The evolution of the bicycle industry;


The Youth Market.

By MrColumbia


 


 


 


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  Much history has been written on the bicycle industry. Most consider the “golden age” to have ended by the start of the 20th century. At one time there were hundreds of manufacturers, by the 1920’s there were only a few left. What happened?

  The world was changing. In the cities horse drawn trolleys were replaced with efficient electric ones. The automobile was rapidly becoming affordable to many. In 1909 you could buy a model “T” ford for $825. Motorcycles were also becoming readily available for less than half that. Bicycle sales were in rapid decline.

 

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  With most of the bicycle manufacturers from the previous century either gone or absorbed into the few that were left a new marketing strategy was needed. Some went into the Motorcycle business including Pope and Schwinn. Others in the industry went on to produce automobiles or other consumable goods. Even Pope gave automobiles a try. But for those that stayed in the bicycle business the answer was the youth market.

  Youth sized machines were available even from the earliest days of the bicycle. These generally were scaled down versions of the adult bikes. They were expensive and only the very wealthy could afford such a luxury. The new strategy would be to create inexpensively made bikes for children. These would include tricycles, sidewalk bikes, and scooters. The older children were not forgotten either. Adult sized bikes would be equipped with cross brace handlebars, fake gas tanks, battery operated headlights, extra truss rods on the fork, anything to make it look like a motorcycle. These would be aimed at the teen age boys.

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  Adult bicycles of course never really went away. They continued to be sold but a lesser part of the market. To stay competitive these adult bikes lost many of the expensive innovations like shaft drive and full suspension.  More recently there has been a resurgence of interest in adult cycling. High gas prices, an effort to reduce dependence on foreign oil and a push to reduce green house gases have made the bicycle as popular as ever. Ironically, the old technologies have come back and now a full suspension bike is not uncommon. Chainless “shaft drive” bikes are also now back, with multiple speeds. All improved of course, but not new ideas.

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Below are a few tricycles and other riding toys in my collection.

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 Late 30's or early 40's tricycle. This one has the "Westfield" badge. There are no serial numbers on Westfield made tricycles. This makes year identification difficult. Matching up frame and paint styles to images in the catalogs is a way to get close.
 This trike is in original condition and even retains it's bell.

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 Mid 30's "Columbia" tricycle. This is one of the smaller size trikes they made.
 This trike was very rusty at the time I got it. With all the chrome peeling off and heavy rust I decided to sandblast and repaint it. There was enough of the original design showing through the rust to get the paint and pinstriping correct. The front fender is missing and I am looking to replace it.

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 An early to mid 70's Columbia tricycle. This one was over painted silver and missing it's front fender. I repainted it with a color listed in the 1970's catalogs.

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Below is a Taylor tricycle from the 30's. This is an unusual tricycle in that it is built with very sturdy construction with heavy guage steel and thick backbone tubing. It weighs nearly 30 pounds! That is more than most adult bicycles. A 5 year old was expected to ride this!

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 I'm not sure on the year of this one. It's not a Westfield made trike. This style was widely made for decades by many companies. They were more affordable to the average family than the tubular framed trikes like the Columbia's. This type of trike was made from before the turn of the century through the 20's, and possibly later.

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Auburn toy from the 30's.

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1924 catalog of Columbia's for children.