The little old lady pedaling furiously away on the giant tricycle above is not in her second childhood. She is simply participating in the revival of an old U.S. enthusiasm—cycling. The revival began three years ago in California when Los Angeles college students discovered sleek, light, multigeared bikes called "derailleurs," after their imported gearshift mechanism. Bicycle shops from coast to coast are having the biggest boom since John L. Sullivan's day.
The derailleur can shift into as many as 15 different gears, permitting a cyclist to climb or descend the steepest hill with less than half the effort required on an ordinary bike. An expert, equipped with a 15-speed derailleur, could pedal his way to the top of Pikes Peak with relatively little effort.
Today most of the lightweight bikes are imports, and European manufacturers are having a grand time filling orders. One American bike manufacturer estimates that 800,000 lightweight European bicycles were sold in the U.S. last year in comparison to 100,000 American-made. Recently, however, American bicycle manufacturers have been working to offset the competition of the European imports.
The metallic-blue bike shown in the SPORTING LOOK color pages in this issue, for example, is American-made by Schwinn, and is comparable in quality to the better European touring bicycles. Schwinn's Superior sports bike has such refinements as a 15-speed derailleur, the imported Brooks racing saddle and taped drop handlebars. It costs about $125.
The Huffman Manufacturing Company is another first-rate American bike maker. Their Huffy Super 60 men's racer ($80) is a glittering yellow, and has a Huret 10-speed derailleur, sporty Dunlop white-wall tires, adjustable toe clips and a stamina bottle that is meant to be filled with some quick-energy fuel for use by a cyclist during a race.
Because of the family-wide participation in cycling today, the tandem two-seater is back again, for racers as well as for romantic couples. Huffman makes a middleweight tandem—lyrically named the Daisy, Daisy—for $90. Schwinn calls its new tandem a Bicycle Built For Two, and sells it for $100. West Coast Cycle Supply Company of Los Angeles, which touts itself as "your cycle-logical source of supply," distributes an English-made line of tandems designed by Jack Taylor for Sunday touring. The sports tandem ($245) comes with a 10-speed derailleur and is available in either a "double-gents" or a "lady-back" model.
Adult tricycles, an English innovation, are finding favor among octogenarians as well as suburban housewives, who use them to do their marketing. Last fall a group of trailer park residents in Palm Springs formed the Three Wheeler Club for tricycling en masse on weekly excursions throughout the desert resort. One member, Mrs. Kenneth Davenport, said, "I never rode a bike in my life, but I sure do ride my trike."
It is easy to convert almost any standard-sized bike to a three-wheeler. T. Higgins, Ltd. of England makes a conversion kit that transforms a bike into a three-wheeler simply by removing the rear wheel and hooking on the two-wheel attachment. Gene Portuesi's Cyclo-Pedia of 6447 Michigan Avenue, Detroit 10 imports them. The kit costs $75 and can be bought by mail order. A complete trike costs $125.
The unicycle, the familiar circus standby, is becoming a wacky fad among teen-agers, and during last year's Rose Bowl parade a unicycle drill corps wheeled and circled in unison along the route. Columbia Manufacturing Co., of Westfield, Mass., the oldest bike company in America, brought out a one-wheeler recently that sells for $40.
The small-wheeled vehicle pursued desperately by the outsized "penny-farthing" in the illustration below is the most radical bike in the past 50 years. Designed by Alex Moulton of Bradford-on-Avon, England, it has far more comfort, cornering power and acceleration than any ordinary lightweight bike. The reason for this is Moulton's extraordinary bicycle shock-absorbing system (similar to that of an automobile) which enabled Moulton to reduce the size of the wheels to a mere 16-inch diameter, instead of the conventional 26- or 27-inch diameter. As a result, the Moulton bike is the most comfortable in the world and, because of the more efficient wheel size, it is probably the fastest. British cycling champion John Woodburn, astride the little bike, broke the Cardiff, Wales-to-London cycling record by 18 minutes, rolling smoothly over the course in six hours and 44 minutes.
"I didn't set out to design a new racing machine, but a family bike, ideal for the woman of the house to do her shopping on or, by adjusting the saddle height, suitable for a child to ride," says Moulton. The British Motor Corporation, Ltd. has the contract to make the cycles and will export them to the U.S. this summer.
The most bizarre product of the new cycling fad is the reappearance of the old-fashioned penny-farthing (see SPORTING LOOK), the first put out since the Gay Nineties era. Falcon made one up in a razzle-dazzle orange, merely as an attention-getter at a London cycle show, and was shocked no end when two American dealers ordered 100 of them.
The bike's strange nickname was originally derived from the oversized English penny (the front wheel) and the tiny English farthing (the rear wheel). The modern penny-farthing bike is nearly as outlandish as its ancestor. It has a 48-inch front wheel (compared to a 60-inch front wheel on the 1890's model) and a 16-inch rear wheel. Its frame is made of strong tubular aircraft steel.
John Perks, Falcon's test pilot on the high-riding machine, spun along for two hours outside London on the bike's 20-mile maiden excursion. Motorists careened into hedgerows all along the route as Perks flew by. "When you are up there, you feel about 10 stories high, right up in the clouds," said Perks.
It doesn't take long to get the knack of riding the penny-farthing, once you learn how to get on and off. And that is no more difficult than mounting a skittish pony. West Coast Cycle Supply and the Wheel Goods Corporation of Minneapolis are importing 100 penny-farthings to sell for more than $200 to as many brave souls.