The precursor to the modern-day bicycle was the 1817 Draisine, named for its German inventor, Karl von Drais. This two-wheeled machine lacked pedals, so cyclists straddled the bike and pushed it along with their feet. Despite their primitive design, these "swift-walkers," as they were sometimes called, were quite popular in 19th-century Europe and the United States, but as novelties rather than a serious means of transportation.

Around 1863, the wood-and-iron velocipede or "boneshaker" appeared in England and France. This was the first true bicycle, with pedals attached to the front wheel so that riders could propel themselves up hills. Some models had a rear "spoon" brake; most had a bell to keep horses from being spooked.

Because gears for bicycles had not yet been invented, the only way for engineers to increase the speed of a bike was to enlarge its front wheel. This led to the development of high-wheel bicycles in the latter part of the 19th century.

High-wheel bikes (also called penny-farthings) were eye-catching and not as difficult to get onto as they looked, but they were next to impossible to stop once they got going, which often resulted in crashes that would send the rider flying head first over the handlebars. Smart riders learned to ride downhill with their legs draped over the handlebars to mitigate the impact of sudden stops.

Manufacturers tried to solve the "header" problem with models like the Star and the Eagle, which placed the bike’s small wheel in front of the large one to give the rider a slightly better center of gravity. Tricycles with a small wheel in the front, two large wheels in the back, and a seat between them were another solution, favored by women in elaborate Victorian dress as well as professional men, for whom high-wheelers were not an especially dignified mode of transportation.

By the end of the 19th century, the high-wheelers were replaced by so-called "safety" bikes, which resemble the bikes we ride today. The key was a chain to drive the rear wheel.

In addition to steel, wood such as hickory and bamboo was used to construct the frames. Elliott Hickory Cycle Co. of Boston went so far as to tout the wood used in its bikes as "...

Some of these turn-of-the-century bike builders would go on to become prominent manufacturers of automobiles. George Pierce was making bicycles more than a dozen years before his company produced its first Pierce Arrow in 1903. The Pierce bicycle’s "monoshock" suspension was a far cry from the boneshaker bicycles of a half-century before. Similarly, Lozier cut its teeth on its line of Cleveland bicycles before becoming a renowned builder of luxury cars in 1900.

For collectors of antique racing bikes, the bicycles produced at the beginning of the 20th century are of particular interest. Track bikes by companies like Peugeot were designed to be stiff and responsive, with deep-drop handlebars to reduce the rider’s wind resistance. Chainless drives were also tried but quickly discarded. And by the 1930s, John "Pop" Brennan was producing frames that are considered prototypes of the contemporary handmade bicycle-frame industry.

The arrival of the derailleur in 1908 changed everything. Americans were slow to accept the device, and the English thought three gears were quite enough, but the French embraced the device. Consequently, a culture of cycling evolved in France, while bikes in the United States largely fell out of favor.

The vintage balloon-tire cruisers from the 1930s to 1950 brought the bicycle back into fashion in the U.S. In 1941, Colson made the Cruiser and Super Cruiser models for Firestone and the Clipper for Goodyear. Many vintage bikes from this era had fake gas tanks to imitate the ones on motorcycles, and built-in headlights and taillights. Some were gloriously painted two-tone jobs; others showed off their aluminum and chrome.

Murray was another company that had its own line as well producing bikes for third parties. In Murray’s case, it supplied bikes to Sears. Its house brand was the Mercury. Among other collectible brands from the pre-war era are Shelby, which made the gorgeous Speedline Airflow, whose sweeping and curving lines suggested movement even when the bike was standing still.

But it was the Schwinn that really changed the American perception of the bicycle, in particular with the 1933 Aerocycle with its awesome Buck Rogers design. The Auto Cycle followed, as did the heavily fendered and chromed Phantom and Jaguar.

