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    

1949 Schwinn Hendersin Mens Tank Bike Vintage Hornet Bicycle S2 Panther+delta!Pre War Colson, Dayton, Huffman Bicycle 1937 Elgin Robin Antique BicycleRare Restored Rossin Montreal '76 Complete Bicycle - Campagnolo Nuovo Record1973 Schwinn Fastback Stingray 5-speed Stik Muscle Bike Krate Vintage BicycleColnago Decor Roadrace Bike VintageVery Rare! Vintage Witcomb Usa Track Bike - Full Campagnolo Track Group Set1950s Jc Higgins Batwing Bicycle Headlight Colorflow Vintage Horn+light Elgin!Rare 1976 G Boy Aluminum Looptail Frame And Gboy Aluminum Fork Old School Bmx Antique Cross Bar Handle Bars Will Fit Schwinn Monark Jc Higgins Hawthorne Elgin1940s-1950s Schwinn Deluxe Hornet Bicycle Horn Tank Green Panther S2 Vintage!Original 1977 Colnago Super Campagnolo Perfect!1950 Schwinn Starlet Ladies Tank Bike Vintage Deluxe Spitfire Bicycle Green NiceWwii Nazi German Bicycle Bell Prewar/post War Schwinn Elgin Paratrooper Bsa Bike1920s Elgin Bicycle Drop Stand Kickstand Schwinn Prewar Motorbike Vintage B10e!1968 Schwinn Stingray 3-speed Stick Shift RunaboutBridgestone Xo-2 Road BikeVintage 1972 Schwinn Orange Krate Sting Ray 5 Speed With Disc Brake Vintage Raleigh Professional BicycleSolid Vintage Schwinn Hornet Bicycle Horn Tank & Chain Guard RedRaleigh Chopper Mk1 Pedals ExcellentAntique Bicycle Handle Bars And Grips Will Fit Schwinn Monark Elgin Hawthorne Vintage 1986 Bridgestone T700 Suntour 25” White Touring Bicycle (mens Road Bike)1971 Schwinn Fastback Stingray 5 Speed Stik Orange 100% Orig. No Reserve Look1956 Jc Higgins Jetflow Bicycle1948 Fully Restored Campagnolo Cambio Corsa Bicycle, Need To Build The WheelsPeugeot Px-10 (1978) Reynolds-531-desired Steel-gorgeous Condition,Antique High Spring Bicycle Seat Will Fit Schwinn Elgin Monark 1940s Schwinn Dx Mens Rat Rod Beach Cruiser Bike Vintage Bicycle Nos Tires? S2Schwinn 1950's Brown Phantom Cycle Truck Balloon Bike Chrome Spring Seat1979 Vintage Webco Bmx Replica Bike - Old School Survivor!Cilo/vitus 979 Aluminum Road Bike W/ Shimano Dura Ace 7400 Group, ExcellentRaleigh Professional 1973 Mark Iv Reynolds 531 Haden Birds Mouth Lugs 56cm1972 Raleigh Chopper1968 Schwinn Stingray 3-speed RunaboutVintage Dyno Detour Old School Freestyle Gt 20" Bike Bmx Hutch Skyway Pro CompeSchwinn Staight Bar Tank For Hornet, Autocycle, Panther, B-6... OriginalSchwinn Lemon Peeler Disc Brake1983 Specialized Expedition (52.5 Cm)All Original 1993 Bridgestone Mb-2- 46cm1950s Schwinn Black Phantom Bike Seat Vintage Panther Tank Bicycle Cycletruck B6Vintage Cycle Oil LampVintage Antique Schwinn Bicycle Frame Prewar Motorbike - Rare Sprocket - 28in Antique Crescent Tandem Bicycle - 1890's Complete Rare & Well Preserved Bike1956 Schwinn Hornet Mens Bike Frame Vintage Rat Rod Panther Tank Straightbar!Vintage Jos Lucas & Sons Bike Oil Lamp King Of The Road Model - 449 E12Mongoose Super-goose Bicycle Frame (vintage) W/ Spin Mags And Other Parts 1960 Schwinn American Mens Cruiser Bike Vintage Rat Rod Corvette/typhoon BicycleOriginal Bike Fender Ornament Emblem Schutzblechfigur ++ Hiawatha1940s Or 50s Hawthorne Bicycle Horn Gas Tank WorkingVintage Sears Spyder Mark Vii Chrome Boys Muscle 20" Bicycle - 1960's * Rare *1966 Schwinn Stingray Fastback 5-speed Stick Shift • First Year •20" SlickWestern Flyer X53 Bicycle Rear Reflector Will Not Fit Schwinn Monark HawthorneN.o.s.delta Rocket Ray Bicycle Headlight. Schwinn, Hornet, Starlet, EtcAntique St Christopher Bicycle Badge Prewar Schwinn Elgin Bike License Vintage!Antique 1895 John Lovell Diamond Bicycle & Firearms Paper Poster Sign, NrHon California Dahon Vintage Convertible Stainless Steel Folding Bicycle Bike Vintage Schwinn Bicycle Sting Ray Checker Mirror Vintage Bicycle Peugeot 1969 1960s Columbia Palybike, Muscle Bike, Candy Apple Red, All Original, Ex Cond

Recent News: Bicycles

Source: Google News

West Michigan Beer Tours adds bike tours to explore craft beer in Kalamazoo
MLive.com, August 3rd

West Michigan Beer Tours has teamed up with Discover Kalamazoo and Kzoo Swift, a vintage bicycle repair and retail store, for a series of beer bike tours running through October. The bike tours are being offered in addition to the company's popular...Read more

Stolen bicycle belonging to murder victim causes 'distress'
Limerick Leader, August 1st

He added that the bicycle was amongst “70 old vintage bicycles”. Mr O'Donovan said that the bicycle is of “strong value”, as Mr Carmody was a secretary of the Knockfierna Heritage Society “for years and years”, and was also involved in the Ballingarry ...Read more

'American Pickers' looking for locals
Times Reporter, July 31st

Some items being sought include vintage bicycles, toys, unusual radios, movie memorabilia, advertising, military items, folk art, vintage musical equipment, vintage automotive items, early firefighting equipment, vintage clothing and pre-1950s western...Read more

Reality TV show 'American Pickers' to film in Oregon
Mid Columbia Tri City Herald, July 30th

And its producers are looking for leads. “They are on the hunt for interesting characters with interesting and unique items. Some of what they look for: vintage bicycles, toys, unusual radios, movie memorabilia, advertising, military items, folk art...Read more

Take a ride at New West Cultural Crawl
New Westminster News Leader, July 29th

Gord Hobbis at the helm of his latest acquisition for his Cap's Bicycle Shop and Museum, a Singer sociable tandem trike from the late 1800s. Hobbis owns more than 50 vintage bicycles, most of which are displayed in his Sapperton shop. Cap's will be one...Read more

'American Pickers' coming to Oregon
Blue Mountain Eagle, July 28th

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 and pre-50's western gear...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