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    

1974 Vintage Jack Taylor Super Tourist Randonneur Bicycle - Excellent!Colnago Mexico 1980 Completely Chromed! Campagnolo Super Record + Panto - Rare!Colnago Super 1976 - Full Campagnolo Nuovo Record - Complete Panto Kit! Size 52Monark Airman Bicycle 1941 Nice Condition Schwinn Stingray Apple Krate 1972 Original Owner Take A LookMongoose Supergoose Original Chrome Frame And Tange Fork; Old School BmxVintage 1917? Western Flyer Pre War Moto-bike Bicycle1990s Schwinn Deluxe Cruiser Mens Tank Bike Vintage B6 Phantom Bicycle+springer!1980s Bmx Old School Gt Zoot Scoot Scooter 4130 Chromoly Gyro Odyssey BrakesVintage Coppertone Schwinn Stingray De Luxe Boys Muscle Bike1966 Schwinn Deluxe Stingray Coppertone Boys Muscle Bike Vintage Bicycle S2 Gold1920s Joseph Lucas "silver King" Vintage Bicycle Lamp.Antique Vtg 1920s Shelby Bicycle Braced Handlebars + Headlight Plunger Horn StemSchwinn Sting Bmx Frame / Fork / Crank / Handlebar - Vintage 1980s RareVintage Prewar Elgin Twin Bar Boys 26" Bicycle Barn Fresh SurvivorColnago Pursuit Master Piu Pista Lo Pro Track Search Light Bicycle/motorcycle Oil Lantern/lamp Old Vtg Antique Nickel PlatedOld School Mtd Mx Bmx Bike Mags Motomag Wheels Bicycle Hutch Lester Acs Rims Gt!Rare 1940/41 Prewar Cleveland Welding Roadmaster /hawthorne Ball Head Light! Wow1987 Gt Pro Freestyle Old School BmxOriginal Schwinn Red 1959 Mark Iv Jaguar Pre War Schwinn Motorbike, Autocycle Completely Restored 26 In. Wheel Set1967 Schwinn Typhoon Coppertone Mens Cruiser Bike Vintage Rat Rod Bicycle S7!Schwinn Vintage Bike Rack Clamp Jaguar Bicycle Panther American 4 Reflector 26"Original 1957 Schwinn 26" Deluxe Hornet1968 Schwinn Stingray Runabout 3 Speed Stick Shift Nice ! Mostly Orig New TiresAntique Rat Trap Bike Pedals Toc 1800's Early 1900's Vintage Schwinn Sting Ray Deluxe BicycleSchwinn Sting-ray Bike Sky Blue With Schwinn Sting-ray Rear Slik Tire P96Vintage Joseph Lucas Silver King Oil Burner Bicycle Lamp / Front Light / LanternVintage 64cm Davidson Impulse Cinelli Duraace Shimano 600 Tricolor 64 Cm BicycleOld School Vintage Peregrine Master Graphite Compostie 20" Bmx Bike Mag WheelsOdyssey Green Front And Rear Brake With Gyro & Rx-3 Levers, 1985 Old School BmxVintage Trek 720 Touring Bicycle Frame1940s Firestone Cruiser Balloon Tire Bicycle W Tank Complete Rat Bike Skip ToothBridgestone Rb2 Synergy - 1990 Model Road BikeVintage Schwinn Cadillac Boys Men Bike Bicycle For Parts Or RestoringLiotto Cromovelata Vintage Italian Road Bike Rino Crono/campagnoloBendix 2-speed Kickback Hub Schwinn Corvette Panther Jaguar Hollywood Vintage1967 Schwinn Paramount P-14 Chrome Track BikeBadger Brass Solar Bicycle/motorcycle Carbide Lantern/lamp Old Vtg AntiqueVintage Antique 26 In Tank Schwinn Balloon Bicycle Post War SurvivorSchwinn Like Tornado B6 Autocycle Phantom Panther S2 Tank Cruiser 1970s John Deere Boys Muscle Bike Vintage Tractor Theme Bicycle Wide Slick Tire!Schwinn Krate Checkered Racing Mirror Excellent...Schwinn Rams Horn Fastback Bike Coppertone 1967 Vintage 20"M&w 98 Bicycle/motorcycle Oil Lantern/lamp Waterbury Ct Old Antique 1897 PatentVintage Schwinn Horn Tank B6 Phantom Autocycle Bike 26 Bicycle Og CantileverSchwinn Mini Sting F&f,the Sting Competition,old School Bmx,v Bars,28.6 Clamp.Mid 1930's Pre War Bicycle Drop Stand Schwinn OthersOriginal Prewar Nos Bike Fender Ornament Emblem ++ Falcon De Rosa Titanio Eos (titanium) Campagnolo Record - Small Size! 49cmJack Taylor 1960 "tour Of Britain," Full Chrome, 25", Completely Original** Vintage Sears Spaceliner Bicycle Tank, Light & Horn, Old Cruiser Rat Bike **Vintage Antique Bicycle Highwheel Safety Lamp Lantern Not CarbideVintage 1970s Raleigh Chopper 5 Speed Muscle Bike*** Vintage Sears Spaceliner Bicycle Rear Light ** Old Cruiser Rat Bike ***Raleigh Chopper Mkii Parts Sissy Bar Springs Caps Rack 1970s 1960 Schwinn *hornet* Men's Cruiser 26" Bike Vintage Bicycle! Classic Ride!1990's Gt Pro Performer Bmx Bike Built In Usa Nice"

Recent News: Bicycles

Source: Google News

Bike shows at History San Jose
Contra Costa Times, July 27th

The Shiny Side Up show seemed to break down into roughly three categories: vintage bicycles, custom-made cruisers of all sizes, and bicycles made of all manner of junk. One bike made of rebar -- metal construction rods -- looked like it came out of...Read more

VIDEO: Next stop the Trolleybus Museum
South Yorkshire Times, July 27th

Other attractions included the vintage bicycle museum, transport bazaar, an old pre-fab bungalow as it was in the 1950s, and a real ale tent. The next big event at the museum is the Blues and Twos event for classic emergency vehicles on August Bank ...Read more

Bluegrass/Folklife festival set for Aug. 8-9 in Henderson
Courierpress/news/gleaner/, July 25th

Folklife and children's activities will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 9. Exhibitors include a children's harmonica workshop, children's games, origami, antique bicycle display, dulcimer performers, herb demonstration, quilting, knitting, crocheting...Read more

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

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