The title of the exhibition was Amazing Bikes: Two Centuries on Two Wheels. We begin below with the museum's own introduction and then we lead into the display of classic bicycles and artifacts. We should point out here that we did not take specific photos of Mr. Dodge's Collection since you can view them much more spectacularly and appropriately in his wonderful book entitled, The Bicycle (If you have not yet got your copy, we suggest you hustle- they are already becoming difficult to find. Look for the link to Mr. Dodge within the NBHAA site).
NOTE: Since cameras were not allowed in the gallery except by permission of the museum, the theory is that no photos should exist out there aside from the ones we are showing here–unless you got specific permission from the museum. If you took photos without expressed permission of the museum, they are unauthorized and illegal. Finally, we remind those of you who are insensitive to acknowledgement of source information, get permission! It is copyrighted.
Amazing Bikes: Two Centuries on Two Wheels, a colorful and comprehensive exhibition exploring the art and history of the bicycle, was on view at the Oakland Museum of California September 11, 1999 through January 30, 2000. The exhibition traced the development of this revolutionary invention from European machines of the mid-1860s through the bicycle's golden age in the 1890s to today's technically sophisticated models. Activities and programs for the whole family accompany the exhibition.
The invention of the bicycle had a revolutionary impact around the world. Considered the first democratic means of transportation, the bicycle eliminated dependence on the horse and carriage and allowed people to transport themselves faster and more efficiently. Women benefited from the enhanced mobility and independence and the rational dress movement spawned by women cyclists.
Cycles Gladiator, c. 1900. C.B., G. Massias, Paris, France. Lithograph.
Technological innovations developed for the bicycle were later used in production of automobiles and airplanes. The exhibition will stimulate thinking about the various social impacts of the bicycle since its appearance more than a century ago.
The exhibition includes graceful designs ranging from an early pedal-less "running machine" circa 1820 to French and English "velocipedes" and safety bicycles, from high-wheelers and balloon-tire bicycles to road racers and modern California mountain bikes. More than sixty bicycles, dating from the 1860s to the present, have been selected for the exhibition from the Pryor Dodge and Leon Dixon collections and from other sources. Also on exhibit are posters, prints, photographs and bicycle memorabilia. The art and striking beauty of these machines is a primary theme for the exhibition, which also explores the social and economic impact of the bicycle beginning with the Industrial Revolution..++++++++++++++++++++
During the 1970s, classic bicycles were just beginning to emerge as collectible, but even then, they are largely reviled even by serious bicycle collectors and modern cyclists. Most people just could not understand the value in an old, huge, heavy, toy-like, art deco bicycle.
About that same time, the mountain bike phenomenon was beginning to take hold, especially in Northern California. On the other hand, in Southern California the beach cruiser phenomenon was taking off. Remember, there were no manufacturers mass-producing balloon tire (2.125) bicycles in North America (at least not to any wide availability) and most had completely written off any thought of ever making so-called heavyweight bicycles again. After all, everyone KNEW that 10-speeds were the wave of the future–right?
Already, old balloon tire bicycles were being heavily modified, even wrecked for mountain biking and beach cruising. Before long, people in Florida were cutting up oldies to make Conch cruisers. These developments, coupled with the fact that scrap drives of World War II and the Korean War had pretty much decimated the dwindling few remaining bicycles of the classic period, meant a pretty grim future for these bicycles. It was urgent that something, somehow had to be done before there would be no 1920s-1960s oldies left unmodified or intact.
This was a frightening trend that had the potential to wipe out all of the remaining balloon tire jewels that had survived up to that point. It was clear that the surviving balloon era bicycles needed to be rescued and this could only happen if they became recognized as having a value as legitimate collector items. A hobby needed to be officially established and publicized worldwide. This we undertook to do.
