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    

Masi Prestige Model 3v New Old StockSears Screamer Vintage Muscle Bike1938 Schwinn Motorbike Mens Bike Frame+lock Forks Vintage Prewar Tank Autocycle!Hutch Trick Star - Old School Bmx Freestyle - Baby Blue - Unrestored OriginalPrewar Hawthorne 5-bar Mens Super Frame Bike Antique Monark Bicycle 1930s Five!1936 Elgin Robin Bicycle1961 Schwinn Speedster Bright Green Mens Cruiser Bike Vintage Typhoon Bicycle S7Raleigh Chopper Blue Bike Bicycle 3 Speed England Banana Muscle Sturmey ArcherMongoose Motomag 1981 100% Original,old School BmxSchwinn Hurricane 5 Krate 5 Speed StingrayRare Vintage Shelby Air Flow Handlebars,hiawatha,prewar,antique,colson,bike,old1950s Schwinn Phantom/whizzer Etc Scripted Drum Brake Lever! Restored /rechromeHutch Trickstar F/fVintage Prewar Elgin 26" Boys Bicycle BikeTom Ritchey Handmade Mountain Bike Fillet Brazed Sugino Araya Campagnolo 22"Schwinn Paramount Track FrameElf 24 Inch Bmx CruiserAlan Super Record In *vgc*Schwinn Cruiser Horn TankVintage Trek 700 Road Bike Reynolds 531 Campagnolo Crankset Brooks Seat $0.99 NrBendix 2-speed Kickback Hub+rim Schwinn Racer Breeze Corvette Typhoon Jaguar Nr!Vintage Red Line Bow Pedals For Schwinn Huffy Muscle Or Cruiser Bicycle Excel Xl1985 Gt Pro Series Bicycle 20" Cr-mo Frame & Fork Old School Bmx Santa Ana CaSchwinn, Corvette, 3 Speed Bike Cool, Very Original, Vintage, Barn Find1970 Schwinn Stingray Boys Muscle Bike Vintage Green Banana Seat Bicycle S7 SlikAntique Motorcycle Or Bicycle Push Plunger HornBianchi Reparto Corse Vintage Italian Road Bike Campagnolo DedacciaiVintage Old School Bmx Pro Neck Bull Dog Stem National Pro Tuf Pk Ripper Gold GtBianchi Gewiss Ballan 1994 Nicola Minali Road Bike Campagnolo Pro Road BikeAntique Schwinn Delta Silver Ray Vintage Headlight Fender MountedExcellent Orig Nos And Rechromed 1950s Schwinn Springer Fork 75% Parts -all Nice1995 Schwinn Black Phantom Centennial Edition, Replica, 100th AnniversaryFollis 472 Road Bike Campy Nuovo Record Strong Light 3t Mafac Suntour SuperbeGlockner Rad From Early 50's Campagnolo Reynolds 531 Vintage Cleveland Welding Roadmaster Bicycle Antique Balloon Tire Pre-warNice Looking Antique Lucas Bicycle Cycle Lamp Light CarbidePrewar Schwinn Bc 117 Schwinn Motorbike Autocycle Hanging Tank RareVintage Schwinn "mini" Twinn Sting Ray Two Seater 1968Schwinn Chicago Stingray Bicycle Banana Seat Coaster Brakes 20 Wheels Bike Vintage 1974 Schwinn Stingray 5 Speed Muscle Bike Survivor Bicycle Red Five Vintage Original Swingbike Bicycle Swing BikeOriginal Mk2 Raleigh Chopper Black Prismatic Model Great Condition 1935 Connecticut Tercentenary License Plate Topper Or Bicycle Reflector Glass 1968 1969 1970 Schwinn Sting Ray Nos Rear Slik Tire 1971 1972 1973 Krate SlickPrewar Jiffy Bicycle Kickstand 4 Schwinn Elgin Motorbike Bike Bicycle Shelby Nr!Schwinn Krate S7 S 7 16 Inch Front Wheel With BrakePrewar Hibbard Mens Camelback Bike Antique Original Paint Bicycle Elgin Cruiser!1985 Schwinn Predator Nighthawk 100% Og Mint Condition Survivor Old School Bmx!Alex Moulton Stowaway Vintage Bike (serial #k65290917) 1947 Schwinn Vintage Dx 26" Bicycle FrameMint Restored Prewar 1940 -early Post War Schwinn Brake Lever-b6-whizzer EtcVintage Prewar "torrington Neck " Bicycle Elgin, Hawthorn, Rollfast...???1950s Schwinn Balloon Tire"good Humor Trike" Coca Cola Vending Bike,phantom EraAmf Evel Knievel Tricycle Vintage 1970's Original Unused Decals !!! Rare Find!Schwinn Stingray Bicycle . Good Condition .Wow 1953 Dated Sturmey Archer 3 Speed Rear Drum Brake! Rare Schwinn Balloon Item1976 Schwinn Fair Lady Stingray Girls 3-speed Banana Seat Bike Vintage Bicycle!Oem Schwinn 1968 White Glitter 18 Inch Banana Seat Stingray Fastback & Others1940s-50s Schwinn B-1 Deluxe Mesinger Saddle-26"mens Whizzer/autocycle!Vintage Original Swingbike Bicycle Swing Bike Pivicycle

Recent News: Bicycles

Source: Google News

Pint to pint: The Swan, W Yorkshire, 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 4
New 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 Day, 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 wheels, 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 Cranford
Cranford 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 bicycles
Theredstonerocket, 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