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Bike boom or bicycle craze refers to several different times when, for a period of a few years, many people in many parts of Europe and North America wanted to buy and ride a bicycle. In brief, they occurred in 1819, 1868, the decade of the 1890s, and the 1970s. In North America the term is sometimes used to refer specifically to the last major boom, the one of the 1970s.




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, 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[]

Then 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 to the rest of Europe, the USA, and indeed all over the world 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 USA in 1878, and went on to manufacture thousands of bicycles.


File:Safety bicycle 1887.jpg

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

However, it was 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, which led to perhaps the biggest bicycle craze of all, during the 1890s.[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.

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). [1]

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[]

During most of the 20th century in the USA, except for a brief period of popularity during the Great Depression of the 1930s, bicycles were relegated to the status of children's toys.[citation needed]

The US bike boom of 1971-1975 saw adult cycling increased sharply in popularity, with sharp sales increases. The period of increased sales was followed by an equally sharp fall in sales, resulting in a large inventory of unsold bicycles.

Several factors contributed to the U.S. bike boom:

  • Affordable and versatile 10-speed derailleur-geared racing bicycles became widely available.[2]
  • Many post-World War II baby boomers, who were reaching adulthood in this time period, began to demand an inexpensive transportation for recreation and exercise, while preserving the environment.[2]
  • The 1973 oil crisis greatly increased the cost of driving an automobile, making bicycle commuting a more attractive option.

As of 2008 some industry analysts see signs of a new bike craze starting.[3]


  1. Herlihy, David V (2004). Bicycle: the History. Yale University Press. pp. 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. 2.0 2.1 Bicycle Glossary by Sheldon Brown
  3. Template:Cite web

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