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    

1968 Schwinn Stingray 5 Speed Krate ProjectVery Rare Colnago Mexico-campagnolo Super Record-complete Road Bicycle No ReservVintage Firestone Super Cruiser Monark Silver King Baloon Tire Tank BicycleVintage 1950 Whizzer Sportsman1966 Schwinn Stingray Deluxe 2 Speed Bicycle Deep Tufted Muscle Bike OriginalAntique Bike/ Racycle Self Oiling Bike Circa 1895 UnmolestedVintage Bike J.c. Higgins Parts BikeEddy Merckx Corsa Extra Slx Team Panasonic1967 Schwinn Deluxe Stingray BicycleVintage 1966 Lygie Campagnolo Nuovo Record Reynolds 531 Italy Lugged 57cmNos Original Delta Rocket Ray Light-schwinn Panther Etc-not A Repro! Made In UsaVintage 1974 21" Schwinn Paramount P-13 Frame No Reserve!!Prewar Bicycle Jeweled Coke Bottle Grips Monark Elgin Shelby Schwinn Vtg ColsonFausto Coppi Campionissimo Italian Road Bike Shimano 105, Columbus Genius87' Haro InvertVintage De Rosa San Remo 54cm Road Bike-lugged Steel-campgnolo GruppoVintage 1970 Schwinn Stingray Pea Picker Krate 5 Speed BicycleVintage De Rosa San Remo 54cm Road Bike-lugged Steel-campagnolo GruppoRare! 1922 Columbia Chainless Bicycle Model N1 Westfield Mfg Co1960 Schwinn Jaguar Deluxe Vintage Tank Men's Bicycle Bike Blue Cruiser Rack OldVintage 1950,s Unrestored Schwinn Panther Bicycle Vintage Bsa PumpMongoose Bmx Eric Rupe Old School Sr Sealed Hubs Pro Class Rims & 3 Piece CranksVintage Joseph Lucas King Of The Road 260 N Cycle Bicycle Carbide Lamp  Old School Haro Master GreenSchwinn Runabout 19701952 Schwinn Phantom Survivor Vintage Fat Chance, Fat City Cycles, 1988 Fat, Rare W/very Rare Parts No ReserveOld School Bmx 1980s Red Peregrine Seat By Elina Fits Vector Vdc Haro Hutch GtVintage Klein Rascal "1992 Rascal" Ultra Violet/magenta Fade, Usa ,no Reserve Vintage Brass Cycle Lamp~ Lucas Calcia Club1988 Guerciotti 58cm Campy Campagnola Chorus Gs 4500 Strada Victory - W/ Extras1969 Schwinn Stingray Deluxe 3 Speed1966 Schwinn Stingray Bicycle Bike!!! Original!! Rare!!!1949 Whizzer Sportsman BicycleVintage Lucas No.344 Bicycle / Motorcycle Rear Lamp With Red GlassTommasini Super Prestige 58cm Dura-ace BuildVintage 1976 Raleigh Tourist Bicycle Schwinn Original 50's Straight Bar Frame 26" Bike Old Red & White Color Lot 406Vintage Monark Silver King Aluminum Bicycle FrameL3319- Antique Hine Watt Columbia Bicycle Oil Lamp Lantern LightColnago MasterRaleigh Pro 55cm Road Bike CampagnoloOriginal 1969 Schwinn Pea Picker Krate Stingray1968 Schwinn Sting-ray Apple Krate Muscle Bike Bicycle Banana Seat Original FindVintage Delta Bicycle Accessories - Old Store Stock - Lights, Horn - Many BoxedCirca 1950 Raleigh Lenton Bike Bicycle Brooks SaddleEvel Knievel Bike Seat, Vintage 1970's Usa Made Nib NosVintage 1972 Womans 3 Speed Black Raleigh Sports Comfort Bike -sturmey - Archer Old School Mongoose Californian 1985 Cru Jones Replica Bmx BikeVintage Lucas Silver King Bicycle LampColnago Columbus Sl Stunning Vintage Road Bike1971 Schwinn Stingray Fastback All Original1982 Holdsworth Mistral Mixtie Bicycle.Schwinn Paramount Series 3 PdgSchwinn 1939 - 1940 Salesman Sample Case And Bike1967 Schwinn Rams Horn Bike Schwinn Stingray Fast Back Chain GuardClassic Fuji Titanium Road BikeVintage Delta Rocket Bike Light Nos

Recent News: Bicycles

Source: Google News

Woody Harrelson charms Minn. suburb during filming of 'Wilson'
INFORUM, July 27th

Later that day Harrelson, a soccer fan, rode a vintage bicycle from the East Ridge parking lot to a nearby field and was kicking around a soccer ball on the sidelines before being recognized, said Mike Kiedrowski, whose 13-year-old daughter, Callie...Read more

History channel's 'American Pickers' looking to film in Maine in August
Press Herald, July 27th

and are looking for leads that will help them find people and locations, according to an email from Randi Rosenthal, an associate producer. The show features two “pickers,” Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, scouring private collections looking for...Read more

Scurto winner of 20th annual festival poster art contest
The Northwest Florida Daily News, July 26th

Scurto's winning art centers on a simple, but bold color illustration — a reticulated giraffe (she aptly named “Mattie”) riding an enormous penny farthing-style vintage bicycle. The winning artwork will be used to promote the 20th Annual Festival of...Read more

News you can use for Sunday, July 26, 2015
CP24 Toronto's Breaking News, July 26th

at Downsview-area nightclub · Male stabbed in Woburn-area apartment building · Result of Eglinton-Lawrence Liberal nomination expected today · Toronto awaits start of Pan Am Games closing ceremonies. What's On: 2015 Toronto Vintage Bicycle Show...Read more

Woody Harrelson charms Woodbury
Woodbury Bulletin, July 24th

Later that day Harrelson, a soccer fan, rode a vintage bicycle from the East Ridge parking lot to a nearby field and was kicking around a soccer ball on the sidelines before being recognized, said Mike Kiedrowski, whose 13-year-old daughter, Callie...Read more

Antique bicycles await visitors at Rahmi M. Koç Museum
Today's Zaman, July 14th

“Bisiklet: ?ki Tekerlek Üzerinde Ta??nan Tutku” (Bicycle: Passion Carried on 2 Wheels), a bicycle collection-turned-exhibit will open at Rahmi M. Koç Museum in ?stanbul, encouraging the public to visit the exhibition to enjoy summer's best mode of...Read more

Dispatch: Arrests; Antique bicycle stolen; Stalking alleged in Dubois; Dog ...
County 10 (blog), July 9th

(Fremont County, Wyo.) – Here is Thursday's recap of law enforcement activity around Fremont County. All persons arrested or cited are presumed innocent until convicted by a court of law. Lander Police Department. Arrests/Citations: Tyler Friday, 19...Read more

126-year-old Brantford-built bike salvaged by collector
www.brantnews.com, 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