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Kirkpatrick MacMillan - Inventor

The wheel had been invented long before Kirkpatrick MacMillan was born in 1813 in Dumfries; otherwise he might have invented it himself. He was a man of delightful notions and originality. Before MacMillan set to inventing, most people got around the country either on foot or by riding or being pulled by horses. They could also make use of the hobby-horse, a two-wheeled arrangement moved forward by the rider swinging his feet backwards on the ground. It was not too efficient. But when MacMillan saw his first hobby-horse, he was fascinated. It was brought for repair into the smiddy where he worked.

MacMillan made one, and then made a mental connection. He built a crank arrangement with pedals at the front of two planks, the rear ends of which engaged two levers to turn a grindstone. He adapted the crank to his hobby-horse to produce a bike on which the rider's feet could indeed touch the ground, especially on take-off, but which would then work the pedals. It was the first safety bicycle. Later developers would utilise the chain system, but MacMillan was the leader. His machine had other nice features. The levers driving the back wheels had several holes so that, in effect, the planks could be fitted to different holes to produce a gearing effect. And the back wheel was bigger than the front to produce a basic high-gear effect.

MacMillan rode his bicycle to Glasgow in 1842, probably in the hope of interesting investors. He covered the 70 miles in five hours, more than twice the speed at which a man could walk. The crowds on the city's south side gathered so densely to see this madman that he rode on the pavement and knocked a small boy over. He was fined 5 shillings, but it didn't put him off That was the start of something big.

To this day the bike is the most efficient form of transport, in terms of energy input relative to power output, and in doing the least damage to the environment, ever devised by man. We will always be getting on our bikes.

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