FRENCH ICON

Dis­cover some of France’s most fas­ci­nat­ing icons

French Property News - - Joie De Vivre -

THE BI­CY­CLE

De­spite be­ing a real sym­bol of the French life­style, the bi­cy­cle was ac­tu­ally in­vented in Ger­many in 1817. Named af­ter its in­ven­tor Baron von Drais, the Drai­sine had a wooden frame and wheels and was pro­pelled by foot power.

The French can, how­ever, lay claim to de­vel­op­ing the first pop­u­lar de­sign in the 1860s. Pierre Lalle­ment, a car­riage maker, de­cided to add ped­als to cre­ate a ve­loci­pede (fast feet). The Michaux fam­ily, who built Parisian coaches, then be­gan mass-pro­duc­ing bikes made of wood and iron. Napoleon III’S son started rid­ing a bike around town and truly launched the fash­ion for these two-wheel­ers.

Pro­duc­tion al­most stopped by the 1870s be­cause of the Franco-prus­sian war but was res­ur­rected a decade later by pub­lisher of Le Cy­cliste mag­a­zine Paul de Vive. His de­sign was called the Gauloise and it had smaller wheels plus a sys­tem of chains which al­lowed for dif­fer­ent gears. At the time, solid rub­ber tyres were in use but in the 1890s, Edouard Miche­lin in­vented the re­mov­able tyre which her­alded a new era.

Cy­cle rac­ing had started but it wasn’t un­til 1902 that the break­through came when jour­nal­ist Géo Le­fèvre pitched the idea of a race around France to his editor at L’auto mag­a­zine. The first edi­tion of the now-iconic Tour de France ran from 1-19 July 1903 over 2,428km.

The suc­cess of the Tour de France led to a surge in the pop­u­lar­ity of cy­cling. In 1920, there were 4.3 mil­lion bikes in France and in 1926, the fig­ure had risen to 7.1 mil­lion. Its pop­u­lar­ity dwin­dled in the 1960s as cars be­came more af­ford­able. But when air pol­lu­tion be­came com­mon knowl­edge in the 1990s, the French gov­ern­ment de­cided to en­cour­age the use of bikes again by cre­at­ing cy­cle lanes in cities.

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