[CR]In Praise of Pre-War American Cycles

Example: Framebuilding:Tony Beek

From: "Art Smith" <ahsmith49@cox.net>
To: <classicrendezvous@bikelist.org>
Date: Mon, 7 Jun 2004 09:08:53 -0700
Thread-Index: AcRMMl3ca3Wp5RpjQDOHzCDOQj+oMQAcIVRw
In-Reply-To: <CATFOOD00goZolmRBaY00000c60@catfood.nt.phred.org>
Subject: [CR]In Praise of Pre-War American Cycles

I couldn't agree more with Mick Butler's post on early American bicycles. While the stated time period for discussions on this site encompasses turn of the century and pre-war bicycles through 1983, I think the lack of postings on pre-war cycles can be attributed to a number of factors. I think that often times ordinaries and early safety bicycles get lumped in with balloon tired bikes. While balloon tired bikes were often geared toward young people and sold as toys, early bikes such as your previously mentioned Pope, Iver Johnson, and Fowler, were built for adults.

As discussed numerous times on this site, a person's age, and when they came to cycling often dictates their interest. I was born in 1949 and while my first road bike was a boom Astra, I've always felt an attraction to pre-war cars and trucks, Buddy L pressed steel toy trucks, and Veronica Lake. I may be wrong, but I would assume a number of Cinelli and Masi fans are under 50.

Another factor that has hurt the study of early bikes is that there are so few really comprehensive books on the subject. The Pridmore book, The Dodge book, and the two volumes of the Evolution of the Bicycle books come to mind as references. Another factor is that these bikes were used and abused. Constantly built and rebuilt, handed down to children and cousins, the integrity of the bikes was altered. Hard to tell what was original and what wasn't. There were also so many manufacturers that to catalogue them is impossible.

Often times it seems, it takes non-Americans to see the value of things American. It took English rockers to help American youth in the sixties rediscovery the American Blues of John Lee Hooker and Elmore James and others. Sometimes we just don't see what is in front of our faces.

As far as frames styles go, I love the simple diamond frame styles of the earlier bikes, as well as the curved top tube camelback and straight bend versions. I own a Fowler with a split seat tube from the turn of the century. The Iver Johnson Truss Bridged Bike is awesome. I found a photograph from 1910 of two men on recumbents. I can't tell if they are manufactured bikes or custom built. For me, by far the most interesting are the double top tubed moto bikes. I have seen the top tubes spaced close together or far apart, even side by side. Equiped with a hanging tank to hold a thermos and lunch or tools, these bikes, in their fixed gear state gave working men transportation (and women the freedom to travel). Like English club bikes, they could be stripped for road racing or track racing. I have seen them with 28" or 26" wheels. Brakeless, with kick back brakes, or with after market bolt on brakes these early bikes hold much more interest for me. For my esthetic, the art of these bikes, their place in history, and the individual histories of these cycles are what this hobby is all about.

I am curious as to what was being ridden in England (and France and Italy) at the turn of the century. I'm familiar with some early English bicycles, but not bikes from 1900 to 1930. I have seen a small Italian book that is fairly common that documents early Italian bikes. What were the common men and women of this time riding?

Art Smith in Phoenix