Cyclists voted in their droves to make sure the bicycle won the Radio 4 poll to accompany this year's Reith Lectures. Reith Lecturer Lord Broers, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, accuses champions of the bicycle of scientific "misunderstanding."

Bicycle is best invention; Lord Broers is miffed

We’re rather good at this. Voting for the bicycle, that is.

A news story was carried on, and CTC did a round-robin email, mobilising the vote.

The bicycle beat contenders such as the internal combustion engine, radio and the internet to win 59 percent of the 5500 votes. The next closest innovations, with 8 percent of the vote each, were the transistor and the electro-magnetic induction ring.

Motorists may love their cars but, in internet polls, they don’t vote for the engines that power them. The infernal combustion engine garnered just three percent of the vote.

The bicycle has previously won similar ‘best invention’ polls, with mainstream journalists crying foul.

The claim is that cyclists skew the vote with "orchestrated campaigns."

This claim was made when cycling won a Radio 4/Patent Office ‘best invention’ poll in 2002. It was made again when cycling won the transport category in a best inventions poll conducted by The Times newspaper.

In 2002, biking boffin Adam Hart-Davies said pro-bike campaigning was proof that cyclists are clever and passionate about their activity.

The bicycle was championed as a bit of "seriously-minded impishness" in the You & Yours poll by Professor Heinz Wolff, emeritus professor of bioengineering at Brunel University.

He said the bicycle was a worthy winner: "The provision of affordable personal transport changed humanity by allowing us to do something which was otherwise difficult, or restricted to people who had a lot of money and could afford a horse. [The bicycle] changed the way humanity worked."

This year’s Reith lecturer was not altogether pleased that the bicycle topped the poll. In the first of a series of three lectures about technology, Lord Alec Broers complained that the bicycle beat electricity generation, the jet engine, the discovery of DNA and the invention of vaccinations in previous polls.

"The bicycle is, of course, an ingenious, practical, and sustainable invention, which brought new opportunities for people in every stratum of society, and which continues to offer benefits today," said Lord Broers in his first Reith Lecture.

"But to place it ahead of the fundamental accomplishments of Faraday, Stephenson, Maxwell, Thomson, Whittle, and Crick & Watson demonstrates in my mind a profound misunderstanding of the contribution of advanced technologies to our lives, and of the vast pyramid of scientific and technical achievement that underlies these technologies."

On today’s You & Yours, Lord Broers was more sanguine about the overwhelming success of the bicycle:

"Good for the bike," he said.

However, he bemoaned the fact that, and CTC campaigned for the bicycle.

"It shows you the power of modern technology, the voting came as a result of websites."


Bicycle – 59%

Transistor – 8%

Electro-magnetic induction ring – 8%

Computer – 6%

Germ theory of infection – 5%

Radio – 5%

Internet – 4%

Internal Combustion Engine – 3%

Nuclear Power – 1%

Communications Satellite – 1%

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