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]

Jims59.com

Jims59.com

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    

1952 Schwinn Red Phantom Mens Tank Bike Vintage Springer Black B6 Bicycle S2 WowHutch Trickstar Oringinal Chrome Frame And Fork; Old School Bmx1968 Schwinn Lemon Peeler Krate Bike Vintage Stingray Vintage Bicycle Stik S2!1980 Torker Long Shimano Dx Cranks Skyway Tuff Ii Old School Bmx Vintage Suntour1974 Vintage Jack Taylor Super Tourist Randonneur Bicycle - Excellent!1965 Sears Spyder Chrome Muscle Bike Vintage Stick Shift Bicycle 3-speed Murray!Colnago Super 1976 - Full Campagnolo Nuovo Record - Complete Panto Kit! Size 52Vintage Schwinn Bicycle Original First Year 68 Apple Krate Stingray,antique,bikeHawthorne Trail Blazer Prewar Tank BicycleVintage Pre War Schwinn Cadillac Boys Bike Bicycle For Parts Or RestoringGt Bmx Performer Pro World Tour Hutch Pk RipperSuperb Quality Vintage Leather Brooks Bicycle Cycle Bike Saddle No.b.17Vintage Bertin Road Bicycle French Andre Bertin Reynolds 531 59cmVintage 1952 Schwinn Black Phantom Colnago Mexico 1980 Completely Chromed! Campagnolo Super Record + Panto - Rare!1971 Gitane Tour De France Road BikeMongoose Vinyl Bar Pad, 1981 Supergoose, Moosegoose, Motomag Old School BmxRedline Brute Stem, Early 1980's Old School Bmx; Made In JapanDiacompe Mx-1000 Rear Brake, Gold, Stamped 1981 W/ Tech 3 Lever, Old School BmxVintage 1961 26" J.c. Higgins Mens Flightliner Bicycle Rat Trap Springer SearsSchwinn B6 Springer Tank Bike-western Flyer-roadmasterluxuary Liner-columbia Rx5Torker "old School" Vintage Bmx - Original Owner! Mongoose Vinyl Frame Pad, 1981 Supergoose, Moosegoose, Motomag Old School BmxA Fine Vintage Pair Of Boa Bicycle Bike Racing PedalsMonark Airman Bicycle 1941 Nice Condition 1973 Schwinn Stingray 5 Speed~all Original Great Condition~fenderless 1965 Schwinn Stingray Super DeluxeGt Pro Handlebars Santa Ana 27 1/2" Chrome, Old School Bmx W/original StickersDyno Taboo Tiki Bicycle Bike By Von Franco 26" Cruiser ExcellentSchwinn Stingray Apple Krate 1972 Original Owner Take A Look1969 Schwinn Typhoon Mens Beach Cruiser Bike Vintage Campus Green Bicycle S7!Mongoose Vinyl Stem Pad, 1981 Supergoose, Moosegoose, Motomag Old School BmxAntique Bicycle, New Departure Hubs, Schwinn, Elgin, Huffman, Shelby, Etc.Shimano Dx Pedals, Gold, Early 1980's Old School BmxAntique Prewar Ladies Bicycle Seat+post Vintage Schwinn Elgin Hawthorne RollfastVintage Very Rare 1930's Sunbeam Bicycle Bike Celluloid Pump Made By BaileysVintage Lucas Bike , Bicycle Lamp , Light Vintage - Raleigh Bomber Black1990s Schwinn Deluxe Cruiser Mens Tank Bike Vintage B6 Phantom Bicycle+springer!Vintage Coppertone Schwinn Stingray De Luxe Boys Muscle BikeVintage Prewar Elgin Twin Bar Boys 26" Bicycle Barn Fresh SurvivorAntique Rat Trap Bike Pedals Toc 1800's Early 1900's Vintage 1979 Bmx Mongoose (supergoose) All Original Plus Mods1940s Schwinn Locking Springer Fork, Complete With Key Works Perfectly! Eddy Merckx Corsa Extra 7-eleven Prewar Huffman 3 Ribbed Zephyr Bicycle TankVintage 1968 Schwinn Stingray Runabout Bicycle1896 Antique Jaques Cycling Board Game Wheeling Ripley Surrey Map Bicycle Rules Schwinn Fast Back Stingray 5 Speed Center Shifter 1969 GreenSchwinn Tank Nos, Antique BicycleVintage Schwinn Pre-war Straight Bar Fram Autocycle 26" Balloon Bicycle1987 Gt Pro Freestyle Old School BmxOriginal 1957 Schwinn 26" Deluxe HornetAntique Jos Lucas Ltd King Holophote Oil Lamp Bicycle Cycle Bike C.1891 - Uv/23Vintage Trek 400 Mens Usa Road Bike Vintage Red Bicycle Cro-moly Sakae Matrix!1980s Bmx Old School Gt Zoot Scoot Scooter 4130 Chromoly Gyro Odyssey BrakesOriginal Schwinn Red 1959 Mark Iv Jaguar Schwinn American Bicycle Bike -2 Speed Kickback Mod.-- (a 2 2 9 1 7 8)1920s Joseph Lucas "silver King" Vintage Bicycle Lamp.1950s Hawthorne Mens Bike Tank Cw Hot/rat Rod Wards Roadmaster Columbia Vintage!