In 1977, we appeared in Bicycle Journal magazine in a story about balloon tire bicycles. We began exhibiting bicycles in the mid-1970s for Bicycle Dealer Showcase (BDS) magazine, which ran the second-largest North American bicycle trade show for the industry, entitled Bicycle Dealer Showcase Expo (or BDS EXPO). In conjunction with this expo which we were the sole exhibitor of old bicycles, we also participated in writing articles for BDS magazine and others. We taught classes for bicycle dealers, identifying for them items to save as salable collector pieces and how to identify them. One of these seminars–the largest was held January 14, 1980 at the Long Beach, CA convention center. We appeared with displays of old bicycles at National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) trade shows and between BDS and NBDA shows, educated thousands of dealers. In 1972, we were interviewed by Bicycling! magazine. We appeared with our J.C. Higgins during 1974 in Bicycling! magazine (yes, the title at that time used an exclamation mark in the title). In 1977, we began publishing the very first newsletter for collectors of these bicycles...and began to identify and write about every one of today's acknowledged key collector pieces. In 1977, your curator wrote the very first international and nationwide articles for Popular Mechanics* magazine. One of these articles appeared in English in the January, 1978 issue. A Spanish-language version Popular Mechanics article entitled Restaure su Bicicleta appeared in March or April (depending on where in the world you lived) 1978. Both of these articles drew nationwide and worldwide attention to the fact that these bicycles were worth saving as collector items- and that there was a hobby emerging. In 1978, we went on radio and television, even appearing as far away as Canada on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) network program As It Happens talking about the resurgence of balloon tire bicycles and the fact that old ones were collectable and should be saved. In 1978, we founded the Classic Bicycle Club of America, which via political infighting became a club of another name and later died. In 1979 we wrote and provided visuals for the very first bicycle history video to include balloon tire classic bicycles. In short, we worked tirelessly to promote, identify and establish the heretofore non-existent hobby of collecting balloon tire bicycles.
* NOTE: in a very, very bizarre twist, Popular Mechanics apparently developed amnesia about the original January, 1978 article. In April, 1986 PM published an article claiming that a "new hobby" (exactly the words we used in 1978) of collecting balloon tire bicycles was just discovered. Worse, over a decade after our January, 1978 article, PM published yet another article on exactly the same topic on exactly the same bicycles in July, 1989 Yet, PM failed to mention the original article which began it all. The original article we did featured Schwinn Phantom, Elgin Skylark, Elgin Bluebird, Monark, Murray, Whizzer and others. The 1989 piece did the same, except it used mis-restored examples. The latter two articles continued to crow about a "new hobby" which in fact had already been established and written about in their own magazine over a decade earlier!
So years later when people would say they first heard about collecting these bicycles in
So years later when people would say they first heard about collecting these bicycles inPopular Mechanics, the question was... which one? And why did the later articles ignore the original while they replicated it?)
Names for balloon tire bicycles (and not very flattering names at that) were already being bandied about between both mountain biking and cruiser camps, often in confusing double meanings. While a klunker or clunker in NorCal might have referred to an old balloon bicycle built up for mountain biking, in SoCal it may have meant a trashed oldie used for cruising the strand at the beach. In the Florida Keys (where, by the way, they were called "conch cruisers'), it may have had a third meaning. Some of the other names were bombers, trashers, mashers, cruisers, and worse.
Thus, the coining of the term, classic bicycle**. As published and copyrighted by Leon Dixon in the November, 1979 issue of Bicycle Dealer Showcase Magazine and in a 1978 newsletter, the definition of a classic bicycle was fairly simple.
Classic bicycles were built roughly from 1920 through approximately 1965. They were essentially an American phenomenon since no other country in the world ever produced streamlined art deco and deluxe heavyweight bicycles laden with built-in accessories. There are three main groups: 1.) Single-tube tire (glue-on doughnut type tires with no separate inner tube) use mainly from the early 1900s through the 1930s. 2.) Balloon tire (usually 2.125 tires with separate inner tube and clincher rims) covering 1930s through the 1950s. 3.) Middleweight tire (usually 1.75 tire covering 1954 through the 1960s). Of course, the most sought-after of any classic bicycle would be the deluxe top-of-the-line streamliners of any make. Built-in items such as horn, speedometer, lighting all add to value and make the piece more desirable.
