On Bicycles and Volcanoes
“the bright sun was extinguish’d … morn came and went – and came, and brought no day” – Darkness by Goerge Gordon, Lord Byron
Did you know that you are riding your bike today because of a volcanic eruption in Indonesia? Bear with me.
The wheel was invented sometime between 6,500 to 4,500 years ago. Wheeled vehicles appeared at some point in the 4th millennium BC and a wheel – axle combination was created around 3,000 BC. It took another five millennium for a German inventor – 32 year old Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbronn to take the next step. In the Northern Hemisphere 1816 was the year ‘without summer’. The harvest failed. In Ireland alone, 65,000 people died. In Southern Germany, famine conditions prevailed and farmers unable to feed their horses, killed them. The young Baron, seeing a world without horse power and thus more human hardship, went to work and created a mechanical horse on wheels – the first two-wheel mechanism – called “laufmachine” or “running machine”. (also later called the velocipede, draisine (English) or draisienne (French), also nicknamed the dandy horse.) The rest, of course, is history.
What affected the weather so badly that it created a world-wide famine which, in turn, inspired the Baron to get going? An enormous volcanic erruption in Indonesia, that’s what.
If you cycle the Trans – Oceania Bicycle Expedition, you can join with us as we pay homage to the Gods of the Volcanoes who in 1815 unleashed the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history, killing hundreds of thousands of people, covering large parts of the world with ash clouds and, in the process, inspiring the creation of what eventually become the bicycle.
Pedaling through Indonesia from Medan, Sumatra to East Timor will put us in close proximity to numerous volcanos where we will have the opportunity to pay homage to the God, Vulcan (from whom the word volcano is derived). On the island of Java, cyclists will be able to actually cycle on the edge of the volcano Bromo (derived from Javanese pronunciation of Brahma the creator). After cycling by even more volcanoes in Bali and Lombok we will then spin through West Nusa Tengarra – the home of Tambora, the volcano that exploded in 1815. This event started a chain reaction that eventually led to the creation, half a world away, of the wooden horse and thus eventually allowing our 30 intrepid riders to use their own ‘running machines’ to journey amongst these fiery peaks.
It is there – hopefully with a good view of the volcano – that I plan to stop and contemplate the power of destruction and creation, death and birth, the cycle of life and pay my respects to the Gods. Then I will, in all humbleness, offer my thanks that there is such thing as a bicycle, a machine that has given me much pleasure – from the time I was three years old right up to the present day.
*As a side note the nasty weather that year had another effect – On holiday by Lake Geneva the 18-year-old Mary Shelley and her husband Percy were trapped in Lord Byron’s house by constant rain. To divert his guests Byron suggested a competition to write a ghost story. The result was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Pay homage to the Volcanic Gods of Indonesia. Join us for one, or all, of the Indonesian sections of the Trans-Oceania Bicycle Expedition: Sumatra Sutra, Java Jive, Volcanoes & Temples, Spice Island Hopping.