New Italian bicycle — the Da Vinci

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So did Leonardo Da Vinci design the bicycle more than 300 years before it was invented?


It appears so.  An exhibit that opened Tuesday at the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Lincei Academy in Rome features working models of Da Vinci’s designs. Many of them, such as helicopters, parachutes, and the bicycle, didn’t become reality for hundreds of years.

<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> David A. Herlihy’s recently published book on human-powered two-wheel transportation, entitled Bicycle, credits Karl von Drais with inventing the velocipede or draisine in 1817. Powered by the rider pushing his feet against the ground and coasting, it took another 40 years before anyone thought to propel the machine by using pedals.


But Da Vinci had the pedal problem solved in the 1490s, when he or a student drew the contraption in a manuscript that later became known as the Atlantic Codex. Steering was another matter. The curator of the exhibit says, “The only thing missing is the means to change the wheel direction.”


The bicycle drawing itself has been steeped in controversy, however. It wasn’t discovered until monks restoring the document in the late 1960s examined a page that had been folded and sealed. Some suggest it is a hoax and the monks sketched it themselves.


Models of 40 Da Vinci inventions, including the bicycle, are on permanent display in Vigevano, near Milan in northern Italy.

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