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 hi...
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 "healthier" and more "hygienic" for its riders than steel. Other manufacturers such as Columbia produced roadsters with kerosene lamps in front of the handlebars, chain guards to protect women’s dresses from grease, and shock-absorbing, spring-mounted seats.
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.
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Vintage Cycle Enthusiasts Meet in Springfield - Ozarks FirstOzarksFirst.com, May 20th
Cycle collectors in southwest Missouri gathered on Commercial Street Sunday for the 28th annual Springtime In The Ozarks Festival and Swap Meet. The event featured motor scooters, motor bikes, antique and classic bicycles, as well as vintage bicycles...Read more
Penn Jillette's weekend plans: Baby-sit Trace Adkins' kids, beat Adkins on ...Las Vegas Weekly (blog), May 18th
The bike was ordered from a vintage-bicycle company in Portland, Ore., and shipped in specifically for the event. Anything for charity, right? And this is far from Jillette's only charitable effort. Teller and he have long served as spokesmen for Aid...Read more
NOEL PINEO: Something to offend everyone in race for 16th Senate DistrictBakersfield Californian, May 16th
He is also a substitute teacher, amateur paleontologist and vintage bicycle hobbyist. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity. loading next article...Read more
Ottertail Area Trade ShowPerham Focus, May 16th
There will be displays ranging from vintage bicycles to aggregate samples including sand, gravel and rock. Those attending will have the opportunity to sign up for Ottertail Emergency Weather Alerts. Free refreshments and prize drawings will also be...Read more
Good ol' days to roll againThe Durango Herald, May 15th
Bicycle collectors are enough of a force that they merit their own category in Bike Tribes: A Field Guide to the North American Cyclists by Mike Magnuson, published in 2012. The joy of riding a well-preserved bike is like looking through a View-Master...Read more
Meet James McDonald: ultimate bicycle collectorABC Online (blog), May 8th
Meet James McDonald: ultimate bicycle collector. 08 May 2013 , 8:27 PM by David Iliffe. 8720240140_f58b2faa14-1 If you were in any doubt as to what James McDonald's passion is, you'd only have to have a quick peek inside his Toowoomba home...Read more
St. Mark Church to hold electronics recycling, bicycle collection eventMassLive.com, May 2nd
111010-bicycles.JPG St. Mark Church in Springfield will hold an electronics recycling and bicycle collection day on May 4 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The church is seeking road, mountain, BMX adult and children's bicycles in good condition; most will be sent...Read more
Grand Rapids Vintage Bicycle Club travels in style through downtownThe Rapidian, April 24th
Established in 2009 by Ted Oostendorp of East Grand Rapids, The Grand Rapids Vintage Bicycle Club attracts vintage bicycle collectors and bike enthusiasts from all over West Michigan. Oostendorp and his family have been restoring vintage bikes for...Read more