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.
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Kate WolseySalt Lake City Weekly, August 27th
In my early college days I didn't draw much, I got more into restoring vintage bicycle, sewing, and street art. Around 2009 I was taking some film classes at the University of Utah for my major and signed up for a traditional animation class. There was...Read more
Sun Moon Lake's new lake-sky-land 3D experienceTravelDailyNews Asia-Pacific, August 26th
Bikeday', is themed for antique bicycles and costumed riders this year. The charming antique bike riding event will be accompanied by beautiful fireworks and classical music performance by the lakeshore for tourists to fully experience the unique...Read more
Cyclist, skier says 'goodbye' to bike shopHampton Union, August 25th
"It's a bicycle collector's term. 'Swap meet' is a western term that got applied to bicycles. Really, that's not what it is," he said. "It's a flea market for used bikes and bike parts. If you need to sell something, we hope you will pay the $30 vendor...Read more
No gas necessaryGalesburg Register-Mail, August 23rd
KNOXVILLE — Cruise Night in Knoxville was about showing off vintage cars as usual but also featured an area with vintage and replica bikes made or restored by brothers-in-law Dick Biddle and Larry Lynch. The Knoxville men got into vintage bicycles as...Read more
He's a wheel collectorHamilton Spectator, August 23rd
As a captain with the Wheelmen — a global organization whose aim is to preserve antique bicycles and educate others about them — Tupper maintains various penny farthings (with 52- to 54-inch wheels) to accommodate people who think they might be ...Read more
Beach babe AnnaLynne McCord wears hippie dress for a cruise along the coast ...Daily Mail, August 21st
Having just jumped out of a plane for charity, she must have been feeling wild and free. So AnnaLynne McCord hit Venice Beach, California on Wednesday wearing floaty hippie attire and preserving energy by riding a bright orange vintage bicycle...Read more
Shiawassee Arts Council invites community and bike enthusiasts to 'Pedal Back ...The Flint Journal, August 20th
Great antique bicycles, old-time pedal cars and toys, a variety of vintage photographs, historic ads, signs and other nostalgic items will be on display," according to a release from the SAC. Pedal Back in Time is Saturday, Aug. 23, from 1-5 p.m., in...Read more
Caron defends high-wheel title in vintage styleFrederick News Post (subscription), August 16th
Take Oscar Bernatsky, a bicycle collector from Uruguay with a family legacy in Olympic cycling. Pennsylvanian Steve Weddles built his own ride last week. Jamie Woodward, of New Hampshire, once completed a 750-mile ride from Detroit to Philadelphia...Read more