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    

Gios Torino Super Record With Campagnolo 50th Anniversary Group Set Mint1950s Jc Higgins Batwing Bicycle Headlight Colorflow Vintage Light Elgin Sears!1940s Jc Higgins Mens Tank Bike Early Post War Cruiser Sears Elgin Skiptooth 50sSuntour Vx Cranks Tuf Neck Ring Superbe B/b Old School Bmx 70's 80's 20" 24" 26"1930s Hawthorne Zep Prewar Mens Rat Rod Cruiser Bike Vintage Nos Carlisle Lightg1930s Schwinn Bicycle Jeweled Hand Grips! Prewar Motorbike Autocycle Dx B6 Elgin1968 Schwinn Stingray Boys Muscle Bike Vintage Red Bicycle S7 Banana Seat 1960s1950s Western Flyer Mens Springer Fork Bike X53 Roadmaster Rat Rod Tank? Murray1975 Masi Gran Criterium FrameVintage 1920's Cadillac Pre-war , Skip Tooth, 26? Or 28? Inch Bicycle Frame Bianchi Super Corsa 1978 Complete Road Bicycle - Campagnolo Nuovo Record - 53 Cm1999 Hoffman Evel Knievel Bmx Bike Series 1, Vintage, Nos, Mint, Original Box Vintage Orange 1975 Raleigh 3 Speed Shifter Chopper Bicycle Muscle Bike Parts1985 Gt Bmx Pro Performer Japan Rare Turqoise Color !!! L@@k !!!!Austrian Silver Niello Antique Snuff Cigarette Box Case Tobacco Cycling BicycleVintage Pink Feb 1976 Raleigh 5 Speed Shifter Chopper Bicycle Muscle Bike PartsTuf-neck Cruiser Bars A'me Grips School Bmx 70's 80's Vintage 24" 26" Powerlite1950s Schwinn Hornet Ladies B6 Deluxe Tank Bike Vintage Bicycle+rack Dx S2 BlueMead Ranger Tool Tank,for Antique Prewar Bicycle.1970s Columbia Boys Banana Seat Muscle Bike 3-speed Stik Shift Mach 3 Spyder 1Antique Iver Johnson Bicycle Early 19001969 Columbia Mach 3 20/16 Muscle Bike Vintage Stingray Krate Wheel Tall Bar!Nos 70s Alan Gold Frameset 50cc 2.0kg Lightweight Campagnolo Vintage Race BikeSchwinn Panther Hornet Delta Rocket Ray Bicycle Bike Light Part1957 Schwinn Jaguar Bicycle Bike Horn Tank B6 Phantom Murray Middleweight KrateVintage Morrow Bicycle Hub Parts Cabinet Box Antique Schwinn Bike Coaster BrakeGt World Tour Eddie Fiola Og Yellow, Old School Freestyle/bmxOld School Bmx Diamondback Diamond Back Formula 1 Bmx Bike Vintage 1984 Complete Bike Nice1967 Schwinn Fastback Stingray 5-speed Stik Shift Blue Muscle Bike Krate Vintage1961 Schwinn Tiger 3-speed Mens Cruiser Bike Vintage Typhoon Corvette S7 BlackAntique Ww1 British Ever Ready Specialities Cycle Lamp Or Officers Torch Schwinn 1953 Balloon Tire Bicycle 24 Inch BoysVintage ~ C1920 ~ "h. Miller" "jupiter" ~ Gpo ~ Bicycle LampVintage Raleigh Professional 1971 Campagnolo Record Reynolds Bronze RetroJc Higgins Bicycle Colorflow Bat LightAndrock Baseball Bat Holder Cage And Wing Nut Only Schwinn Stingray-murrayVintage Schwinn Bike Generator/headlight Typhoon Corvette Krate Stingray Panther1990 Colnago Team Buckler Frame Set Campagnolo 58cc Original Vintage Race Bike1964 Schwinn Stingray Dated Frame & Fork, Chain-guard Skyblue Oem Paint HeadsetRare Cadex Giant 980c Carbon Road Bike With Campgnolo Delta Mavic Mirage CinelliElgin Cruiser Bicycle1978 Bmx MongooseVintage Rare Wald Muscle Bike Murray Eliminator Muscle Bike Pretzel Handle Bars1960s Schwinn Corvette Panther Rear Fender S Reflector Vintage Bicycle Jaguar!1891 Bicycle Race Board Game By Mcloughlin Bros Great Color Litho Lid + Board1970 Raleigh Mk1 Chopper54cm 55cm Vintage Masi Prestige Road Bike1940s Schwinn Packard Mens Balloon Tire Cruiser Bike Vintage B6 Panther HornetSchwinn 1954-1956 Balloon Tire Bicycle 24 Inch BoysSchwinn Mantaray Manta Ray Seat Stingray Pea Picker Gray Ghost Orange RareSchwinn Cotton Picker Krate Banana SeatVintage Prewar 1920-30s Elgin Boys Bicycle Frame From 26" ModelRaleigh 'r' Nuts (front Wheel) For Mk1 2 Chopper Bike Vintage Muscle Bike Bicycle 1975 Raleigh Chopper Dynohub Front Wheel Rim HubSchwinn Brake Cable Housing Drum Fore Brake B6 Autocycle PhantomOld School Mongoose Scooter Bmx Freestyle 1980's Mini Scoot 80's ProjectSchwinn Stingray Cotton Picker No Reserve!!!Gazelle Champion Mondial Vintage Road Bike | 52x54cm | Campagnolo Record 531slVintage Pre War Monarch Silver King Bicycle

