The invention of the bicycle over a hundred years ago made an immediate impact on society and personal mobility. Like any great invention, it has been upgraded and adapted over the years. Many branches on the bicycle family tree stay close to the original bicycle form, but others have taken bicycle designs to the extreme.
Many of the unique modifications made to bicycles over the years were intended to improve performance. Some, like the recumbent bicycle, improved performance so much that they were banned from organized racing. Other changes to bicycle design took advantage of technological advancements, such as electric bicycles that help their riders climb steep hills. Many, like steam-powered bikes, never caught on.
Sometimes bicycles can be designed just for fun. Tall bikes, mini bikes, and unicycles have a unique ability to make observers smile. No matter what the future holds for bicycles, you can be sure they will continue to capture our imagination.
Wolff Companion – 1898
This multi-rider adult tricycle is called a “sociable” because the riders sit next to one another and can carry on a conversation. It is much easier to balance than a tandem bicycle, but steering was shared by both riders.
Turner Recumbents Hypercycle – 1980s
Recumbent bicycles put the rider in a laid-back position low to the ground. This low, reclined posture makes recumbent bicycles more aerodynamic than traditional bicycles – less air drag makes the ride faster. The world record for speed on a bicycle, 82.3 mph, was set on a recumbent!
Schwinn Unicycle – 1980
The history of the unicycle is unclear, though it may be an adaptation of the penny-farthing bicycles of the 1800s. Many penny-farthing riders noticed that the small rear wheel would sometimes leave the ground, allowing the rider to use only the large front wheel. Riding on one wheel can be difficult, but the trick is in keeping your center of mass directly over the center of the wheel.
Huffy Touriste – 1982
Engineers developed folding bicycles for easy storage and are commonly used by travelers or city commuters lacking space to store a bicycle. Many folding bicycles can fit in a suitcase, allowing vacationers to take their bikes with them around the world.
Garden Bike – 2001
This steel-framed bicycle has been wrapped with bamboo to provide a “natural” look, but bicycle frames can be made of bamboo alone. Densely-packed fibers give bamboo high tensile strength, allowing it to bend without breaking. Pound for pound, bamboo is stronger than steel!
Tidalforce Ebike – 2004
Electric-assist bicycles are pedaled like a normal bicycle, but their electric motors can give the rider a boost getting up steep hills. The motor is powered by a rechargeable battery that the rider plugs in at home. Many electric bicycles can travel up to 20 mph without pedaling!
Schwinn Tango – 2006
Tandem bicycles date back to 1898. While most are bicycles built for two, tandem bicycles for three, four, and even five riders have been produced – these can be used for racing or for an entire family to ride together. The biggest challenge in riding a tandem bicycle is keeping the riders balanced because the center of mass is located at a point between the riders.
UDC Mini Bike – 2012
Miniature bicycles like this are designed with clowns in mind, but anybody can learn to ride one. The most challenging part in riding a mini bike is keeping your balance while moving slowly; balancing is easier at higher speeds because the rider only needs to make small adjustments to their center of mass.
Drombosky Tall Bike – 2011
This tall bike is built from three 1990s mountain bikes and features a telescoping frame designed for height adjustment and transport. The bike uses cable steering to move the front wheel, similar to the steering on a boat or airplane. Over 330 links of chain were used to connect the top crank to the rear wheel!
(On loan from Fiks Reflective)
Adaptive Bike – 2012
This adaptive bike was designed for children with disabilities as part of Variety of Pittsburgh’s My Bike program. Adaptive bikes are customized for each child, allowing them to experience the freedom of a bike ride and the joy of riding alongside friends.
Terry Women’s Bicycle
Women are shaped differently than men and have a lower center of mass, which can make it difficult to ride bicycles designed for men. Georgena Terry founded her bicycle company in 1985 to make bikes engineered to fit the proportions of a woman’s body.
Pee-Wee Herman’s Schwinn DX – 1985
This is one of at least ten bikes built exclusively for the 1985 Tim Burton film Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, starring Paul Reubens. Pee-Wee’s precious bike – stolen in the film and possibly hidden in the basement of the Alamo (spoilers!) is a highly-customized 1953 Schwinn DX, featuring luggage compartments, streamers, and a tiger head sound effects speaker. Filmmakers will often make several versions of a prop like this, in case of damage to one, and make them different levels of detail, depending on if they are used in a close up or wide shot.
Monark Gene Autry – 1950s
Young fans of the singing cowboy Gene Autry could pretend to be their hero on this classic bicycle inspired by Autry’s horse, Champion. Autry’s popular music and television shows yielded him five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the town of Gene Autry, Oklahoma.
Rollfast Hop-A-Long Cassidy – 1950s
Cowboy action hero Hopalong Cassidy was created in 1904, but reached the peak of popularity in the 1950s with his own TV show. In the movies Hopalong Cassidy dressed in black, even his hat, and this bicycle reflects the character’s personal style.
Bowden Spacelander – 1960
This futuristic machine was designed at the height of the ‘Space Race,’ and like the bikes of the 1930s that echoed the art deco design of that era, celebrated the national mania for rockets. It is made of fiberglass and has a built-in headlight and rear fender. However sales never took off and the Spacelander was only made in 1960, and today it is a rare collector’s item.