** Copyright 1978, 1979, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2007 © Leon Dixon
The list went on and on. The speedometer (driven from the rear wheel) lights up at night when the headlight is turned on. The headlight is built into the front of the frame. Built in electric horn. A toolbox/battery compartment is integrated into the frame. It was one of the very first bicycles to use a side kick-up stand. Famous Alemite lubrication system is built into the frame and hubs (not grease fittings) and a tiny Alemite grease gun (yes, we have it!) was included with each Bluebird! Even the handlebar grips are a special shock-absorbing design. The special tear-drop pedals are weighted on one side of the tread, just to keep them hanging pointed forward.
Every Bluebird was hand built and cost as much or more than a used Model T Ford of the time. Of course, as you might imagine, during the depression years of the 1930s, few such bicycles were ever sold, making them very rare birds today. A Bluebird today in top condition can command upwards of several thousand dollars.
This particular one is a 1936 model in the optional red and cream color. Originally, most Bluebirds were painted French Blue with red trim. Though the paint has been touched up numerous times, it is basically original. The Allstate whitewalls are turning yellow now and are 4 years newer than the bicycle. Still, even these tires are almost impossible to find today.
Want more info on Elgin Bluebirds? Scroll to the bottom of this page and click on "Back To Home/Start Page" then click on "NBHAA Gallery" to take a look at MORE of our Elgin Bluebirds over the years!
Styled by famous industrial designer and artist, the late Viktor Shreckengost (who took over styling duties that year for an even more famous Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky), the '39 Merc created a sensation. Shreckengost told Leon Dixon in an interview many years ago, "...Originally we had planned to put tiny headlights atop the outside of the tank, but that didn't work out to be as pleasing as we wanted. Then I hit upon the idea of incorporating them into the tank. Everyone loved it and that is how we displayed it at the World's Fair."
Things were in such a rush to get ready for the World's Fair exhibit that the elaborate diecast metal art-deco headpiece was not even plated as were later production models. Nor did it include the word, Mercury as did later production models. Instead, it was simply polished. Ultimately, this design (with minor modifications) continued through 1941 and was stopped when WW2 began.
Today, this bicycle (and it's production version brethren which were actually offically called "Mercury Pacemaker") are quite rare. Although the paint has been refurbished, all of the chrome and aluminum fenders have not been touched and are original. This showing marks the first time it has been displayed in a public exhibition since 1939.
There were various bicycles that tried to capitalize on the World's Fair theme, but they were not AT the World's Fair. Even many World's Fair buffs have stated that they were unaware of bicycles on exhibit at the '39 World's Fair. However, even the front page of the 1939 Mercury Bicycle catalogue clearly states: See It At The 1939 New York World's Fair
He actually was a real Russian Count who had escaped his homeland during the assassinations of the Czar. Sakhnoffsky often said that he could hear the wheels turning in the night on the streets as members of his family were hauled away to their death. However, on the other hand, the sound of those wheels also reminded him of a chance for freedom. Ultimately, those turning wheels would influence his design fervor for vehicles the rest of his life. He designed everything from clothing to toasters to fabulous cars (LeBaron Packard) and trucks (Labatt's Streamliner). But today, even hardcore fans of the Count do not know that he designed bicycles.
From 1936 through 1938, Sakhnoffsky did a series of bicycles based on this design for the Murray Ohio Company of Cleveland, Ohio. It was Murray's first experience in building bicycles, but they had long experience in making wheel goods and automobile bodies. This bicycle was so ahead of it's time that it incorporated many features copied later by others. Some of these features are: • The first streamlined pedal cranks (no "dogleg" to clear the chainguard) • The first built-in side kickstand • A spring-loaded anti-shatter rear reflector • "Hubcaps" (ones shown are not original types) for axle ends (we have originals, but needing work).
This is the first time that Count de Sakhnoffsky's bicycle has been shown in public exhibition. The paint has been restored to original patterns and hue. However, much of the chrome is original as is the leather on the optional Lobdell Airflex saddle.
