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]

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    

1953 Schwinn Dx Challenger Mens Tank Bike Vintage Spitfire Bicycle+rack Antique!Schwinn Excelsior Motorbike Prewar Bicycle Springer Crossbar!Old School Team Mongoose Bmx Rare Gt Ultra Dyno Cranks Nice1956 J.c. Higgins Jetflow Boy’s BicycleOriginal 1952 Schwinn Phantom1948 Schwinn WhizzerNos Olmo Super Gentleman Vintage Size 53 Campy Groupset (colnago,masi,cinelli)Old School Bmx 83 Haro Freestyler, Se Landing Gear , Cw Hutch Gt Schwinn Apple Krate---1971---good Working Condition--no Reserve !!!!Ukai Speedline With Hi Flange Acs Hub Wheelset; 3rd Wheel Araya, Old School Bmx1969 Schwinn Stingray Fastback Stik Shift Muscle Bike Vintage 3-speed Bicycle S5Vintage ~ Original ~c1940~ " Auto Cycle Union Repairer " - Enamel Sign - AcuNos Persons Schwinn Mens Bicycle Seat Panther Tank Deluxe B6 Black Phantom Dx 40Antique Bicycle Tricycle Hub Oil Lamp Lantern Judd Lindsay & Co London C1890Peugeot U08 Vintage Lightweight Never Ridden Mafac Simplex Lyotard French PivoCenturion Pro Tour 15 Touring Bicycle From 1984 Vintage Classic Lugged Steel 1991 F Moser Vintage Time Trial Bicycle Campagnolo C Record Delta Disc MavicBelknap Bluegrass T-bird Huffy Rail 3 Speed Muscle Bike1985 Haro Freestyler Fst - Survivor - 1987 Skyway O.e. Mags - Old School Bmx....Steve Potts - Wtb- Mountain Bike 1998Vintage Shelby Bicycle, 1940, Pre War, Skiptooth, Springer Fork, Tank HornRare 90's Gt Bmx Speed Series Team 24" Bicycle Bike Gt 4130 Chromoly Frame AlcoaPrewar Antique Shelby Hiawatha Gambles Bicycle No Reserve1964 Schwinn Fleet 24" Mens/boys Tank Bike Vintage Red Typhoon Bicycle Rare!1960s Schwinn Bike Rack Panther Jaguar Corvette Typhoon Carrier Vintage FleetVictor Vintage Mens Bicycle, Circa 18891992 Team Fat Chance - Yo Eddy! Rare - Vintage Mountain Bike 18.5" Original Fork1896 The Aladdin Lamp Co Bicycle Kerosene Lantern Nickle Plated W Jewels1941 Hiawatha Ladies Tank Bike Vintage Elgin Bicycle Prewar Balloon Mercury 1940Vtg Diamond Skip Tooth Bicycle Chain Pre-war Era Schwinn & Others N.o.s. 55 Inch*****vintage Schwinn Bicycle Horn Tank*****Vintage 1930s Western Flyer Tank Bike Shelby/hawthorne Schwinn Bicycle PrewarCw Racing Zs Expert Bmx Survivor BikeVintage Prewar Bicycle Schwinn Drop Stand Motorbike B10 Autocycle Elgin Monark1972 Orange Krate Schwinn Bicycle Muscle Bike With Disc Brakes On Rear RestoredBridgestone Rb-1 Synergy Road Bike - Free Continental Us Shipping1968 Schwinn Stingray 5 Speed1980's Original Vintage Bmx Square Pro Neck Blue Anodized Old School 4-bolt StemVintage Bmx - Red 1979 Mongoose Orig Motomag Ii's Good Straight Bike, No Min Nr!1965 Schwinn Stingray Coppertone Boys Muscle Bike Vintage 2-speed Bicycle S2Williams Globe Bicycle Oil Lamp Lantern Light Mint Not CarbideRedline Rl20 Complete Bike Old School Bmx1995 Gt Performer Bmx Bike1950's Jc Higgins Colorflow Delta Sealed Beam Bicycle LightVintage 1981 Miyata Six Ten 610 Grand Touring Bike 15 Speed Size 54 1952 Schwinn Black Phantom Mens Tank Bike Vintage Red Springer B6 Bicycle S2 50sVintage Millers Monarch Bicycle Cycling Carbide Lamp Schwinn Bicycle Typhoon Bendix 2 Speed R Hub 26in S-7, Panther Fleet AmericanVintage Antique C1900's Vitaphare Carbide Acetylene Cycle Bicycle LampRestored 1930s Long Spring Sewn Edge Mesinger Schwinn B10 Etc Saddle Gold Stitch1940's Vintage Whizzer Motorbike Motor For Parts Or Repair Only 1981 Vintage Bmx Takagi Japan Journey Blue Anodized Old School Crankset CrankVintage Bicycle Schwinn Hornet Frame Men Balloon S-2 Panther Phantom Wasp B6Vintage Pre War Wards Hawthorne Deluxe Flyer Bicycle Fork Cruiser Rat Bike1969 Schwinn Fastback Stingray 5 SpeedVintage Girardengo Italian Road Bike. Super Champion Rims, Campy Cranks. Red. Vintage Delta Bicycle Tail Lights Red Green. W/bracked. Model A1850 Deluxe1948 Roadmaster Luxury Liner Vintage Bicycle Reproduction1998 Perfect 50s Frejus Model Tour De France Campagnolo Vintage Road Bike Mavic 3t Steel RareVintage Prewar Bicycle Shelby Front Light Silver King,monark Colson Schwinn

