What if Romans invented the bycicle?

Oct 2012
While early bicycles were probably something within the realm of possibility for the Romans, they weren't the kind of machines that had a transformative effect on society, they were more the toys of the Victorian upper and upper-middle classes. For a bicycle to have a transformative effect on society it would need to be cheaper and more reliable than a horse, since it could never be as versatile as one. Early wooden bicycles would not have fit this bill.

It's things like rubber tires, metal spokes, and the chain drive, combined with mass production, that gave the bicycle these properties. Without these it would have remained a play thing of the wealthy. The Romans made good roads, but a heavy, wooden, push-powered, individually built bicycle with wooden or metal wheels wasn't going to become popular regardless of the surface it was used on. A horse just made more sense.


Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
It would not have mattered. There has never been a successful cavalry charge by a massed army riding bicycles - some 18th and 19th military men thought of it before WW1, but they decided such a thing would be tantamount to suicide. Bicycles can be used for message running and transport, but defeating Attila or the other barbarians would be out of the question. The barbarians would die of laughing at the Romans.


Ad Honorem
Jan 2009
In the Past
Am I the only one imagining a vast horde of Roman troops on little bicycles (handlebars streamers for the Decurions) charging down a hill with Ride of the Valkyrie in that background?
Aug 2014
Huntington Beach CA
Although it might be damn funny to see Romans (soldiers) one bikes, it is far from impossible to have happened. They had the technology, they had the mechanics (at least from the 1rst century B.C), but they lacked the idea. Don't be fooled by the simplicity of the concept! Many great inventions are simple ideas and they were invented at a point of time when technological advancement was not the issue for realization. It is pure luck it didn't happen.

As for its usage, I don't think it would be used in the battlefield. Horses were far superior! However, it would become the main vehicle for messengers and the ordinary people would become more mobile in their everyday life.
The idea that Romans lacked to build a bicycle (or more than a few bicycles) was interchangeable parts. Bikes could have been very helpful for keeping armies supplied. I'm reminded that the NVA moved supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail with infantry pushing bikes with supplies on them. My guess is that would have been how the Romans used them and it would have helped them considerably.They would obviously get off their bikes to fight though.
Apr 2019
If we take the fact that earlier the horses carried the order on two wheels, then this looks like a certain ancestor of a bicycle and a motorcycle with the power of a horse's. However, similar modern models like on this site are road bikes adapted for long distances, which a person in the right to control himself can still be attributed to a German explorer. I'm for this approach


Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
Any bike without also inflated rubber tyres and preferably also smooth metalled roads will be a horrific "bone shaker" with quite limited usefulness.

That's why the Roman bike idea fails.

Without those things, walking, riding, haulage by ox cart etc. all makes more sense than shaking about on a two-wheeled metal/wooden cart of this kind.

The kind of transformative impact the bike has had in modern times was also dependent on the inflatable rubber tyre.
Likes: Niobe
Feb 2019
Pennsylvania, US
Reading around about the history of the bicycle, the first model [functional] still worked with the individual touching the soil with the feet [no pedals] pushing to go forward. The speed was about 13 km/h.
The Dandy Horse! LOL... though I guess that is a derogatory name, it still makes me laugh.

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