By the middle of the 20th century, Schwinn was, as Schwinn collector Jim Snell puts it, "where bicycles came from for Christmas." In the 1960s and 1970s, if you were the luckiest kid on the block, that meant you spent Christmas morning riding your high-handlebar, banana-boat seat Stingray, Apple Krate, or Grey Ghost, some of which had a black-handle "Stik Shift" attached to the frame. Also collectible are the three-speed Schwinn Paramounts and Travelers from the 1950s and 1960s, and the classic 10-speed Varsity models from the 1960s and 1970s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]

Jims59.com

Jims59.com

Jim Snell’s tribute to the 1959 Chevy Impala and other Chevrolets (Bel Air, Two-Ten Wagon, etc.) from the 1950s a… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Colnago Super Mexico Special Edition Campagnolo 50th Anniversary Group Set NosBridgestone Xo-1 Rivendell Road Touring Lugged Steel Bicycle Nitto Japanese Colnago Pista Track Bicycle - Campagnolo Record Pista - Size 57 - Restored! RareVintage ~ Original ~c1900~ " Raleigh Cycles " Double Sided Shield ~ Enamel SignVintage ~ C1950 - Industrial - "dunlop Brake Blocks" - Spares Six Drawer Cabinet1969 Schwinn Orange Krate Bike Vintage Stingray Banana Seat Bicycle Stik S2 AtomRedline 80s Old School Bmx Chainring For Flights 401 Cranks. Vdc, Hutch, Skyway.1957 Schwinn Black Phantom Bicycle No Reserve. 1988 Colnago Duall Cyclocross 57.5cm C-c Campagnolo Clement Vintage Road BikeVintage ~ "joseph Lucas Ltd" ~ "no.344" Rear Bicycle Lamp With Original BoxAntique Jos Lucas Tblw Tricycle Safety Bicycle Oil Lamp.ordinary Penny Farthing.1968 Schwinn Stingray Fastback 3 Speed Garage FindDayton Huffman Firestone Fleetwood Twin Flex Tank Springer 26" BicycleVintage ~ C1940 ~ "hercules" Bicycle - Chain Ring Sprocket - Display StandRare - Vintage ~ C1920 ~ "sirram" Cyclists Saddle Bag Picnic SetRare~ Vintage~ C1899 ~ "jos. Lucas Ld. Acetylator" First Model(?) ~ Bicycle Lamp1995 Schwinn Deluxe Cruiser Mens Tank Bike Vintage B6 Phantom Bicycle+springer!100 Year Old Vintage Path Racer Bike Fancy Lugs, Leather Handlebars, Solida CatsRare - Vintage ~ Original ~c1920 ~ "phillips Bicycle" - Enamel SignVintage ~ C1900 ~ "h. Miller & Co. Ltd." "the Candlo" ~ Candle Bicycle LampVintage Prewar Long Spring Leather Troxel Bicycle Seat Saddle For Schwinn Etc.Vintage Guerciotti Lugged Columbus Steel 58cm Frame And Fork Campagnolo ItalianPogliaghi Italcorse €Vintage Prewar Elgin Antique Bicycle Rear Rack With LightVintage ~ "westwood Royal Ruby" ~ Rear Motorcycle Or Bicycle LampVintage Prewar Elgin Antique Bicycle Drop Stand Schwinn Monark Colson ShelbyNice Original Survivor 1987 Hutch Windstyler Old School Bmx Vintage Freestyle3 X Vintage ~ C1930 - Industrial - "renold" Chain Spare Parts - Stacking TinsVintage ~ Original ~c1900 ~ " National Cyclists Union " - Enamel Sign - N.c.u1972 Schwinn Paramount P13 BicycleAntique Vintage Pre-1920's Bicycle Badges *rare Collection* Lot Of 61 Look !Original Prewar Troxel Bicycle Seat Elgin RobinAntique New York Standard Cyclometer Mileometer. Safety Bicycle Tricycle. 1890'sPre-war 1939 - 1941 Vintage Elgin Miss America Bicycle 1968 68 Schwinn Orange Krate Vintage 5 Speed Restored Stingray Atom Drum Vintage Classic Atala Road Bike Lugged Columbus Italian Road BicycleVintage ~ "stanley & Hill" "motex Minor" ~ Rear Motorcycle Or Bicycle LampVintage Prewar Elgin Antique Bicycle Fenders And Skirt GuardAntique ~ C1900 - "the Welch-dunlop" ~ "bicycle Pump - Tyre InflatorVintage ~ Kohler & Son ~ The Kohler - Signal Horn ~ Swaine & AdeneySchwinn Sting RayVintage Prewar Early Postwar Leather Troxel Bicycle Seat Saddle For Schwinn Etc.1972 Schwinn Stingray Bicycle. No Reserve. 1980s Mongoose Decade Pro Freestyle Bmx Original Old School2 X Vintage ~ C1930 - Industrial - "renold" Chain Spare Parts - Stacking TinsVintage Prewar Monark Bicycle 1935 First Silver King Bike Port Hole RareL470- Antique Tribune Model A 29 Frame - Early 1900s Bicycle Parts Antique Prewar Vintage Bicycle Airplane Accessory1898 Spalding Christy Anatomical Bicycle Saddle Catalog - Chromo Skeleton CoverVintage ~ C1910 ~ "gamage, London." ~ "sunlight" ~ Bicycle LampBendix 2-speed Kickback Hub+rim Schwinn Corvette Panther Jaguar Breeze Hollywood1980 Diamond Back Large Pro Bmx Bike Bicycle - NrVintage 1960/70s Moulton Mk3 Mk Iii W/ Suspension Sturmey Archer ProjectVintage J.c. Higgins Bicycle Bee-hive Springer Fork From 26" 1950s ModelOld School Dyno Compe Bmx Bike Vintage Freestyle Bicycle Blue Gt Gyro Early!1968 Sears Screamer Muscle Bike Rams Horn- Like Schwinn Krate1954--schwinn Spitfire 20" Balloon Tire Rare Delta Ray Jr & 20 Inch Fork StrutsVintage "lucas Acetyphote" (birmingham,england) Cycle Acetylene/carbide LampAntique 1900s Original Dayton Ornate Bicycle Sprocket Part Touring Racer Rare1971-1972 Schwinn Manta Ray 5 Speed Bike Bicycle