Recent News: Bicycles

Source: Google News

Coopersburg Community Day returns for 23rd year this weekend
The Express-Times -, September 19th

Other performers include the Geryville Hobo Band, the Donald Pearce Barbershop Quartet and the City of Bethlehem Bagpipe Band, organizers said. Phydeaux's Flea Circus, the Victorian High Wheelers, Bob Swain and his bicycle collection will be on hand, ...Read more

South Rowan embraces transformation
Salisbury Post, September 17th

Two old window frames hang on the wall from her grandparents' home, and an antique bicycle graces one corner. Anderson grouped the desks together at the front of the room in a “U” shape for better communication, and included a table in the back of the ...Read more

Where to Celebrate Oktoberfest in the Bay Area
7x7, September 16th

While enjoying the beer, food, and live music, be sure to check out the bikes. Biketoberfest will have over 70 bike exhibitors, organized mountain and road rides, a parade, vintage bicycle show, cargo bike jubilee, valet bike parking, and kid-centered...Read more

Inventors share their ideas at annual Maker Faire
Kansas City Star, September 16th

New this year was an exhibit of classic and antique bicycles by the Bicycle Museum of America from New Bremen, Ohio. One item that at first looked completely out of place among the bikes was a pedal-powered trolling motor that could be affixed to a...Read more

County fair opens today
Greenville Daily Reflector, September 15th

The Pitt County American Legion Agricultural Fair, which typically rolls into town in October when the night air is crisp, beats fall to the punch this year with a September showing. Offering “A Circus of Fun,” the fair begins today and will be packed...Read more

Tinkerers share their clever designs at Maker Faire
News Sentinel, September 15th

New this year was an exhibit of classic and antique bicycles by the Bicycle Museum of America from New Bremen, Ohio. One item that at first looked completely out of place among the bikes was a pedal-powered trolling motor that could be affixed to a...Read more

Pryor Dodge?s Two-Wheeled Obsession Is Now a Museum of Bike History
Daily Beast, September 15th

In 1993, he was talking to a major bicycle collector with whom he had a relationship, a fellow who was getting on in years. “And during one phone conversation he said he wasn't sure what was going to happen to his collection,” Dodge says. “I wasn't the...Read more

GALLERY: St Erth Vintage Bicycle Ride
Cornishman, September 4th

GALLERY: St Erth Vintage Bicycle Ride. By CMphotogreg | Posted: September 04, 2014. ST ERTH was transported in to another era on Sunday as a charity vintage bike ride got under way. 0Share 0Share 0Tweet 0Share. Report this gallery. 1 of 21...Read more