The famine year of 1816 led to the first ever journey by dandy horse in 1817

1816 was the year without a sum­mer. The rea­son was the erup­tion of the Tam­bora vol­cano in what is now Indo­ne­sia. This had dire con­se­quences for Europe's cli­mate, brin­ging low tem­pe­ra­tu­res, hail, end­less dow­n­pours and floods. Fai­led har­vests, famine and mas­sive incre­a­ses in food pri­ces fol­lo­wed, and the sca­r­city of ani­mal feed led to the death of huge num­bers of hor­ses.  

This despe­rate situa­tion led a man cal­led Karl Fried­rich Drais (1785-1851) who was born in Karls­ruhe to invent the "drai­sine" or dandy horse in 1817, the pro­to­type of the modern bicy­cle. Like child­ren's balance bikes today, this ori­gi­nal design had no pedals and it was sim­ply pushed for­ward by the rider's legs. A com­for­t­a­ble saddle and movea­ble hand­le­bars hel­ped to main­tain balance.

 The first offi­ci­ally publi­ci­sed "mai­den voyage" obser­ved by the press and an asto­nis­hed audience took place on 12th June 1817 in Mann­heim. After fine-tuning and tes­ting the device for some time, on that day Drais under­took a jour­ney of roughly seven kilo­me­tres from his home in Mann­heim's "grid city" to the Schwet­zin­ger coa­ching inn in what is now the sub­urb of Heinau. It took him barely an hour to get there and back, making his ave­rage speed about 15 kilo­me­tres per hour. No mean feat, because his unwieldy dandy horse which had metal-rim­med wheels with woo­den spo­kes weig­hed a full 22 kilo­grams.


  1. Baden-Würt­tem­berg Minis­try of Trans­port and Infra­s­truc­ture (publ.) (2016): Baden-Würt­tem­berg RadS­TRA­TE­GIE (cycling stra­t­egy)  – Wege zu einer neuen Rad­KUL­TUR für Baden-Würt­tem­berg (Rou­tes to a new cycling CUL­TURE for Baden-Würt­tem­berg. Stutt­gart 
  2. Nuhn, Hel­mut / Hesse, Mar­kus (2006): Ver­kehrs­geo­gra­phie (Trans­port geo­gra­phy) Pader­born 
  3. Had­land, Tony / Les­sing, Hans-Erhard (2014): Bicy­cle Design: An Illus­tra­ted His­tory. Cam­bridge
The inventor from Baden, Karl Friedrich Drais, is regarded as the originator of the bicycle.

The inven­tor from Baden, Karl Fried­rich Drais, is regar­ded as the ori­gi­na­tor of the bicy­cle.

The dandy horse is the archetype of the bicycle. Propelling it with his legs, the rider gained a comparable level of mobility to that enjoyed when riding a horse.

The dandy horse is the arche­type of the bicy­cle. Pro­pel­ling it with his legs, the rider gai­ned a com­pa­ra­ble level of mobi­lity to that enjoyed when riding a horse.