The latest installment of our Cabin Fever Clinic and Speaker Series celebrates the history of our favorite two-wheeled conveyance with a 6:30 p.m. visit from bike historian and collector Alex Pollack on Thursday, Feb 20.
The antique bikes on display in our shop are part of a collection that began when Pollack drew up plans for a transportation museum to showcase the antique cars, trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles collected by Detroit paving tycoon B.J. Pollard.
“When Henry Ford II got wind of it he said, ‘There’s only going to be one transportation museum (Greenfield Village) in Michigan!’ and he killed (the project),” said Pollock, an architect by trade and a retired Detroit city planner. Pollard offered Pollack something from the collection as payment for the work he’d already put in, and Pollack said, ‘Well, I really like the bikes…”
Pollard gave Pollack and his wife two bikes, a racing Star and a 48″ Victor high wheel; the collection has since grown into a ride through cycling history.
First, there was the hobby horse, a two-wheeled wooden novelty with no pedals -essentially a bike that can only coast. Then someone added pedals to the front wheel and created the Boneshaker, a iron and wood machine that topped out at about 5 mph.
That evolved into the ordinary, which by today’s standards would be anything but. Ordinary bikes were high wheelers – your inseam determined the size of wheel you could ride.
Ordinary riders adopted certain cavalry-like customs – like having a bugler in their company who played as they rode. That big wheel in front made the bike prone to endo, but a “no whiners” ethos was already developing.
“People back then didn’t think of it as dangerous,” Pollack said. “They prided themselves in riding fast, handling the ‘iron steed.’ It was like the Hell’s Angels back then.”
Bike bugle design, by the way, evolved from a horn with a rounded bell (the big part where the sound comes out) to a oblong one because when the bike pitched the bugler forward onto his head, he’d inevitably land on his horn and squash the bell.
Safety bikes – with hard rubber tires and a differential gear and chain – got us to the world of same-sized wheels, but they were still heavy, expensive and ridden mostly by men. Pneumatic tires changed the cycling world. They cushioned the ride and made bikes lighter and cheaper to build, which in turn made bikes more available to people than ever before. Women embraced cycling for exercise and transportation, and their enthusiasm fed a resurgence in the popularity of bloomers (cycling clothing!)
Pollack’s “newest” bike dates back to 1932. Made by a British company that would eventually become Raleigh, it’s got a steel frame and a leather Brooks saddle, caliper brakes, a headlamp, a rack for your books or your main squeeze. It’s 82 years old, but, materials aside, not all that different from any modern bike in the shop.
But wait, there’s more!
Yes, one more Thursday night of Cabin Fever. Our own Mack McCormick will lead a free full-bike tune-up clinic starting at 6 p.m. on March 6. Get your ride ready; it (probably) can’t snow forever…