Bike boom

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An advertisement for a safety bicycle that was to cause the great boom of the 1890s

The term "bike boom" or "bicycle craze" refers to any of several specific historic periods marked by increased bicycle enthusiasm, popularity, and sales.

Prominent examples include 1819 and 1868, as well as the decades of the 1890s and 1970s — the latter especially in North America.


The first period which may be called a bicycle craze actually refers to a precursor of the bicycle which was pushed along by the feet on the ground as in walking, and did not have pedals. This machine was invented by Baron Karl von Drais in Germany, and was called variously a "draisine" (English) or "draisienne" (French) after his name, a "velocipede" from the Latin terms for "fast foot", a "hobby horse", or a "dandy horse", the last name being perhaps the most popular. Drais got a patent for his invention in 1818, and the craze swept Europe and the USA during the summer of 1819 while many manufacturers (notably Denis Johnson of London) either copied Drais's machine or created their own versions, then quickly died out as many pedestrians began to feel threatened by the machines and municipalities enacted laws prohibiting their use.

During the next 43 years, chiefly in England, inventors continued to explore the concept of human-powered transport, but on vehicles with 3 or 4 wheels (called "tricycles" and "quadracycles" respectively), which were thought to be more stable, not requiring the balance that is necessary for 2-wheeled vehicles. But none of these achieved much popularity.

1860s and 1870s[edit]

In the early 1860s the first true bicycle was created in Paris, France, by attaching rotary cranks and pedals to the front wheel hub of a dandy-horse. The Olivier brothers recognized the commercial potential of this invention, and set up a partnership with blacksmith and bicycle maker Pierre Michaux, using Michaux's name, already famous among enthusiasts of the new sport, for the company. They began the first mass-production of bicycles (still called "velocipedes") in 1868, as the first real bicycle craze had begun the year before, reaching full force all over Europe and America in 1868 and 1869. But exactly as with the dandy-horse, pedestrians complained about them, and the craze again faded quickly. Another factor in their demise was the extremely uncomfortable ride, because of the stiff wrought-iron frame and wooden wheels surrounded by tires made of iron — this led to the pejorative name "boneshaker", which is still used today to refer to this type of bicycle.

Again, England was the only place where the concept remained popular during the early 1870s. But the design changed drastically, with the front wheel becoming larger and larger, and with many other improvements making the ride more comfortable. This type of bicycle was known in its day as the "ordinary", but people later began calling it a "penny-farthing" because of the resemblance of its wheel sizes to the largest and smallest English copper coins of the time; today it is most often called a "high-wheel". Front-wheel sizes quickly grew to as much as 5 feet (~1.5 meters), and the bicycles were considered by the general public to be quite dangerous. In addition, they were expensive, and thus riders were mostly wealthy young men who formed an elite brotherhood. However, bicycle races were staged and well-attended by the public, which spread interest for the high-wheeler worldwide because of the far-flung British colonies, by the end of the decade. Albert Pope purchased Lallement's original patent and created his "Columbia" bicycle in the U.S. in 1878, and went on to manufacture thousands of bicycles.


The 1890s saw one of the biggest bicycle crazes of all, driven by several significant developments in bicycles: the invention of the "safety bicycle" with its chain-drive transmission, whose gear ratios allowed smaller wheels without a concurrent loss of speed, and the subsequent invention of the pneumatic (inflatable air-filled) bicycle tire.[1] Experiments with chain-drive had been attempted in 1869 and 1879, but the first well known chain-drive bicycle was the "Rover" produced in 1885 by John Kemp Starley. Very quickly, the penny-farthing passed out of fashion, and multitudes of people all over the world began riding the "safety". It was largely the popularity of this type of bicycle at this time which first caused roads to be paved.[citation needed]

September 13, 1892 saw the opening of a Bicycle Railroad between Mount Holly, New Jersey and the H. B. Smith Manufacturing Company in Smithville, NJ during the Mount Holly fair, with 3,000 riders its first week (for amusement instead of commuting).

Coney Island wanted one, and the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago featured one. Several others were built for amusement in Atlantic City, Ocean City and Gloucester City, NJ (the first two in 1893 and last in 1894).[2]

The Overman Victor Flyer, a popular bicycle during the 1890s

In the year 1896, there was simultaneously an increase in bicycle popularity and a severe economic slump.[3] Bicycles were one of the few areas of the economy where sales were growing; people were buying bicycles "whether they could afford them or not".[3] This attracted hundreds of manufacturers into the bicycle business.[3] This created a downward spiral of market saturation, over-supply and intense price competition.[3] Many bicycle manufacturers went out of business, and dozens of others consolidated into the American Bicycle Company.

