A German forester with a passion for the balance bike

Karl Friedrich Christian Baron Drais Von SauerBronn (Karlsruhe, April 29, 1785 – December 10, 1851)

Karl von Drais's father was a lawyer, also president of the Supreme Court of Baden. Young Karl had no desire to follow in his father's footsteps. At the level of his status, a military career could also have been possible, but that did not appeal to him either.

In desperation, the family sent him to the forestry academy that an uncle had founded.

The black sheep of the family had to become a forester. Perhaps, according to his biographer, he resigned himself to the forestry study because foresters usually live deep in the forest, where it is quiet and where you have plenty of room to tinker and experiment with an invention.

It once happened that the lord of Baden was waiting for a tasty roe roast, while his forester tried to run that same meat excitedly through a new meat grinder.

Around 1816, when he was 31, Drais threw himself into a carriage he called a velociped, or walking machine. At first glance it consisted only of a central wooden horizontal bar, a front and rear wheel and a leather saddle.

Especially new was the steering that let the front wheel turn around its axis: you could therefore steer the thing to the left or right. The machine was propelled with the feet pushing on the ground and the arms leaned on a semicircular support wood.

Drais reached eight to ten kilometers per hour, according to some sources even fifteen kilometers. The whole spectacle weighed 25 kilograms.

“When a human walks,” said Drais, “he lifts his body a few inches with each footstep. That vertical movement is energy loss. The trick is to develop a kind of walking in which the body's center of gravity only moves horizontally.'

The demonstrations he held in the summer of 1817 only made his contemporaries laugh. A short time later he held a competition against a stagecoach with his velociped. It took a stagecoach sixteen hours to cover the distance between Karlsruhe and Kehl near Strasbourg.

It took Drais barely four hours. In 1818 he gave a show in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, where he immediately caused a real craze. This scenario was repeated in London. In no time his bicycle was copied in half of Europe.

Because Germany still consisted of dozens of principalities in those years, it was impossible for him to protect his invention.

Drais then developed a new kind of steam cooker, a periscope and in 1823 even a typewriter, called a speed writing keyboard. All devices for which the time was not yet ripe. One day his father died and he lost part of his official protection.

He drank too much and allowed himself to be tempted into a fight in an inn.

The government took this so seriously that he lost all his rights, including his fixed benefit and his right to a pension. From then on he kept himself alive by performing tricks on his bicycle like a clown.

He fell so badly a number of times that he was left with permanent physical injuries.

On December 10, 1851, in a café on the outskirts of Karlsruhe, he read in a newspaper that the British had used bicycle units for the first time in their fight against the natives in New Zealand. At the sight of the walking machines, the Maoris were so frightened that they surrendered without a battle.

The shock of joy was too great for the old, ailing Baron.

He suffered a heart attack and died on the spot. Creditors came to the conclusion that the man had only left a few of his strange inventions.

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