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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Pint to pint: The Swan, W YorkshireTelegraph.co.uk, April 16th
They include a folk club, jazz concerts, theatrical performances, comedy, poetry, small-scale opera and much more besides. The noticeboard by the front door is always a delight. I liked the sound of the “Saddleworth Tour de Tweed, a Vintage Bicycle...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
Enjoy free market for St George and beer!Sleaford Today, April 13th
There will also be a display of vintage bicycles at the market. For younger children, a letter search will be held on Boston Road Recreation Ground, from 11am. Entry forms on the day from the kiosk. Entrants will be given a chocolate egg on completion...Read more
Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains to hold Mitzvah DayNJ.com, April 11th
Outside service projects include: helping Habitat for Humanity repair a home for a family in need; assisting with the Plainfield Dairy Queen's used bicycle collection for children; an intergenerational talent show to entertain nursing home residents at...Read more
Glimpsing local history on wheelsKeepMEcurrent.com, April 10th
It was an important acquisition for us.” Another important piece of transportation history is the bicycle. On April 17, the museum will host a program on the development of the two-wheeled transport featuring Zip Zamarchi, a bicycle collector and...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
Quack, Quack--Duck Derby has Vintge Bike!Wgnsradio, April 5th
The prize for the “Last Duck Standing” in the Child Advocacy Center Duck Derby is a bicycle from Smoopy's Vintage Bicycles! Andrew Logan of Smoopy's Vintage Bicycles is building the vintage custom bike. Clint Brown of Hendersonville is donating 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