That’s not to say that the bicycle’s legacy is limited to that of a nostalgic toy. Since its invention in 1817, the bicycle has gone from being humans’ most advanced technology to dominating the traffic of some of the most scenic cities in the world, even in the age of iPhones and Uber. And even after 200 years, the bicycle’s core design continues to withstand the test of time. 

“I still love the fact that it’s a simple machine at heart,” said Matt Lyon, the Director of Worldwide Technical Operations at VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations. Bicycles today still operate via chain and handlebar, albeit now with modernizations here and there like, for example, the electric bicycle, or e-bike. “You now have major manufacturers producing e-bikes, where before they were mostly independent businesses,” Lyon explained. “An e-bike ten years ago was just a monstrous looking thing, and now they’re stealthy to the point you might not know it’s electrical.” 

As for the bike’s future, Vice President of Worldwide Product at VBT Chris Skilling has a pretty good idea. “As development becomes more innovative,” Skilling explains, “I could see the bicycle returning to being for the utilitarian commuter; especially as [the U.S.] becomes more energy-conscious.”

Click through to see our top two-wheeled picks; the finest options in luxury bicycles today.

Main Photo: Howell Evans / Stringer