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    

Alex Singer Randonneuse, Late 70s, Reynolds 753Antique Mead Ranger Tall Mens Wood Rim Motorbike! Chicago Bicycle Schwinn Prewar1940s Master Bike Locks Dealer/store Sign Display Vintage Schwinn Bicycle Rare!Bates, Hetchins, Reynolds 531, Campagnolo,C1970 Montgomery Ward Hawthorne Chopper Muscle Bike-5 Speed-24x16-nr!Moser Alu Gara Italian Road Bike Campagnolo Veloce GroupsetRare!!! Vintage Bmx Se Racing Pk Ripper Looptail - Assmbled With Nos 80s Parts! Beautiful Vintage Mercian Track Bike Frame1987 Gt Performer Purple Old School Bmx 100% Original And Near Mint! Must See!Columbia Tank Vintage Bicycle Five Star Cruiser 50'sVintage 1920s Carbide Bicycle Lamp {red} Joseph Lucas Model No. 344Vintage 1983 Trek 620 Touring Road Bike 18 Speed 63cm Reynolds 531 Frame ShimanoVintage Original Schwinn Men's Bicycle Bike Horn Tank Red & White Rare Antique Klaxton Bicycle Motorcycle Ooga Horn-pre-ww2-vintage -hot Rod-oldVintage Schwinn Bicycle Tank Horn Vintage ~ "jos. Lucas Ltd" ~ "acetyphote" "no. 317" Bicycle LampTerruzzi Corsa - Mid 70s - Vintage Road Racing Bicycle - Size 51 Cm1998 Schwinn Apple Krate Bike Vintage Stingray Banana Seat Bicycle Red Muscle!Antique Prewar Bicycle Seat Harley Davidson Indian Mead Elgin Schwinn MotorbikeRare Antique Iver Johnson Bicycle Tank Rack - Roadster Mobicycle PartCiocc Designer '84, Microf.c.40, 53cm Vintage Bike With Campagnolo ComponentsBmx Old School Vintage 87 Gt PerformerCinelli Sixties Campagnolo 58cm Schwinn Stingray 5 Speed Fastback Project Blue 1967Vintage ~ C1913~ Joesph Lucas Ltd ~ "holophote" Bicycle Lamp1940s Dayton Mens Tank Bike Vintage Hiawatha Beach Cruiser Bicycle Hot/rat Rod!Antique Ok Gas Lamp Carbide Bicycle Lamp Seal Lock Co Original Box Rare1930's~delta Gangway~original Vintage 6 Volt Chrome Bicycle Horn W/bracket~works Raleigh Chopper Mk 1 Frame...Vintage Sears Screamer Muscle Bike Rat Trap Springer Front End Forks OgOld School Bmx Vintage 1980s Blue Tuf Neck 43t Chainring Chainwheel Fits Pk JmcSchwinn Vintage Deluxe Stingray 1967 2 Speed Skyblue All Original Almost Perfect50s Boys Western Flier Made By Huffy/hufman =26" Tank And 1/2 Of Monark SpringerVintage J.c. Higgins Batwing Bicycle Light And Horn Combo WorksHuffy 5 - On The Bar Dragster 24" Muscle Krate Stingray Stick Shifter AwesomeVintage Sears Screamer Muscle Bike Butterfly Drag Handlebars OgWestern Auto Bicycle1966 Schwinn Coppertone Boys 2 Speed Kick Back Bicycle 26" No ReserveSchwinn Fastback BicycleVintage Specialized Stump Jumper Bicycle Mountain Bike 1960s Sears Spaceliner Mens Chrome Tank Bike Vintage Space Age Bicycle Murray!Schwinn Front Expander Pork Chop Forebrake Drum Brake Panther/phantom/b6Vintage ~ C1920 ~ "joseph Lucas Ltd." ~ "king Of The Road" ~ Bicycle LampAntique Bicycle Search Light Lamp Or LanternVintage Raleigh Chopper BicycleVintage Brass Cycle Lamp~ Lucas King Of The RoadMongoose Bmx 26" Pro Class Rims - PolishedVintage ~ Powell & Hanmer ~ "the Vulture - No. 80" Bicycle LampColnago Master Olympic ’94 Full Shimano Dura Ace Excellent Condition 51cm1980s Old School Bmx Race Bike. Maxy Cross 3 Peice Crank. Tuff Neck And Acs Schwinn Stingray Fastback 5 SpeedSchwinn Krate Stingray Atom Hub Rim Front Wheel Tire Orange Apple Lemon PeelerVintage 1989 Specialized Team StumpjumperVintage Schwinn Brown Phantom Bicycle Bike Seat Spring Saddle Seat Schwinn Original 1968 Orange Krate Raleigh Chopper Mk 1 Rear Mudguard1920's Hawthorne Bicycle Prewar Skip Tooth Vintage Made In The Usa RideableVintage 1976 Schwinn Stingray Fastback 5 Speed Bicycle Bike Very CleanVintage Antique Solar Model Bicycle Motorcycle Carbide Lamp Lantern LightGt Bmx Junior Performer Needs Restoration And Parts 16" Tires, Pit Bike Proje

