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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Former Cape May County resident's huge, and unique, auto collection up for ...Press of Atlantic City, April 17th
The museum even had horse-drawn vehicles, including an ice wagon, a Conestoga wagon and an omnibus built in 1900. Farm vehicles include a 1916 International Harvester Model EX truck. There are also antique bicycles, airplane engines and car parts...Read more
Mark Your CalendarFoster's Daily Democrat, April 17th
SPRINGVALE — On Thursday, April 17, bicycle collector Zip Zamarchi, of Eliot, will give a free presentation on the development and social importance of bicycles at the Sanford-Springvale Historical Museum at 505 Main Street at 7 p.m. Zamarchi's 40...Read more
Photography provides chance to travel, contest winner saysVictoria Advocate, April 16th
Kevin Esparza, of San Antonio, Reflections. Honorable mentions - Jack Greeson, of Victoria, Eyes on You; Kevin Esparza, of San Antonio, Mirage; Marsha Gibson, of Cuero, It is I. Black and White. 1. Dr. Carol Fox Henrichs, of College Station, Vintage...Read more
Richson: Iowa City's divided soulUI The Daily Iowan, April 16th
When I think Iowa City in the spring and summer, for example, I think of trendy vintage bicycles and people selling friendship bracelets in front of bars and bizarre activities happening on the Pentacrest. When I think of Iowa City in the fall, I think...Read more
"Off to the races" for Nishnabotna Stoney Point FFAKMAland, April 16th
The vehicles are built of lightweight steel tubing and can reach speeds of upwards of 25 to 30 mph with their vintage bicycle engines. The FFA students did all the fabrication and welding along with engine and wheel placement of the vehicles as well...Read more
Ansonia Festival of Bikes takes to streets May 4New Haven Register, April 15th
David Pooler will be on hand to talk about several of his antique bicycles, and Matt Feiner of Devil's Gear, a New Haven bicycle shop, will add to the festivities by riding around on a high-wheeler. Feiner will lead the riders down Main Street as they...Read more
Pedals for Progress used bicycle collection is May 17 in CranfordCranford Chronicle, April 9th
Pedals for Progress (P4P), in its continuing effort to recycle bicycles properly, will stage a used bicycle collection on Saturday, May 17, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Orange Avenue Pool parking lot, 1025 Orange Ave., Cranford. The...Read more
Soldier unwinds with his vintage bicyclesTheredstonerocket, April 2nd
While he wanted a bike like his grandfather's, his parents said as a child he wasn't responsible enough to own an antique bicycle. Instead, in 1984 when he was 8 years old, he received a BMX as his first bike as a Christmas present. “I rode it to...Read more