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One hundred years ago was 1920

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One hundred years ago was 1920

Old 07-31-20, 09:22 AM
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One hundred years ago was 1920

What were bicycles like in the USA in 1920?

Whenever I read bike history stuff the period between the 1890's boom and the 1970's boom is dismissed with a few sentences. Albert Pope ruined everything until it was rescued by Schwinn stingrays and Varsities, they say. Single tube tires and beach cruisers were it. What was really going on? The 20's were a prosperous decade, and the war was over. But everything we see remaining is from the wealthy - Cords and Duesenbergs. I don't doubt the US bike industry (either retail or manufacturing) was small, but what was it doing? The few nerds for bike racing, were they pretty much all on Italian and French imports, and did those imports cover more than those racers?
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Old 07-31-20, 09:48 AM
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1920-1929 Archives - Three Speed Hub
https://waterfordbikes.com/SchwinnCat/flschwinn_1893_1940/1925_01.html
https://waterfordbikes.com/SchwinnCat/flschwinn_1893_1940/1925_02.html

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Old 07-31-20, 09:56 AM
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A few nerds were bike racing?

Bike racing, primarily indoor track racing, was one of the most popular sports in the US during the 20s. Compare it to basketball now. Just huge. Track bikes looked pretty much looked like you expect, the same as they did into the 80s. Rims were wood. Road bikes were basically the same track bikes but with maybe a coaster brake wheel. Not sure if Americans would have attached sidepull brakes like Europeans, maybe.

Regular bikes looked like kind of like current issue Rivendells but with only one speed...

When I was a teenager, my grandfather would see me in my bike gear, and tell me the story, again, of the time he and his friends decided to ride bikes from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. This would have been in the late 20s I think. Apparently it was extremely difficult. He said he was done with bikes after that.
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Old 07-31-20, 10:04 AM
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The track/path racer in the 1922 Raleigh catalog came with an 80” gear. Macho!
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Old 07-31-20, 10:34 AM
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Originally Posted by nlerner View Post
The track/path racer in the 1922 Raleigh catalog came with an 80” gear. Macho!
That was humorous.

Still, I had to check the numbers (always check the numbers)-

An 80" gear" is equal to a 53 X 18 gear ratio on a 27" wheel. For me, casual riding is done in 52 X 18 on a 700C, even into our typical headwinds when headed north. Nope, not macho.
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Old 07-31-20, 10:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Bad Lag View Post
That was humorous.

Still, I had to check the numbers (always check the numbers)-

An 80" gear" is equal to a 53 X 18 gear ratio on a 27" wheel. For me, casual riding is done in 52 X 18 on a 700C, even into our typical headwinds when headed north. Nope, not macho.
It would be pretty macho around here...
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Old 07-31-20, 11:38 AM
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Bicycle racing during the interbellum is an interesting subject. Road racing was banned in many countries (as it was in mine), and track racing boomed. Many Dutch racers either went to France or Italy, or specialized in track racing.

A few went to the US. One of them was Piet "Big Pete" van Kempen. He teamed up with Oscar Egg and Jan "Cannonball" Pijnenburg and did pretty well.

Here he is with Jan Pijnenburg (Piet's on the left, Jan's on the right):




His most famous picture is undoubtedly this one, taken at Wembley in the thirties:

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Old 07-31-20, 11:53 AM
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So what happened to all these old pre-war bikes? Did they get recycled into tanks and battleship armor during WWII scrap drives?
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Old 07-31-20, 12:06 PM
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Madison Square Garden was built around a velodrome. The pros who race on it were probably the highest paid athletes in the country, making far more than baseball or football players, The moneyed, the movers, those who were to be seen went and bet big money on those races. There were velodromes and pro racing in cities around the country into the '30s and 40s.

I rode a Schwinn track bike from the 1920s around the Marymoore velodrome in Seattle years ago. It had heavy wheels and clinchers, so it was a dog because of those, but it was also obvious that if you put light sewup wheels like they raced back then on, that bike would fly! Also from my Seattle days, I have a signed photo of the first woman US champion, 1937, sitting stopped on her bike, arms around her clubmate's shoulders for balance in her newly won stars and stripes jersey. I met her at the Seattle trade show and saw her bike. Custom built by her dad, a retired pro.

