Foreign Vintage Bicycles on eBay

Foreign vintage bicycles are a hot commodity these days, both with riders looking for practical everyday transportation, and cycling fans who appreciate a high quality, handmade bike.

Foreign Vintage Bicycles Timeline

Bicycles were a European invention and until around 1930, the American and European bicycle industries made very similar products. Beginning in around 1930, they began to diverge, reflecting cultural attitudes and different reasons for riding a bicycle in the first place.

The Invention of the Bicycle

In 1866, Frenchman Pierre Lallement patented the “bicycle”. It looked like a draisine, velocipede, or hobby horse except it had pedals mounted on the front wheel. Albert Pope, founder of Columbia Bicycles in the U.S. purchased the patent from Lallement and got rich making bicycles and charging other American builders royalties to use the basic design.

Frenchman Eugene Meyer is credited with inventing the high-wheel bicycle. High-wheelers, ordinaries, or penny farthings as they were known in Britain, were in wide use throughout Europe and even Japan until the late 1880’s. They were fast, but unsafe and dangerous to ride, and were mostly ridden by daring young men. Older people opted for much safer tricycles or quadracycles. Queen Victoria owned one of James Starley’s Royal Salvo quadracycles but it’s not known if she ever rode it.

James Starley is known as the father of British cycling. He designed and built the famous “Ariel” penny farthings. His nephew, John Kemp Starley, is credited with inventing the safety bicycle in 1885. The arrival of the safety sparked a massive cycling boom. By 1890, the safety bicycle had completely replaced the high-wheeler in Europe and North America.

From Sewing Machines to Bicycles

A European bicycle industry sprouted up around the centers of sewing machine manufacturing – Coventry, Oxford, Birmingham, and Manchester. The same trend occurred in the US with a bicycle industry developing in New England because the sewing machine industry could provide the metal working and engineering talent that bike building required.

Bicycles Arrive in Asia

During the 1860’s, the first bicycles began to arrive in Asia and during the 1870’s boneshakers were being manufactured in Japan. In 1892, the first Japanese safety bike was manufactured by the Miyata Gun Factory. The frame tubes were bored out of solid steel rods – like gun barrels.

The Safety Bicycle – Two Wheeled Emancipation

The Safety Bicycle is truly one of the greatest human inventions ever. It was called a “Freedom Machine” by American feminist Susan B. Anthony. With the arrival of the safety, thousands of women took to cycling. It’s been said that the bicycle did more to emancipate women than anything else in history.


After the turn of the century, the popularity of cycling continued to grow in Europe but interest began to wane in the U.S. Bikes started to be seen as kids’ toys in America and bike designs began to reflect this perception. By the 1950’s, two types of bikes were available in the U.S. – heavy cruisers that reflected Americans’ obsession with the automobile, and English Racer type bikes imported from Europe. English Racers had narrow tires, handbrakes, and three speed gearing.

In Europe, cycling became less of a hobby, and more of a practical necessity. European bike builders concentrated on creating comfortable, lightweight designs that often came equipped with generator powered lights, stands, and frame mounted pumps. During the 1930’s, racers in Europe were allowed to use gears on their bikes for the first time. Europeans became passionate about bike racing and today there is huge demand for vintage, handmade lightweight European racing and touring bicycles.

Chinese Bikes

Streets clogged by thousands of bikes are an enduring image many people have of Asian cities. While the Japanese bicycle industry started around the same time as bike building in Europe and the U.S., it’s a relative latecomer to China.

At the end of the 19th century, only foreigners rode bikes in China. Any Chinese who could afford to buy a bike preferred to use a sedan chair or rickshaw for transportation. Imported bikes began to appear in China around the turn of the century. Initially, two classes of people were early adopters – wealthy Chinese who had studied abroad and were familiar with bikes, and the prostitutes who worked the port cities. Bicycles became popular in China during the 1920’s, and in 1936, a Japanese businessman set up a bicycle factory in Tianjin and began to build Anchor brand bicycles.

The People’s Vehicle

After the Cultural Revolution in China in 1949, the Party decided to promote the bicycle as the people’s vehicle and started a massive production program. In 1950, the first Flying Pigeon bikes were manufactured and designated as government approved transportation. They were based on the 1932 Raleigh Roadster and have become the “single most popular mechanized vehicle in the world.”

Last Word about the Foreign Vintage Bicycles

It goes without saying that many European and Asian bicycles are highly collectible in their own right. European bikes diverged from American bikes, and each type has its fans. Bikes that reflect the American love of the automobile are highly sought after but so are the countless European and Asian racing bikes and conservative people movers.


Foreign Vintage Bicycles — 5 Comments

  1. I have a 1967 Rollfast Tandem Bicycle from England. It has one gear, front hand brake, original black and white color. I am looking for someone who would love to purchase this bicycle for a fair price. It has some rust but has provided many years of pleasure. I want to sell it to someone who will value it as I do. I you are interested, please contact me. I will be retiring soon.

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