Recent News: Bicycles

Source: Google News

New tenants unveil more of their plans for cafe in former TIC base
Mid Devon Gazette, July 25th

The couple are planning a ride past on vintage bicycles and a children's cupcake design competiton as part of the excitement around the opening. Explaining the concept behind the cafe to be called Elsie May's, Mandy said: “It will be very British, not ...Read more

Top 5 things to do in Jackson includes FolkGalore, Wayland, car shows
The Jackson Citizen Patriot, July 24th

Anyone entering a vehicle can begin to do so from 9 a.m. to noon for $10. Goodie bags are available for the first 50 entries. Trophies for the top 20 cars, best in show and best vintage bicycles will be awarded at 3 p.m. For more information, call 517...Read more

Sauder Village hosting 31st Annual Teddy Bear Show
Napoleon Northwest Signal, July 24th

Archbold — Sauder Village will be bustling with activity on Aug. 2 and 3 as guests from throughout the Midwest gather for the 31st Annual Doll and Teddy Bear Show and Sale as well as the 20th Biennial Meet of the Ohio Wheelmen. With doll exhibitors ...Read more

Word Around Town
Battle Creek Enquirer, July 23rd

Trophies for the top 20 cars, best of show and two vintage bicycles will be presented at 3 p.m.. Proceeds from the car show will help support ongoing restoration work at the farm and other Homer Historical Society projects. Blair Historical Farm is...Read more

Home News Toronto Vintage Bicycle Show rolls into Trinity...
insideTORONTO.com, July 22nd

Got a classic on two wheels? Come celebrate bike culture at this year's Toronto Vintage Bicycle Show. The third annual event happens Sunday, July 27 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Vendors can display their bikes for $50 (retail) and...Read more

Local business spotlight: Ichi Bike
DesMoinesRegister.com, July 21st

CONNECTTWEETLINKEDINCOMMENTEMAILMORE. Located in downtown Des Moines' East Village, Ichi Bike specializes in custom-built bikes, conversions and vintage bicycle repair and revitalization. Owner Dan Koenig — a former bike messenger in San ...Read more

110 bicyclists re-create historic photo on Main Street in Concord
Concord Monitor, July 20th

To add to the historical atmosphere at the event, Zip and Carol Zamarchi of Eliot, Maine, brought several antique penny farthing and wooden-wheeled bicycles for participants to pose with. The Zamarchis collect antique bicycles and own about 70 of them...Read more

Five Bridge Tweed Run in St. Petersburg
CRIENGLISH.com, July 20th

Dressed in vintage clothes, participants in St. Petersburg, Russia, ride on vintage bicycles during this year's Five Bridge Tweed Run, which was held in the city's center on Saturday. London played host to the first-ever tweed run back in 2009. [Photo...Read more