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    

Hutch Bmx, Pro Star, Trick Star, Hutch Judge, Old School Bmx, Aerospeed CranksetAntique 1930's Elgin Skylark Bicycle Bike Hutch Trickstyler 24k Gold (survivor) Old School Bmx "no Reserve"Colnago Master Più Decor Gilco! Complete Dura-ace 7400 - Size 57 -e Arly 90's1959 Schwinn Phantom Mens Tank Bike Vintage Springer Bicycle Black+red B6 S2 Nr!Mountain Bike - Vintage Ritchey TimberwolfVintage Boys 26" 1954 Schwinn Jaguar Bicycle 3 Speed Beautiful Look S70159Vintage Shcwinn Phantom Autocycle Tank Bike 80% All Original Real Barn FindNos Old School Bmx 1980's Skyway Alloy Hub Tuff 2's - Haro Se Hutch Pk RipperAlex Moulton Am 14 Vintage Road Bike FrameBianchi Proto Columbus Max Tubing - Complete Campagnolo Chorus - Size 54Bianchi Sport " Lario " Condorino 1962 Bici Epoca Vintage Bike Campagnolo1968 Schwinn Apple Krate Bike Vintage Stingray Banana Seat Bicycle Stik S2 Atom!Rare Antique Capital Mfg. Co. Chicago, Ill. Bicycle Odometer Cyclometer 1950s Shelby 52a AirfloVintage Frejus "fanini" Pista Very Rare!!!! Campagnolo RecordGt Bmx Profreestyle Tour Boys Bicycle Blue&white Steel 1980's Japan 20"dia-compeSchwinn StingrayRear Drop Stand With Stops Pre War Schwinn Shelby Huffman Whizzer Swing Bike1964 Schwinn American Mens Beach Cruiser Bike Vintage Red Typhoon Bicycle S7 Usa1930s Hiawatha Mens Rat Rod Cruiser Bike Vintage Antique Shelby Bicycle Prewar?1960's Murray Solar Flite Bike Bicycle Muscle Cruiser Tank Space Age/rocketVintage Schwinn Voyageur Mens 21-speed Road Bike Giant Bicycle Paramount 10 NrMonark Super Deluxe Bicycle 1946 / 1947Vintage Dg Bmx BikeOld School Bmx 24" Cruiser 1980's Skyway Alloy Hub Tuff 2's - Haro Se Hutch PkElvish French Randonneur Reynolds 531 57 650b Touring Vintage Antique Pre War 1940's Delta Silveray Chrome Bicycle Fender Light1955 Schwinn Flying Star Mens 2-speed Cruiser Bike Vintage Rat Rod Bicycle 1957Antique**rare**edward Miller Everlit Jeweled Bicycle Oil Lamp With BracketHarry Quinn Bicycle -- 1973-74 Vintage -- 61 Cm - Campagnolo And Zeus Components1918 Vintage Sunbeam Bicycle Rack And Oiler.1969 Raleigh Mk1 Chopper Bicycle UnrestoredDelta Rocket-ray Bicycle Head Light Model A-2191 With Original Box-greyNo Reserve! Vintage 1989-91 Colnago Super Original Fci Pista Track Bike 1970's Vintage Blue Swing BikeSchwinn Corvette 3 Speed 26" Bicycle 19641967 Schwinn Stingray Stik ShiftVintage Mini Bike Collectable! A Fine Vintage Brass Tecalemit Pocket Cycle Bicycle Motorcycle Oil Grease GunAndrock Schwinn Stingray Baseball Bat Holder In Box!1968 Schwinn Collegiate Mens 5-speed Road Cruiser Bike Vintage Racer Bicycle S5!Goodyear Blue Streak Bicycle Tire Nos Schwinn Stingray Muscle Slick Amf Huffy 20Antique BicycleVintage Ritchey P-21 Mtb Mountain Bike Xt Xtr Wcs Pro Lite Logic 191Old School Bmx Rare 1990 Mongoose HooliganVintage 1980's Mongoose Motomag Bmx Bike All OriginalOld School Bmx Sugino Crank 83 Tange Bb Takagi Blue Spider Silver 44t Chain RingAntique 1890's Toc Handle Bars 1900 Vintage BicycleVintage Jc Higgins Tank Bike "flightliner" Rear Rack Boys/men 26" A Clean BikeAlex Moulton 14sColnago Victory 55cm Campagnolo/ambrosio/selle Italia/silcaVintage 26 Inch Wheel Prewar Elgin Moto Bicycle Antique Bike Frame 1930s?Vintage Prewar Troxel Long Spring Saddle Seat Bicycle1955 J.c. Higgins 24" Skiptooth Boys Tank Bicycle With PapersNos Vintage Schwinn Stingray Fastback Ramshorn White Wall Sliks 20 X 1 3/8 S5s6 Original Schwinn Whizzer Gas TankVintage Delta Nos Bicycle A2271 Locktop Head Light Bike Headlight W Box WorksVintage Prewar Schwinn Bicycle Sprocket

Recent News: Bicycles

Source: Google News

Bike Shop & Salon Reveamp a Gloomy Building in Corktown
Curbed National, March 30th

METROPOLIS CYCLES: Metropolis specializes in commuter bikes, selling "rehabilitated vintage bicycles and new bicycles from dealers largely unavailable in the Detroit area." After months of construction, the shop is aiming to open on April 8. [Website]...Read more

Marcus Samuelsson Goes Casual With Streetbird
WWD, March 29th

Elsewhere, vintage materials like cassette tapes and antique bicycle wheels make up the light fixtures, which hang above Harlem church pews repurposed as benches and covered in designer textiles from labels such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Adidas ...Read more

The power of the pedal
Frederick News Post (subscription), March 29th

The Bikes for the World bicycle collection will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 11, at Triangle Motors, 1790 N. Market St. in Frederick. Organizers will accept tax-deductible donations of old bikes, spare bike parts and a $10 donation...Read more

Woman's 66-year old antique bike stolen
WCNC, March 29th

"Shock at first," Bennett said, "I was just distraught." Through her back gate and the side door, someone broke into Bennett's garage Tuesday morning. "And my antique bicycle was gone," Bennett said. Not just any antique. "This was my first bike...Read more

Calendar: Saturday, March 28, 2015
Pensacola News Journal, March 27th

Contest categories include best antique bicycle, most decorative, best children's bike, and best in show. Live music will be amplified by a pedal-powered off-the-grid sound system. free Devilliers Square, 321 N. Devilliers St.. Elaine Sargent, 687-9968...Read more

Anger as vintage bicycle stolen from outside heritage centre
Ely Standard, March 19th

Anger as vintage bicycle stolen from outside heritage centre. 07:55 19 March 2015. Daniel Mansfield. The vintage bicycle was stolen from outside JH Adams, in Littleport. Archant. A vintage bicycle believed to be almost 100 years old was stolen from...Read more

TWEED RIDE: Vintage Bicycle Ride comes to Milton Keynes for the first time
MK News, March 18th

Spring goes into full swing as Tweed Rides fill the calendar all the way into the summer months and beyond - and this year, it's coming to Milton Keynes! The Tweed Ride is a group bicycle ride, in which the cyclists from Milton Keynes are expected to...Read more

Vintage bicycle ride coming to Paso Robles
Paso Robles Daily News, December 17th

L'Eroica founder, Giancarlo Brocci, stops for a photo while bicycling Paso Robles. It wasn't until after he bicycled the area that he selected Paso Robles as the location for the L'Eroica Vintage Bicycle Event that will benefit Hospice of San Luis Obispo...Read more