Today is the 201st anniversary of the climax of the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia. This was the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history, and you have to go back 26,000 years to find a larger one. It was at least 1000 times more powerful that the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991. It wiped out an entire culture, caused tsunamis throughout Indonesia, killed an estimated 100,000 people in Indonesia and almost as many outside of that area. It ejected such a massive amount of volcanic ash into the upper atmosphere (and did so after 4 other very large volcanic eruptions) that it caused global temperatures to drop for about a decade. In 1816, it caused a "volcanic winter" not unlike a "nuclear winter" and that year became known as the "Year Without A Summer" (which was also the title of the worst of those stop motion animation specials that followed "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.")
How cold was the year without a summer? There was frost reported in Virginia in late August and people there had to keep fires going all year long to keep their homes warm enough. The cold resulted in massive crop failures worldwide and, coming at a time when it was still recovering from the Napoleonic Wars, the worst European famine of the 19th Century.
What does this have to do with biking?
Well, food shortages in Germany were so severe that Karl Drais, a young inventor (at the time he'd already invented the meat grinder), was unable to acquire enough oats to feed his horses and they had to be killed. He'd already invented a four-wheeled human powered vehicle (it doesn't seem that this was pedal driven, making it less like a quad-bike and more like a Flintstones car) but he began to think of a two-wheeled one that could replace the horse.
He eventually created the Laufmaschine ("running machine), better known as the Velocipede, hobby horse or dandy horse. This was basically a pedal-less bicycle - or a balance bike - and it could be considered the first ever bicycle.
He went on his first ride, the first-ever bicycle ride (depending on how one defines bicycle), on June 12, 1817. Which means that next year is the 200th anniversary of the bicycle - or the Bikecentennial (sorry entrepreneurs, that name is already trademarked).
[Before anyone jumps in with talk of the Celerifere, I'll note that it's existence is totally unverified]
I don't know what is being planned for next year; but if nothing, maybe I'll arrange for some balance bike races in the RFK parking lot (lederhosen optional) on Sunday June 11th. Winners will be presented the Karl Drais Cup by some low level German embassy staff person. Would it be insensitive to drink Bintang beer? Too soon?
In other words, if I'm asked to organize it, it will be cheap and weird.
BTW, Drais never made any money from his invention of the bicycle (though he did for the Drasine, the human-powered rail car so often seen in movies as hand pumped ones), and for political reasons, he died penniless.
Coincidentally, at the time of Drais' death, a young Carl Benz was living just two blocks away. [Was it coincidence, or was it murder? Conspiracy theory generated.]