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Keep On Pedalling!

Celebrates 200 years of the bicycle

by Claire Law

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider the history of the bicycle to commemorate its bicentenary.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Keep On Pedalling!)and the means to display them.

  • Have available the YouTube video ‘Queen: Bicycle Race (I Want to Ride My Bicycle)’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 3.02 minutes long and is available at:

  • Further information about the charity, Re-Cycle, which sends reclaimed bikes to Africa, is available at:


  1. Play the YouTube video ‘Queen: Bicycle Race (I Want to Ride My Bicycle)’ as the students enter.

  2. Ask the students to estimate how long ago the bicycle was invented. Gather some estimates before providing the correct answer: it was 200 years ago, in 1817.

  3. Explain that this assembly will consider the history of the bicycle, but first, you want to see how much the students know about bicycles from the past.

    Show Slides 1-4 in turn and ask the students whether they can name each bike.

    - Slide 1 shows a penny-farthing.
    - Slide 2 shows a tandem, which is a bike designed for two people.
    - Slide 3 shows a unicycle. Strictly speaking, this is not a bicycle because the prefix ‘bi’ refers to two wheels, whereas a unicycle only has one wheel.
    - Slide 4 shows a Raleigh Chopper, which was a very popular bike in the 1970s. You may wish to ask for a show of hands to indicate which members of staff remember having one of these as a child!

  4. Let’s consider the history of the bicycle.

    Show Slide 5.

    The very first bicycle was invented in 1817 by Baron Karl von Drais in Germany. It was given the name ‘Laufmaschine’, which means ‘running machine. Von Drais hoped that his invention would help many people by providing them with a means of transport if they could not afford a horse.

  5. Show Slide 6.

    In 1868, bikes featuring pedals were invented.

  6. Show Slide 7.

    A few years later, the penny-farthing, with its large front wheel and small rear wheel, was invented. This type of bicycle was popular with the gentry and wealthy Victorians, providing a smoother ride than previous designs.

  7. Show Slide 8.

    Soon after, bikes that looked more similar to the models we know and love today were invented. They began to feature air-filled rubber tyres.

  8. Show Slide 9.

    The ladies version of early bicycles had a step-through frame rather than the diamond frame of the gentlemens model. This meant that ladies, with their dresses and skirts, could easily ride their bicycles while wearing the fashions of the day.

  9. Show Slide 10.

    The Tour de France, a famous 3,500-kilometre cycle race around France, began in 1903. Nowadays, 12 million spectators line the streets to cheer on the cyclists taking part, making it the largest sporting event in the world. In 2012, a British cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, won the race, and another British cyclist, Chris Froome, has won it for the last two years.

  10. So, how has the invention of the bicycle benefitted society? In the early twentieth century, enabling women to ride bicycles meant that they could have more freedom than had previously been available to them. It was also a significant factor in changing the fashion options that were open to women. Instead of being limited to choosing corsets with long, heavy, multilayered skirts worn over petticoats or a hoop, women could now opt for a more practical form of dress, including baggy trousers. Thanks to the invention of the bicycle, women also had more freedom to travel and get involved in things outside the home.

  11. But it wasn’t just women who benefitted from the bike’s invention. By the early twentieth century, the popularity of bicycles meant that many people now possessed their own means of transport. This dramatically increased the distances that people could travel and therefore the range of places they could visit.

  12. So, what about the future of bicycles? As a green method of transport, bikes have the potential to help our environment.

    Show Slide 11.

    They produce no carbon emissions, so they do not contribute to global warming. They also help us to keep fit and healthy.

  13. In some countries, bikes are still extremely helpful in enabling people to travel distances that would otherwise be too difficult. For example, in some regions, where cars or other transportation are not available, a bike can enable a doctor, midwife or nurse to reach villages that would otherwise be too remote. A bike can help a family travel to collect water or firewood more quickly, and it can even help children to attend school, allowing time in the day for other activities.

    Show Slide 12.

    A charity called Re-Cycle sends bikes that are no longer needed in the UK to Africa to be reconditioned and used to benefit communities in need.

    (You may wish to set up a charity event to encourage students who have outgrown their bikes to donate them to this charity. More information is available at:

Time for reflection

In conclusion then, Baron Karl von Drais invention in 1817 is still having a positive impact 200 years later. It is good to know that one person’s ideas and creativity can benefit and help society for many years to come.

I wonder if there are any students here who might one day create or invent something that has such lasting significance?

Dear God,
It is good to know that the invention of the bicycle in 1817 has had such an impact on our world.
The bicycle has enabled people to travel, explore, learn and get exercise.
We thank you for the creativity and ingenuity behind Karl von Drais’ invention.
When we think about our environment and how we can take care of our world,
May we choose options that help to care for it – and this includes choosing bikes or walking over driving.
We also pray for charities such as Re-Cycle. May they be able to support people in need by providing bicycles to help them in their lives.

Publication date: July 2017   (Vol.19 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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