The history of bicycle manufacturers is closely tied to the development and evolution of the bicycle itself, as manufacturers played a pivotal role in shaping the design, production, and popularisation of bicycles.
Early Bicycle Manufacturers (19th Century)
The first commercially successful bicycles emerged in the early 19th century, with the development of the “Draisine” or “Running Machine” by Karl Drais in 1817. These early machines had no pedals and were propelled by riders pushing with their feet.
In the 1860s, the pedal-driven “boneshaker” or “velocipede” gained popularity. Many small manufacturers produced these early bicycles, often as local or regional enterprises.
The High-Wheeler Era
The “penny-farthing” or high-wheeler bicycles became popular in the 1870s. These bicycles featured a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel. Notable manufacturers during this era included Ariel, Coventry Machinists Company, and Singer.
The Safety Bicycle Revolution
The introduction of the “safety bicycle” in the 1880s marked a significant move in bicycle design. Safety bicycles had a chain drive, equally sized wheels, and a diamond-shaped frame. This design continues today.
Major bicycle manufacturers of this era included Raleigh, Humber, and Peugeot.
In the late 19th century, the United States became a major manufacturer of bikes. Companies like Columbia, Schwinn, and Huffy were prominent American bicycle manufacturers. The American bicycle boom of the 1890s saw millions of bicycles sold and a strong cycling culture develop.
Early 20th Century
The early 20th century saw the continued growth of bicycle manufacturing worldwide. Many manufacturers diversified their offerings to include motorcycles and cars. Schwinn, for example, transitioned to manufacturing motorcycles and later became known for its iconic balloon-tire bicycles.
Post-World War II Era
After World War II, the bicycle industry faced competition from cars and motorcycles. Many traditional bicycle manufacturers struggled. Some companies, like Raleigh and Peugeot, continued to produce bicycles and adapted to changing consumer preferences. Peugeot began manufacturing cars and scooters.
Late 20th Century-Present
In the late 20th century, there was a resurgence of interest in bicycles for commuting, fitness, and recreational purposes. New manufacturers and brands, such as Trek, Giant, Orbea, Specialized, and Cannondale, emerged and focused on producing modern, high-performance bicycles. The bicycle industry diversified to include various types of bicycles, including mountain bikes, road bikes, hybrid bikes, and electric bicycles (e-bikes).
Innovation and The Future
Bicycle manufacturing has become a global industry, with companies sourcing components and assembling bikes in different countries. Innovations in materials such as carbon fibre, design, and technology have led to the development of lighter, more efficient bicycles.
The introduction of the electric bike alongside developments in battery technology will mean e-bikes are increasingly seen as a mode of transport as well as for recreation.
The History Of Brompton
The History of Giant Bicycles
The History Of Raleigh Bicycles
The History Of Peugeot Bicycles