Recent News: Bicycles

Source: Google News

Storm in a herbal cup: Indonesian elixirs get a modern twist
Yahoo News, November 26th

in domestic popularity is being driven by hangouts such as the Jakarta cafe, which welcomes young professionals and students to a retro setting that mixes old-fashioned furniture with touches of the past, such as black and white prints and vintage...Read more

Treasure hunter paradise
Cecil Whig, November 23rd

The Rental Showroom offers everything from eclectic décor to old widows, pergolas, milk glass, tables, even a vintage bicycle all in white. Those looking to up their game for the family portrait this holiday or after, can find the perfect element to...Read more

Ronan Keating joins the star-studded cast of World War II drama Another Mother ...
Daily Mail, November 22nd

Undeterred by the truly miserable British weather, the cast appeared in high spirits as they took to riding vintage bicycles in the Somerset countryside to film scenes on Thursday. ... The singer certainly looked the part as he cycled around on a...Read more

Beautiful Gardens: Shoreview couple's haven is 'our treasure to share'
Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 21st

A Shoreview couple welcome guests to their whimsical cottage garden, which beckons with waterfalls, a playhouse and flea-market finds. By Jackie Crosby Star Tribune. November 21, 2015 — 11:34pm. Gallery Grid. Prev 1/10 Next. An arbor frames a view of ...Read more

EXCHANGE: Vintage bicycles take people back in time
Belleville News-Democrat, November 12th

Visitors to the Old Settlers Reunion could step back in time by viewing a collection of vintage bicycles, some that have been restored and others that are in their original, nearly pristine condition. Rich Weishaar of Effingham needed to find a way to...Read more

Henderson man's refurbished antique bicycles fill garage, home
Las Vegas Review-Journal, November 7th

Henry Schmidt talks about his collection of Schwinn bicycles at his Henderson home Oct. 22. Since 1985, he has collected and repaired vintage and new Schwinn bikes. (Rachel Aston/View) (Click image for more photos) ...Read more

Vintage bicycles take people back in time
Effingham Daily News, September 27th

Visitors to the Old Settlers Reunion could step back in time by viewing a collection of vintage bicycles, some that have been restored and others that are in their original, nearly pristine condition. Rich Weishaar of Effingham needed to find a way to...Read more

Attorney: Robin Williams' bicycle collection an issue in estate fight
Santa Rosa Press Democrat, August 28th

SAN FRANCISCO — A legal fight over late actor Robin Williams' possessions includes his large bicycle collection, artwork, books and other items worth millions of dollars, an attorney for his widow said Friday. Robin Williams was an avid biker who was ...Read more