However, this Robin is one of three prototypes built then as an experiment to revive the idea of shaftdrive (absent from the bicycle scene since the early 1900s). Sears Roebuck (who sold the Elgin brand) and Westfield manufacturing (who contracted to make SOME of the Elgin line) teamed up with engineers from the New Departure company (famous maker of ball bearings and bicycle coaster brakes and a Division of General Motors). The result was this Robin shaftdrive prototype and two other similar Robins. All of the three known versions are different, using varying methods of braking and clutching, etc. Of the three, this one is the most complete and has been restored to its original glory.
The seat is the original leather and the paint shade is more a milky color when compared to regular production models which were a dark chocolate brown and beige (among other color available combinations). It is this color because the color was used only on this particular prototype. The odd dimpled aluminum "crater" rear reflector was actually released and tried for a time as a production item on Elgin bicycles. At that time, it was thought to be superior to glass. We have only seen two of these reflectors and while there is some question as to whether they were painted translucent red, neither of the two we have were ever painted. The tires are original Allstate whitewalls (the brand used on Elgins) but they are the 1940s-50s type. Also, production Robins did not normally feature this built-in speedometer which normally came on a 1936 Elgin Skylark for girls. However, note that this speedo differs from the production version by having the two push-button holes for horn and headlight covered with a special plate that simply says Sears Elgin.
Although this Elgin was a breakthrough in design and engineering, ultimately it was deemed too expensive to mass produce and thus ended the story.
The first of the new series appeared in 1938 and differed only in minor details from the 1939 model you see here. Considered today by some collectors to be the ultimate classic bicycle, the Shelby Speedline Airflow came in a bewildering series of different combinations of equipment, colors and names.
As shown here, this Speedline Airflow is equipped with unusual equipment- even for the Speedline: electric horn (note special button on tank), special optional "fluted" fenders, electric tail light.
This Speedline is in original colors and the saddle leather is original. A set of original GoodYear whitewalls are installed. The wild "rams horn" handlebars are original as are the handlegrips. There are NO reproduction parts on this bicycle. This is the first time it has been shown in public exhibition.
Curiously enough, Shelby also had an assembly plant during this period in Los Angeles. Even knowledgeable collectors are not aware of this California connection to Shelby (but sadly after we wrote about this a retarded book claimed that Shelby opened a bicycle plant in Los Angeles to build Donald Duck bicycles! Hogwash).
By the late 1920s when chrome plating was introduced, Elgin was first on the bandwagon to introduce an all-chrome bicycle. However, by 1934, the Monark Battery Company had introduced a radical new silvery bicycle made of aluminum alloy. It was called the Silver King and took off in great popularity. The Silver King introduction sent the folks over at Sears (makers of the Elgin) scrambling into a blind panic.
Quickly, the Sears engineers got together with one of the major aluminum companies and Westfield Manufacturing (the contract vendor for most of the Elgins at that time). The upshot of this all was the introduction of the Elgin Gull. Sears was convinced that they could one-up Monark's Silver King–and thus tried to make ALL components out of aluminum! Even the seat post stem and handlebars were made of aluminum! The result was the lightest balloon tire bicycle on the market. But once American boys got hold of the first Gulls that were sold, disaster struck almost immediately.
According to one of the engineers, the wedged and pinned un-welded frames broke with even the slightest rough treatment. Even worse, the aluminum alloy age-hardened prematurely and was extremely brittle. Smashed Gulls began returning to the few stores that had sold them and were replaced with conventional steel frames: a kind of factory recall, 1930s style. The poor Gull was withdrawn from the market in less than a year.
Today, only two complete Gulls (the one you see here and one other) are known to exist in the hands of collectors. There are two other frames known surviving and one other battered example sitting in a museum with a motor mounted on it. The Gull is so rare, even most seasoned collectors have never seen one.