The application of the internal-combustion engine to the bicycle during the 1890s resulted in the motorcycle, and then soon after, the engine was applied to 4-wheel carriages resulting in the motor car or "automobile" which in later decades largely supplanted its unmotorized ancestor.

20th century[edit]

1977 Nishiki International
Typical 1970s Bike Boom ten-speed road bike.

US bike boom of 1965–1975: The period of 1965–1975 saw adult cycling increase sharply in popularity — with Time magazine calling it "the bicycle's biggest wave of popularity in its 154-year history"[4] The period was followed by a sudden[5] fall in sales, resulting in a large inventory of unsold bicycles. Seven million bicycles were sold in the U.S. in 1970.[6] Of those, 5½ million were children's bikes, 1.2 million were coaster brake, balloon-tired adult bicycles, and only 200,000 were lightweight 3-speed or derailleur-equipped bikes.[6] Total bicycle sales had doubled by 1972 to 14 million — with children's bikes remaining constant at 5½ million, adult balloon-tired bicycles falling to about 1/2 million, and lightweight bicycles exploding fortyfold, to 8 million.[6] Time magazine reported in 1971 that "for the first time since the 1890s, nearly one-half of all bicycle production" was "geared for adults."[4]

The boom received a kick start in the mid 60s with the advent of the Schwinn Sting-Ray and other wheelie bikes. Sales reached 4 million units per year for the first time.[7] At the height of the boom, in 1972, 1973, and 1974, more bicycles than automobiles were sold in the U.S.[6][8]

Additional factors contributing to the U.S. bike boom included affordable and versatile 10-speed derailleur-geared racing bicycles becoming widely available,[9] the arrival of many post-World War II baby boomers at adulthood and demanding inexpensive transportation for recreation and exercise, and increasing interest in reducing pollution.[4][9] The 1973 oil crisis, which increased the cost of driving an automobile, making bicycle commuting a more attractive option, is commonly assumed to have propelled the bike boom, but in fact, bicycle sales had already peaked when the crisis struck in October, 1973.[10]

21st century[edit]

As of 2008 some industry analysts see signs of surging bicycle popularity.[11]

In the United Kingdom, 2012 is cited by the British press as a bike boom period, fuelled by the successes of British cyclists in the Tour de France and at the Olympic Games.[12][13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Herlihy, David V. (2004). Bicycle: the History. Yale University Press. p. 225. ISBN 0-300-10418-9. not only prevailed as the universal bicycle style, it also triggered an unprecedented world-wide demand that culminated in the great boom. 
  2. ^ Herlihy, David V. (Spring 1992). "The Bicycle Story". Invention & Technology Magazine. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Overman's Struggle, Splendor, and Failure". New York, NY: The World. 29 December 1897. p. 9. Retrieved 8 February 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c "They Like Bikes". Time, Jun. 14, 1971. June 14, 1971. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  5. ^ "A Look at the Bicycle Industry’s Vital Statistics". The National Bicycle Dealers Association, 2008. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Sunset for Suntour". Van der Plas Publications, Frank Berto, August 26, 1998. 
  7. ^ Herlihy, David V. (2004). Bicycle, The History. Yale University Press. p. 363. ISBN 0-300-10418-9. Meanwhile, a new juvenile craze broke out and propelled domestic bicycle sales past the four million mark for the first time. This time around, the demand was for new-fangled "high-risers" like Schwinn's Sting-Ray. 
  8. ^ "A Surge in Bicyclists Appears to Be Waiting". The New York Times, Jan Ellen Spiegel, December 31, 2008. January 1, 2009. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  9. ^ a b Bicycle Glossary by Sheldon Brown
  10. ^ Cross, Kenneth (August 1978). "Bicycle Safety Education: Facts and Issues". AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  11. ^ Harker, Jonathon (2008-11-28). "Cycling's zeitgeist is now'". Archived from the original on 7 January 2009. Retrieved 2008-11-29. 
  12. ^ De Lacey, Martha (August 13, 2012). "On your bikes, girls! Team GB's golden girls of Olympic cycling causes sales spike in women's bicycles...FEMAIL picks the best". Daily Mail. 
  13. ^[dead link]

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