Antique Bicycles to Transport You to the Past

Updated October 19, 2021
Peerless Bicycle 1896 Vintage Bicycle

Antique bicycles are enthusiastically collected for a variety of reasons; collectors appreciate the history, heritage, and artistic lines of antique bicycles and have a desire to preserve them for future generations. Loved more for their charm than their comfortability, you should give kudos to these antique bicycles as they paved the way for modern street and mountain bikes.

Bicycle Manufacturing Begins

The first chain driven bicycle was developed around 1885. Prior to this, bicycles were pushed along by the movement of the rider's feet. As technology advanced, Victorian bicycles became an important method of transportation and helped reshape the social fabric through the access they granted people to move throughout their natural and industrial environment.

Some of the most famous bicycle manufacturers from this period are:

  • Sears Roebuck
  • Schwinn
  • Mead
  • Montgomery Ward
  • Stearns
  • Pope
  • Spalding
  • Racycle
  • Goodyear

Bicycles Enter the Children's Market

However, it wasn't until after World War I that manufacturers began making bikes to appeal to children. These bicycles were designed to resemble aircraft and motorcycles. They were heavy and cumbersome, but parents and children alike were enraptured with their new appearance. By the 1960s, bicycles were beginning to be simpler in style and less heavy. The change in weight allowed children to begin to experiment with tricks like wheelies and jumps, something that would have been impossible on the heavy bicycles of the Edwardian era.

Family on a Bicycle Outing

Popular Antique Bicycle Models

When you envision antique bicycles, you probably conjure up images of the circus-like proportions of the Penny Farthing, with its unique large and small wheel combination. Yet, not all bicycles were manufactured using that blueprint, and the conventional bicycle format actually appeared much earlier than you might believe.

Of these antique bicycles, there's three main types that you might come across. Each of these has its own unique characteristics and style, with collectors having individual preferences for each one:

  • Velocipede - These mid to late-19th century bicycles have a moderate regular bicycle shape in that their wheels are mostly in proportion with one another. However, these bikes were created before pneumatic tires were, meaning they were made out of iron and were incredibly bumpy to ride.
Velocipede Michaux-1
  • Penny Farthing - The High Wheel Bicycle (aka Penny Farthing) is the quintessential mis-matched tire bicycle that people think about when they imagine antique bikes.
Penny Farthing Vintage Bicycle
  • Safety Bicycle - The Safety Bicycle actually describes the direct precursor to the modern day bicycle. These bikes used rubber pneumatic tires, came with same-sized wheels, and were much easier to ride than their predecessors were.
Safety Bicycle

Things to Look for When Collecting Antique Bicycles

Given that antique bicycles generally resemble modern bicycles, it's incredibly easy for you to identify one visually. However, there are a few things that you should investigate on the bike itself to gather more information about the specific model and to see what its value is.

  • Check for rusting. Rusting is a predominate factor that can decrease an antique bicycles value as these bike's structures were made out of metal and will require a lot of restoration work if they're heavily rusted.
  • Look for manufacturers labels/model numbers. Not every bicycle will come with obvious labeling like modern bikes do, but they should come with some model number or identifying mark that you can use to better date the bike itself.
  • Try to date its parts. If the bicycle comes with the 'bells and whistles,' then you can try to date the parts to get an idea of how rare the bicycle is. Things like bicycle bells (first introduced in 1887) and pneumatic tires (first introduced in 1888) can give you a solid range for when your bicycle might have been manufactured.
Women Bicycle Club Graz, Austria

Antique Bicycle Values

Interestingly, the antique bicycle market isn't limited to wholesale bicycles; rather, many collectors who want to restore bikes they already have in their possession are always after bicycle parts. So, even if you recently found an antique bicycle in a nearby shed that has a lot of wear, you can still probably sell certain pieces off of it for some money. Take, for instance, this pair of Forsyth safety bicycle wheels that sold for just over $300. Similarly, if you're interested in an investment project, you can purchase a low-quality antique bicycle and restore her yourself using these online listed parts.

When it comes to full bicycles, you're looking at prices anywhere between the upper-$100s to the mid-$1,000s. This comes from the bike's condition, manufacturer, age, and market interest. Here are some examples of a few recently listed or sold antique bicycles which illustrate the state of the current market:

Yet, sellers have the quickest sell-rate with bicycle parts, rather than with the full bicycles themselves. However, fully restored bikes from the 1890s and early aughts can cost substantially more than those that have been left unrepaired. For example, this beautiful tandem bicycle from the 1890s is fully functional after its restoration and is currently listed for a little over $2,000.

Some of the parts of an antique bicycle that'll bring in some extra cash include:

  • Bells
  • Wheels
  • Head badges
  • Lamps
  • Pedals
  • Handlebars
  • Chains

Antique Bicycle Restoration

Like all antiques, bicycles are at their most valuable when their finish is original and in good condition. Before you decide to repaint, sand, or otherwise change the finish on an antique bicycle you should contact an appraiser to make sure that you're not going to damage the bicycle's worth by engaging in some restorative processes.

restored 1936 CCM Fullflyte men’s vintage bicycle

If the finish is in complete disrepair and you have to repaint it, then it's important that you take careful photographs and notes about the original markings and colors. The color should not be changed and the original markings and design elements should be part of the design whenever possible so as to retain both the historical accuracy and the bike's worth.

How to Restore an Antique Bicycle

Restoring an antique bicycle is a very detailed and lengthy process, but here are a few quick tips to help get you started:

  1. Have your bike professionally appraised.
  2. Determine if it's worth the time and expense of restoring.
  3. Take multiple images, including close-ups of the design elements and color of the original bike before completing any restorations.
  4. Gently clean the bike and its parts using a microfiber cloth and appropriately gentle cleaners.
  5. Begin to inspect the parts to see what might need to be replaced.
  6. Parts should be replaced with parts from a bicycle of the same make and year if at all possible, but contemporary replacement pieces can be used in their stead.

Investing in a good book about bicycle restoration is also a great idea if your restoration project involves more than a deep cleaning and a paint touchup. Be sure to go slowly and ask questions before you do something that can't be undone. Some bicycles just aren't worth restoring from a financial perspective because collectors aren't interested in them and you'll never recover the money you put into getting the bike back to its original condition. So, it's imperative that you determine your bike's worth and it's potential worth when restored before doing anything drastic.

Wheels up for Antique Bicycles

Whether you decide to collect antique bicycles for a hobby or just want to restore your old 1960s stingray with the banana seat, you can preserve an interesting part of transportation history. Put the pedal to the metal and see if you have what it takes to be a person on the go during the late-19th century by taking one of these antique bicycles out for a spin.

Antique Bicycles to Transport You to the Past