This particular Gull is equipped with original postwar Allstate tires from the 1940s. The red seat is mint original(it looks a little brown in this photo, but in reality it is bright red). This is the first time this Gull has been displayed in public since it was new in 1935. If you know of a Gull, complete or otherwise out there, we'd like to hear from you!
However, the Safety Streamline was rather understated (it had no tank) and in the high-style arena of the mid-1930s American bicycledom, you HAD to have all of the "toys & whistles" to get the eye of an American youngster. And what about that name, "safety streamline"? Did it mean the others in the line were NOT safe? So, by 1937, Huffman introduced the "Super Streamline" series.
Under contract to Firestone tire stores (who then sold lots of bicycles) Huffman produced a slightly different version of the Super Streamline and Firestone marketed it under the name "Firestone Fleetwood" as you see here.
This particular one displayed here has been partially refurbished. However, aside from paint, it is all original, including seat, chrome, very rare optional speedometer and even an original set of Firestone whitewall tires. It is a very unusual model in that it was a special deluxe promotional specially equipped with stainless steel fenders and chainguard. VERY few of these were made and in fact probably fewer than 50 Super Streamlines of any variety exist today. We have owned at least half of the existing known survivors at one point or another.
By the way, we also own a mint-condition Dayton Safety-Streamline as well.
It was found in the 1970s in an original Shelby dealer's store, having never been sold. It had been stored indoors, in the original box since new. Nothing has been touched on this bicycle and it is exactly as it was when it rolled out of the factory in 1948.
Note the fantastic paint and pinstriping (all of which were originally done at the factory BY hand!). Original GoodYear tires are still in good shape and all chrome is exactly original. It is extremely difficult to find this bicycle complete with headlight (which alone today in the collector market can be very expensive). But to find the complete bicycle in mint condition, brand new is almost an impossible dream.
This design was Shelby's postwar effort which began in 1946. It had many features that were way ahead including the flush mounted rear reflector and tear-drop horn tank. Note the differences between this and the wild 1939 version elsewhere in this exhibition.
Originally planned as a dream bicycle the Roadmaster Skylark was built to be simple and lightweight. Built of cast aluminum, this cantilevered frame featured no front down tube and no welding. In fact, all frame pieces not part of the casting were attached with flush aircraft type rivets as invented by Howard Hughes for use in his record-setting airplane. An innovative idea was a built-in chainguard cast into the frame, which also served as a structural member. The Skylark was to be equipped with a Bendix 2-speed rear hub (as shown).
A few of these were cast up and some even made their way out of the factory into the hands of distributors. Alas, it was discovered (just like with the Elgin Gull) that rough American boys could easily break this frame (note even this prototype is cracked in one spot) and the idea was scrapped.
Of the two original prototypes (this is prototype number two) this is the only complete survivor. Prototype number one also still exists. We owned number one in the early 1970s and still have many of the parts, but it was stolen shortly after we bought it and has reappeared in recent years as a frame, of course, incomplete, being passed around from one puzzled collector to another. We have tried, unsuccessfully so far, to get it back home where it belongs.
For many years, the bicycle you see here sat in the lobby of AMF's Little Rock, Arkansas branch, but when that was shut down, it sat unwanted in storage for years, then went through a number of hands who had no idea what it was.
This prototype has been slightly refurbished, but is completely original in appearance and chrome. Yes, the red paint on the frame is original. The red jeweled pedals, handle grips, GoodYear tires and red Troxel "square-nose" seat are all original. Originally, a graphic logo with the words SKYLARK (on the chainguard) and Roadmaster (on the red part of the upper frame) were on this bicycle. We do have original decals which will be replaced when further restoration work is completed later. We also have original press releases and photos, some in color, from when this bicycle was first designed.
To handle the job, Evans contracted with Harley Earl (GM's head of styling then) to give a new look to the bicycles. Earl did a masterful job in breathing new life into what was a fairly old design parameter by that time.
Earl updated the suspension fork, including some aluminum components and new finned "heat sink" adornments on the sides of the unit. It LOOKED completely different from its predecessors. The front suspension fork did not include a spring at all. Instead, it was based on the "cushioner" technology developed jointly between GoodYear, Firestone and Colson back in the 1940s.