The heyday of American bike racing is near completely lost. Too bad. We now look at those years as the lost years, Yes. We lost them!

Edit: her bike was typical for US racing bikes of the time. Fix gear. No brakes. (She rode and raced in a club with men. Completely dominated that first women's championship against women who didn't.)

Ben

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Old 07-31-20, 01:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Clang View Post
So what happened to all these old pre-war bikes?
Pre-war? 1920 was post-war! The french had lost a third of all their young men. That's cra cra.
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Old 07-31-20, 01:37 PM
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Not US. Italian. And probably closer to 1925 than 1920, but close enough?

2L by iabisdb, on Flickr
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Old 07-31-20, 01:46 PM
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If you want a good read “World’s Fastest Man” by Michael Kranish. A biography of Major Taylor. A very good insight into bike racing and life in the US in the beginning of the 20th century.
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Old 07-31-20, 02:23 PM
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Originally Posted by shoota View Post
It would be pretty macho around here...
Ditto. My single speed is set up with a 65” gear, which means I’m spinning out or freewheeling on descents but let’s me get up and over the tallest local hills.
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Old 07-31-20, 02:56 PM
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Originally Posted by 79pmooney View Post
I have a signed photo of the first woman US champion, 1937, sitting stopped on her bike, arms around her clubmate's shoulders for balance in her newly won stars and stripes jersey. I met her at the Seattle trade show and saw her bike. Custom built by her dad, a retired pro.

Edit: her bike was typical for US racing bikes of the time. Fix gear. No brakes. (She rode and raced in a club with men. Completely dominated that first women's championship against women who didn't.)
Doris Kopsky

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Old 07-31-20, 04:16 PM
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So we have English bikes in England, road racing on the Continent, and track bikes in the Yankee states.

non-fixie why did they ban racing in the NL?
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Old 07-31-20, 07:26 PM
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You want Peter Nye's Hearts of Lions: The History of American Bicycle Racing (Norton, 1989). That covers a lot of territory, including the interwar years as well as the post WWII era, with a lengthy study of Art Longsjo, whose life was cut short by an automobile accident. He was the first American to compete in both summer and Winter Olympics in the same year. Anyway, it's a well-illustrated work with lots of good stories.

It may have been Nye, maybe someone else - there were decisions made by race promoters in the U.S. that affected adult cycling's popularity. The biggest of these was the decision to import racers from Europe, Great Britain and the Commonwealth, rather that nurture and develop homegrown talent. Had the latter course been followed, the history would have been quite different.

The only contemporary U.S. cycling manual for adults in the interwar years I've encountered was Roland C. Geist's Bicycling As A Hobby (Harper, 1940). I no longer have it, alas. It was very thinly illustrated, but he indicated that racers in the U.S. would ride fixed-gears with a front brake, British style. There was a photo of someone riding a bike set up that way. As I recall, it was not much of a cycling manual, especially compared to contemporary British cycling books such as F.J. Camm's Every Cyclist's Handbook or the stuff from H.H. England or Reginald Shaw soon after the war.

Finally, there was a world-wide bike boom cranking up c.1935-1940. The Australian Malvern Star bicycle company was gearing up a promotional campaign featuring American movie figures for a product launch here; the Schwinn Paramount and Superior and World models, which were Schwinn's take on performance bikes, didn't appear in a vacuum. All those French randonneur bikes like the Reyhand and others were suddenly achieving a level of refinement not seen before. Even staid British bike makers were beginning to steepen their frame angles and make zippier handling machines. The coming of the war stopped all that in its tracks, of course. But there was some interest forming in the U.S., and much of it geared towards road cycling. It's one of the great what-ifs? of cycling history.
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Old 07-31-20, 07:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Darth Lefty View Post
So we have English bikes in England, road racing on the Continent, and track bikes in the Yankee states.

non-fixie why did they ban racing in the NL?
Road racing was banned in England too at one point. I think it was argued as a “safety“ thing. I read an article once about sneaking in time trials, racing at night, etc.
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Old 07-31-20, 07:30 PM
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Oh - and you had small builders, like Drysdale and the Wastyns and others. Parts were mostly imported, lots of B.S.A. and comparable stuff. You found performance bikes in big cities, obviously.

