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The evolution cartoon
This cartoon by John Stegmann portrays the evolution of a fish into a man-bicycle, and then into a man-fish-bicycle, and includes a (cave) woman. Surprisingly, Stegmann was unaware of the man/woman, fish/bicycle saying when he created the cartoon in 1981. At that time, he was editor of the newsletter of the Pedal Power Foundation of Southern Africa, Velocipede, in which the cartoon was first published. The cartoon was inspired by the work of the International Human Powered Vehicle Association (IHPVA).
The IHPVA was founded by innovators who were impatient with stagnation of bicycle design. This stagnation had resulted from the refusal of the Union Cycliste Internationale, the international body governing bicycle racing, to sanction competition using any type of bicycle except the standard diamond-frame bicycle, whose configuration was established in the 1890s.
The IHPVA promotes the design, construction and testing of high-performance human-powered vehicles, for practical use as well as for all-out competition. The IHPVA's focus has expanded from land vehicles to include human-powered aircraft, boats and even submarines.
Stegmann's cartoon has been very popular with IHPVA members, and often imitated. You may view additional web pages which display:
Stegmann has offered the following fascinating comments on his cartoon:
A description of the Sterkfontein Caves is to be found on a South African site. The site includes an animated evolution drawing and more information about Mrs. Ples.
Stegmann appears to be too modest about the origin of the cartoon. The evolution gag may have been used before in cartoons on other subjects, but apparently not streamlined bicycles. Dr. David Gordon Wilson, a founder of the IHPVA, who was in a good position to know, has stated that "I believe that John Stegmann is the honored (or not honored enough) originator of that cartoon, much copied everywhere."
Stegmann's unusually close encounter with evidence of human evolution evidently played into his inspiration for the cartoon, as did his passion for bicycles and bicycling.
The conventional view of evolution proceeds from the horizontal fish to the upright man, but Stegmann carries it further, to an even more upright man on a high-wheeler bicycle. Then the evolutionary path reverses itself -- first to a bicyclist in a racing crouch nearly identical to the caveman's slouch, then to a cyclist on a recumbent, whose posture mirrors that of the dinosaur, and finally back to a man-become fish inside the Vector recumbent tricycle's aerodynamic shell.
The cartoon is reminiscent of Oriental philosophies in which change is seen as a cycle which returns to its origin, and also reminiscent of the zoetrope, a precursor of the motion picture in which drawings in a strip lining a spinning, open-topped drum are viewed in quick succession through slits in the wall of the drum. Each drawing represents a different stage of motion, but the motion always has to return to the starting point, so that it remains smooth all around the circle. The zoetrope is good at portraying cyclic motions such as those of people and animals walking.
However, in Stegmann's cartoon, the man-become-fish represents a synthesis of an evolving life form with a more rapidly evolving technology -- a helical rather than circular progression.
 Vector: a make of faired, recumbent tricycle (like the one depicted at the right in the cartoon), ridden to set speed records around 1980.
 Stegosaurus: get it?
 "Mrs. Ples" is short for "Mrs. Plesianthropus." John Stegmann offers the following comments, from an e-mail message dated November 28, 2001:
 From an e-mail message dated 16 November 2001
 From an e-mail message dated 15 November 2001