Recent News: Bicycles

Source: Google News

126-year-old Brantford-built bike salvaged by collector, July 5th

Canadian Vintage Bicycle Show organizer Jamie McGregor, left, checks out a 126-year-old Goold Bicycle Company bike built in Brantford that was recovered by collector Rick Wolfe in Ottawa this past December. Once restored, Wolfe estimates the bicycle...Read more

Chamber News: American Pickers look for antique leads in Pennsylvania
Boyertown Berk Montgomery Newspapers, July 4th

Some of what they look for: vintage bicycles, toys, unusual radios, movie memorabilia, advertising, military items, folk art, vintage musical equipment, vintage automotive items, early firefighting equipment, vintage clothing, pre-50's western gear...Read more

Leadsled bringing back the cars
Salina Journal, July 4th

The custom car show, parade, drag races, pinup and vintage bicycle contests, and old time rock 'n' roll music are coming to Salina July 23-26, sponsored by the Kustom Kemps of America. Titus said he raced his Mercury much as it will be done July 24 at...Read more

Port Hope festival activities begin Friday
Huron Daily Tribune, July 2nd

One can expect to see vintage cars and trucks, antique bicycles, clowns, floats, tractors and wagons, horses and more. The Friends of the Port Hope Depot will be selling pulled pork sandwiches on the parade route prior to the parade. Sandwich sales...Read more

Vintage Bicycle Show to benefit hospice
Brantford Expositor, June 26th

Jamie McGregor (right), organizer of the 14th annual Canadian Vintage Bicycle Show, brought two vintage bicycles to the Stedman Community Hospice Hankinson House to show to day wellness co-ordinator Bev Hall (left) and volunteer co-ordinator Cheryl ...Read more

Bone-shaking 500 mile ride on rare antique bicycle for charity fundraiser
Daily Echo, June 15th

A SOUTHAMPTON man will be stepping back in time for a gruelling charity bike ride with a difference Stuart Mason-Elliott, from Highfield, is gearing up to ride 500 miles from Paris to the outskirts of the French town of Avignon – on an original...Read more

Model T building, vintage bicycles featured at Stan Hywet's annual Father's ...
Stow Sentry, June 12th

This annual Father's Day event showcases 400 classic, antique and collector cars manufactured between 1896 and 1990; the Inner Circle of notable vehicles from 1940-44; and the Fast Lane area of auto aftermarket vendors. In celebration of Stan Hywet's ...Read more

Museum shows off bicycle collection
Quad City Times, June 11th

Harper will provide a guided walking tour of his historical bicycle collection from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. July 9, at the art center, 1314 Mulberry Ave. Leo Landis, the curator for the State Historical Museum of Iowa, will present a talk titled "Riding...Read more