One more weird note - I dimly remember reading in Bicycling! magazine an account of someone who had done a multi-day cycling touring in the Northeastern U.S. c. 1926. His bike as I remember was the latest in British road cycling technology - lugged steel "lightweight" frame, 26 x 1 3/8 Endrick rims, a Sturmey-Archer gear hub, "dropped" handlebars (the pen and ink illustration showed inverted North Road bend), cable-actuated side pulls - essentially a Raleigh Sports, which at one time were pretty sporty. He did his tour English style as I recall, using a handlebar bag and staying at inns.
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Old 08-01-20, 07:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Darth Lefty View Post
So we have English bikes in England, road racing on the Continent, and track bikes in the Yankee states.

non-fixie why did they ban racing in the NL?
It was the direct result of a new "motor and bicycle law" introduced in 1905, which forbade any form of racing on public roads, unless approved beforehand by the Traffic Secretary. This being a very conservative country at the time - very few races were approved. One that was approved was the 1925 World Championship in Apeldoorn.

Contestants were instructed to be careful and not ride too fast. The riders were held up at various control stops to have their race numbers stamped and they stopped for lunch, so breaking away was pointless.

And wearing shorts were also out of the question.

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Old 08-01-20, 08:52 AM
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The USA had very steep import tariffs applied to bicycles for a long time.
kept the industry afloat.

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Old 08-01-20, 11:40 AM
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After the late 1890s' bicycle boom crashed, the industry struggled on, protected by heavy tariffs that largely kept the European developments out of the USA. Meanwhile, the nascent automobile industry continued to grow, at the expense of the bicycle industry. After Henry Ford introduced the assembly line, prices fell, making automobiles affordable for the average worker (i.e. 1925 Model T was $260). By the end of the decade 4 out of 5 American households owned a car. Consequently, the American bicycle industry legacy of the 1920s was adults switching from pedaling to driving and the market becoming increasingly oriented to children's and youths' models, which were typically roadsters with single speed, coaster brakes. Even the bicycle industry was motor vehicle influenced, with popular youths' models exhibiting motorcycle characteristics, such as double top tubes, faux gas tanks, truss forks, etc.

That trend continued through to the post WWII era, when the USA started to relax tariffs, first to Britain, as way to rebuild her cycle industry to help repay her war debts (to the USA). That led to the 1950s influx of British 3 speeds from brands like Raleigh, with which American servicemen had gained familiarity while stationed there during WWII. The post war movement towards suburbs also created an environment more conducive to recreational cycling.

Then, in the 1960s, further tariff relaxations started attracting other European manufacturers, so that when the baby boomers had outgrown their Schwinn Stingrays and were looking for a more grown-up version of the excitement provided by their hi-risers, there was a ready made market for lightweight European 10 speeds with their derailleur gears, that had seemed to spring out of nowhere, despite a long history in Europe.

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Old 08-01-20, 11:53 AM
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Originally Posted by 79pmooney View Post
Madison Square Garden was built around a velodrome. The pros who race on it were probably the highest paid athletes in the country, making far more than baseball or football players, The moneyed, the movers, those who were to be seen went and bet big money on those races. There were velodromes and pro racing in cities around the country into the '30s and 40s.
That would have been the first Madison Square Garden at 26th St. and Madison Ave.



There have been 4 MSGs located at 3 locations in Manhattan.
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Old 08-01-20, 12:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Clang View Post
So what happened to all these old pre-war bikes? Did they get recycled into tanks and battleship armor during WWII scrap drives?
I have several, a Wastyn, 2 Pop Brennan’s, 1 Drysdale, 1 Carbine, 2 Paramounts and some post 50’s Paramount track iron.

6 Day Racing was the largest sport in the U.S. prior to WWII, it never recovered after the war. U.S. builders used BSA and Haden lugs, Reynolds and Accles & Pollock tubing. They would thin and hand shape the lugs to their own design. British manufacturers like BSA, Williams, and Chater Lea supplied the components with Schwinn coming in about 1938.



Pop Brennan track bike owned by 1922 ABLA Champion Carl Hambacher.
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