Recent News: Bicycles

Source: Google News

Iowa Plans Bicycle Safety Measures After Fatalities Increase
Dumb-Out, October 28th

“I think it means it's time we work on a plan and devote more resource to bike and traffic safety,” admits Iowa Bicycle Collection executive director Mark Wyatt. So now local experts and organizers are working on a plan to help improve the conditions...Read more

Tip Sheet: Oct. 27, 2014
Montreal Gazette, October 27th

Cycle Nord-Sud Used Bicycle Collection Drive from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Coop la Maison Verte, 5785 Sherbrooke St. W. Collected bicycles will be shipped to communities in Africa and Latin America. Bikes must be in working order or repairable and have ...Read more

'Tweeds' pedal back in time
Seacoastonline.com, October 25th

Many dressed for the part and rode vintage bicycles, turning heads as they stopped for a group photo in Market Square in front of the North Church and then enjoyed a beverage on the outside terrace of the Book & Bar on Pleasant Street. Emma Nelson of ...Read more

Luca Tafuni on a fantastic vintage shop in Milan
The Guardian, October 24th

Recently I bought a vintage bicycle for my children, which is amazing. Tourists will find lots of little and not-too-expensive things – great for an unusual present. The guys have a second concept store just over the road, called 1380 OYA (it stands...Read more

Photos: A Race Against Time
New York Times, October 24th

But in the vineyards and rolling hills of the Chianti area of Tuscany, preserving the heritage of the white gravel roads inspired a vintage-bicycle race that has grown to more than 5,000 participants. L'Eroica, which means “the heroic” in Italian...Read more

Vintage trailers gather this weekend
Stockton Record, October 14th

according to Paul and Caroline Lacitinola, who publish Vintage Camper Trailers magazine. Vendors, a classic car cruise-in and vintage bicycles will also be featured at the fourth annual Trailerfest Rally. For more information, go to www...Read more

Getting From Here to There
Tristatehomepage.com, October 12th

Also in attendance were the Kentucky Wheelmen - a non-profit group dedicated to restoring antique bicycles. The Wheelmen will be in Louisville next week celebrating the Belle of Louisville's 100th anniversary. Copyright 2014 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc...Read more

Oktoberfest hosted Saturday
Sedalia Democrat, October 12th

The Cole Camp Maennerchor works to raise the Festbaum at Oktoberfest on Saturday in Cole Camp. This year the annual all-day event featured live German music, vendors, traditional German food, an antique bicycle show and an old engine and antique ...Read more