Curiously enough, this technology was used as the basis for the so-called "torsilastic suspension" of the ill-fated 1948 Tucker automobile*. NOTE: contrary to bizarre schlockobogus stories being passed around among bicycle collectors that the Tucker car was designed by Ben Bowden of Spacelander fame, this is not true. Our friend, the late, great Alex Sarantos Tremulis designed the Tucker (if you've seen the movie, you may note that Mr. Tucker refers to the designer as "Alex").
In any event, this was one of the most deluxe Evans-Colsons to appear and the company made a big splash when it was introduced.
The particular Evans-Colson Olympic you see here is all original (with the exception of the seat and accessory pedals) including paint, chrome and tires. The electric tail light, incorporated into the rear carrier, actually features a stop light as well. When the brakes are applied, an inertia device using a rolling metal ball engages a different electrical circuit via a resistor, thus making the stop light brighter than the tail light (a practice also seen on other deluxe classic bicycles of the era).
Earl continued to style bicycles for Evans for a few years following. However, the Evans company was never very successful in the bicycle business and eventually gave up. It is extremely rare to find one of the early Evans-Colson deluxe models today and even those who collect these rare bicycles are not aware of the fact that the famous Harley Earl designed them.
In 1928 The Shelby Cycle Company of Shelby, Ohio introduced their "Lindy" bicycle to commemorate this American hero. A little miniature "Sprit of St Louis" airplane sits on the front fender and the propeller was designed to spin as the rider pedaled along! Though few were ever sold, this bicycle was just a suggestion of things to come with what we call "character bicycles" and opened a whole new realm of what would follow later from various companies (Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Donald Duck, just to name a few of the later character bicycles).
In any event, the Lindy was originally built as a separate line (from other Shelby products) for several years and came in many models and trim levels. Most were red-white- and blue colors, of course.
This particular Lindy shown is a 1931 version which is largely the same (except for minor details) as the 1928 version. The Lindy was one of the first bicycles to adopt chrome plating and you may notice there is some mixture of chrome and nickel plating on this bicycle as the latter was being phased out. Most of the paint on this bicycle is original, as are the seat and tool bag (and yes, the tool pouch is where the factory always put it on the rear carrier despite eyelets for same in the seat.)
Today, Lindys are so rare, there are probably fewer than ten existing in the hands of collectors and of these, even fewer are this complete or original. This is the first time this Lindy has been on museum exhibition.
On the other hand, cowboys and western movies were at their zenith of popularity. William "Bill" Boyd was a Hollywood actor who played one of the world's most famous cowboys: Hopalong Cassidy. Somebody, somewhere said, "geez...why not team up?" So they did. Beginning in the early 1950s, Harris released the Hopalong Cassidy model in all shapes and sizes ranging from a small tricycle up to the full-sized 26-inch model you see here- this one for girls.
Although some collectors today assume that all "Hoppy" models came with cap guns, the 26-inch versions never did. However, this one does have a matching set of western saddlebags.
Today, many of the Hoppy bicycle components and graphics have been reproduced and 99% of the ones displayed around the country are fake. As you see it, this one has no reproduced parts and is all original and has not been restored or molested in any manner.
We are also unsure who spread the schlock story that Hoppys had painted WHITE chains or painted rims, but that's just not true. THIS Hoppy has its original chain and All equipment including the handlegrips and streamers is original. The off-white saddle is not dirty, it is simply supposed to look like the horsehair grain on the back of Hoppy's horse (originals were not white). The axle caps, white streamers, Hoppy medallions, Hoppy pedals and special "steerhorn" handlebars are all original. All came in black with white trim, studded fenders and headlight and more.
Editor's Note: a special Silver King hextube prototype frame that went with these items was stolen from us in 2001. It has features with will not be obvious and it was never numbered, nor was it ever drilled for a headbadge. Hopefully some fool won't ruin this stolen piece of history. And yes, we DO have the paperwork authenticating the frame.