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.
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Robin Williams Family Legal Dispute Comes To A CloseYouth Independent News, October 4th
Susan questioned the children's claim on Robin's bicycle collection, his career awards, his watches and even family photos. When the case was first filed, Williams children were “heartbroken”. They felt that their stepmother was “adding insult to...Read more
'American Restoration' star Rick Dale sizes up family heirlooms at Big E in ...MassLive.com, October 4th
Dale, wife Kelly and his two sons took to the Big E's Xfinity Arena to evaluate the Moes' rocking horse, an antique telephone, an old-fashioned coin counter and an antique bicycle presented by Big E staff they sought to have restored for their 100th...Read more
Robin Williams' Widow And Kids Come To Settlement In Estate DisputeSFist, October 3rd
The Williams' adult children, Zachary, Zelda and Cody, were all from previous marriages and claimed many items from his estate that were in the Tiburon home he shared with Susan at the time of his death, including his awards and his bicycle collection...Read more
Robin Williams' Widow, Kids Settle Estate Fight in California: AttorneyNBC New York, October 2nd
At a court hearing last month, Wagstaffe said the two sides remained at odds over millions of dollars' worth of items, including Williams' bicycle collection, artwork and books. They also disagreed about the value of a reserve fund to keep Susan...Read more
New Haven's Devil's Gear Bike Shop moves to new space, aims for return to rootsNew Haven Register, October 1st
The racing jerseys that decorate the shop were worn by Feiner over the years, while the bicycle collection features special models going back decades. On one wall, there is a proper English racer from the 1950s with a three-speed internal gear and two ...Read more
Vintage bicycles take people back in timeEffingham 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
velorbis + fritz hansen create the arrow seven 60 bicycle collectionDesignboom, September 18th
cycling culture is dominating the urban roads all around the world. to leave their mark, danish bicycle brand velorbis and furniture company fritz hansen teamed up to create a collection combining key accents of both of their industries. the result is...Read more
That art resembles vintage bicyclesExaminer.com, September 14th
of Fine Arts from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Certainly some Chicagoans rode Penny-farthings to this fair, and it is possible that Loops & Bicycles was never intended to be art, but a place to which Chicagoans could attach their vintage...Read more