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    

Alex Singer 1946 Randonneuse 55.5cm 650b Ernest Csuka's Bicycle Vgc Nr !!!Alex Singer 1982 Randonneuse 58cm 700c Vgc Nr !!!1950s Schwinn Hornet Mens Straight-bar Tank Bicycle Vintage Panther S2 2-speed!Prewar Schwinn Autocycle Balloon Tire Vintage Old Tank Bike Phantom Delta LightAlex Singer Chrome Randoneur Pbp Bike, Late 70s1980 Masi Gran Criterium "breaking Away" 54cc Campagnolo Vintage Road Bike GcNew 1970's Vintage Original Swing Bike - Still In BoxVintage 1952 Columbia 5 Star Superb Springer Tank Bicycle Rx5Masi Vintage Road Bike Campagnolo Cinelli Derosa Colnago Bianchi Felt Rival1968 Schwinn Orange Krate Bike Original Paint1965 Moulton Folding Bike Camping/compact Commuter Bicycle Raleigh Rsw 16 Twenty1969 Sears Screamer 1 5-speed Muscle Bike Vintage Stick Shift Bicycle Krate SlikRare Vintage 1975 Ciocc - Fully Pantographed Campagnolo Super Record 1. Gen.Vintage Bmx Mongoose Expert Pro Bike 24 Inch Wheel 100% Chromoly Frame2003 Trek Oclv Postal Service Racing Bicycle- 52cm, Dura-ace EquippedVintage Hot/rat Rod Bicycle Handlebars Prewar Torrington? Schwinn Columbia Elgin1930's Monark Silver King Delta Horn Light And ButtonSchwinn Panther/corvette/jaguar/typhoon/beach Cruiser/vintageDelta Jet Rocket Light Vintage Bicycle Bike Torpedo Headlight 2004 Whizzer Motorbike Motorized Bicycle Motor Bike Red Schwinn ChromeCinelli Mod.b 1964 Campagnolo Perfect! 58.25cm Ctc Curly Hetchins Magnum Opus 23" Vintage Schwinn Fastback Muscle Bike 5 Speed Bicycle Schwinn Bicycle Vintage Hornet Panther 26 S2 Balloon Frame Springer Tank DeluxeLaguna 26" Cruiser Old School BmxVintage Prewar 26" Balloon Tire Wheel Set Cwc Hawthorne Western Flyer SchwinnVintage Antique Mesinger Leather Bicycle Saddle / Seat Rattan 1880's - 90'sVintage 1940s Roadmaster Bicycle Headlight From 26" Model1972 Schwinn Stingray Boys 20" Muscle Bike Vintage Campus Green Bicycle S7 Slik!1961 Schwinn Tiger 3-speed Mens Cruiser Bike Vintage Typhoon Bicycle S7 Black NrAntique,vintage,hawthorne,rat Rod, Schwinn,road Master ,old BicycleVintage Rare 1958 Schwinn Streamline Bicycle, Survivor, Mens Phantom B6 Panther1949 Schwinn Men's Cruiser Bike 26"Vintage 1969 ? Schwinn Stingray Midget 16" Muscle Bike Bicycle, Sweet Red !!!Nicest 1950's Vintage Schwinn Deluxe Hornet B-6 Bicycle Autocycle Style OnlineSchwinn Mens Bicycle Tank Hornet Panther EtcElgin Prewar Fender Skirt Guards Vintage Bicycle Bike Rat Rod Custom Pre War 261966 Schwinn Stingray Sprint Fastback 5-speed Original Nice Sky Blue Rare Vintage Schwinn Typhoon Bicycle Bike Phantom Breeze 2 Speed Hub Beach CruiserVintage Bicycle 1952 Schwinn Panther Frame Schwinn Elgin Bike MonarkVintage Schwinn Apple Krate Sting-ray 1960's Or 1970'sEddy Merckx 7/11Vintage Schwinn Chrome Rear Rack Debutante 4 ReflectorNos Uniroyal Chain Tires 26x2.125 Autocycle Phantom Dx B6 Elgin Bicycle Us Bike2007 Diamondback Podium 5 Bicycle- Sram Equipped1992 Yamaguchi Pursuit Bike / Track Bike1940’s-50’s Delta Jet Rocket Bicycle Headlight - Mint In Box - Old Store Stock Cyclo P2 Benelux Rear Mech Suit Vintage Moulton 1958 Schwinn Tornado Straightbar Mens Cruiser Bike Vintage Typhoon Bicycle S7 AsSchwinn 20 S2 Stingray Rear Wheel Picker Krate Bicycle Bendix Hub 1968? Banana Bicycle Atom Drum Brake 36 Hole 5 Speed Schwinn Spitfire 5 Cruiser 5 Lot 12Very Rare 1948 Pope Badged Columbia Custom Deluxe BicycleSchwinn PantherHaro Sport FreestyleVintage Rare Moulton 4 Speed Bicycle English Needs Tlc Orig Paint Estate 1 Of 2Vintage Prewar Schwinn Henderson Crossbar Handlebars1958 Schwinn Corvette, Rare Green; 26" Men's BikeVintage Schwinn Stingray Krate Ball Light *nos*Frejus Vintage Campagnolo BicycleVintage Rare Moulton 4 Speed Bicycle English Needs Tlc Orig Paint Grey 2 Of 2

Recent News: Bicycles

Source: Google News

Tucson a growing hot spot for collectors
Arizona Daily Star, May 23rd

After working in a bicycle shop, he began buying, refurbishing and selling vintage bicycles and parts, even turning some pieces into jewelry. After quitting personal training, he has been selling antiques, vintage and repurposed items under the...Read more

Circus brings big top for shows
The Register-Guard, May 22nd

The Calapooia Reflections Museum in Sutherlin will be showcasing vintage bicycles at the Sutherlin Community Center, 150 S. Willamette St. from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 6. Bicycles are wanted for the display; call 541-430-6873. The Oregon Department of ...Read more

Community calendar
Foster's Daily Democrat, May 21st

Bring the family and come enjoy pony rides, horse-and-carriage rides, Maypole, antique bicycle demonstrations, our book sale, Victorian crafts, tours of the historic Fogg House, a barbershop quartet, old-fashioned kids games and more. We'll also have...Read more

'American Pickers' coming to Stillwater
KOCO Oklahoma City, May 21st

Some of those they are looking for 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...Read more

Classic Recollections turns 5: For a hobby steeped in history, a look back ...
Chicago Daily Herald, May 18th

This weekend's feature marks Classic Recollections' five-year anniversary. Throughout my travels, I've come across owners possessing a wide range of vehicles. Despite this four-wheeled diversity, one thing remains true: every car has a story. For a fun...Read more

A Unique Bicycle Collection: "Bicycles From the Embacher Collection" Auction ...
PR Newswire UK (press release), May 4th

The Embacher Collection made up of over 200 vintage bicycle models is one of the most significant and exciting bicycle collections in the world. It will be auctioned in the Dorotheum auction house in Vienna on 19 May 2015. The collection was assembled...Read more

Pedals for Progress bicycle collection slated for June 6 in Flemington, May 4th

Pedals for Progress, in its continuing effort to recycle bicycles properly, is having a used bike collection sponsored by Flemington Presbyterian Church and Flemington Rotary Club. Anyone with an adult or child's bicycle in repairable condition is...Read more

The world's craziest bicycle collection is due to be auctioned
Classic Driver, April 28th

Austrian auction house Dorotheum is set to sell the unique bike collection of Michael Embacher in Vienna on 19 May 2015. More than 200 rare and unusual bikes will come under the hammer, with low estimates ranging from €100 to €7,000...Read more