A bicycle is mode of human-powered transportation using two wheels in a single track. The wheels are attached in tandem to a frame, and are driven by a chain connected to pedals which are powered by the feet of the rider. The principle design of the bicycle has changed little since its development in the 1860s.
Bicycle collectors tend to focus on antique models or vintage bikes dating from before 1980. The three main periods for collecting are:
High Wheel and Antique (Early 19th century-1933)
These early bicycles were often experimental in design as the standard modern style was developed. There are many rare and strange designs, from the earliest ‘Dandy Horse’ models without pedals though the large-wheeled Penny Farthings to the ‘safety bicycles’ that closest resemble the appearance of today’s bicycles.
Balloon Tire Classics (1933–1965)
This period is dominated by the cruiser style bicycles of Schwinn and other manufacturers. These bikes featured wide tyres, heavy frames, elaborate styling and accessories such as horns, speedometers and fins.
Wheelie bikes and Early BMX (1965–1980)
This area is popular with American collectors, and focuses on the Schwinn Sting-Rays, Raleigh Choppers and other banana seat bikes of the 1960s and the early BMX models that grew out of them.
The forerunner of the modern bicycle was the ‘Draisienne’, a wooden-framed cycle with two wheels and no pedals designed to be pushed along by the rider’s feet. It was invented by the German Baron Karl von Drais, and introduced to the public in Mannheim in summer 1817 and in Paris in 1818.
The 1860s saw several innovations to the design. Frenchmen Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lallement created a cycle with an enlarged front wheel driven by a set of pedals, which evolved into the ‘Penny Farthing’ (at the time known simply as the bicycle).
In around 1870 Joshua Turner and James Starley, described as the fathers of the industry, began producing bicycles based on the French design but with front wheels of increasing size to increase the top speed.
These were followed by the ‘safety bicycle’, designed by James Starley’s nephew John Kemp Starley. This design had a much smaller front wheel, a lower seat and much better weight distribution. It was also driven by its rear wheel through the use of a chain drive connecting the wheel to the frame-mounted crank. Starley’s 1885 ‘Rover’ model is generally considered to be the first modern bicycle.
The development of the ‘safety bicycle’ led to the great bike boom of the 1890s, when they became enormously popular in Europe and the United States.
This surge in popularity was aided further by John Boyd Dunlop’s invention of the pneumatic rubber tyre in 1887, which replaced the solid rubber tyres of the Penny farthing and offered a far more comfortable experience for riders.
By the early 20th century bicycle racing and touring had become popular on both sides of the Atlantic, with the first Tour De France race staged in 1903, and dedicated cycle paths were built for recreational purposes. However, during the 1920s and 30s the popularity fell in the U.S as cars became the dominant mode of transportation and bicycles were seen primarily as children’s toys. In Europe they remained an accepted and widely-used mode of adult transportation.
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a change in public opinion in the U.S, as the benefits of physical exercise became widely publicised, and the country saw a boom in the popularity of bicycles amongst adults once more.
Annual U.S. sales of adult bicycles doubled between 1960 and 1970, and doubled again between 1971 and 1975, the peak years of the adult cycling boom in the United States, eventually reaching nearly 17 million units.
It was during this period that the first BMX bikes appeared, as children began to race their bikes on off-road tracks. These early BMX bikes are currently some of the most popular with current collectors.
During the 1970s the popularity of off-road riding began to grow, starting with riders in California who would modify standard bicycles with stronger brakes and wider tyres.
In 1981 the first mass-produced mountain bike, the Specialized Stumpjumper, was produced by Specialized Bicycle Components, and the sales of mountain bikes today outstrip sales of all other styles including racing and touring bikes.
Types of Bicycle
Main article: List of types of bicycle
The world’s most expensive bicycle
The most expensive bicycle ever sold at auction is a Trek Madone mountain bike customised by artists Damien Hirst for Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong cancer charity. It was decorated with the wings of hundreds of real butterflies, and sold at the charity auction at Sotheby’s in 2009 for $500,000.