Early custom bikes

Of course, no sooner did people settle on a standardized form for the bicycle, than they began to create variations of said form for specific functions. For example, the first bicycle races were held in France in the 1860’s. Racing bicycles became lighter and faster over the decades, and their users tinkered with the brakes and gear shifts to make them more responsive. One such innovation was the derailleur gears, which is used on multi-speed bicycles. Tullio Campagnolo (1901 – 1983) was a racer and inventor who would go on to found a store bearing his name that makes and sells parts for racing bikes. Races like the Tour de France, which was established in 1903, imposed rules on what the bicycle used could be like. The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) also has rules concerning the standards racing bikes must meet. Since bikes in such races have to be standardized, they can not be custom bikes.

The tall bike might be considered one of the first custom bikes in the sense that it was originally made by amateur hobbyists. As the name suggests, it is taller than the a conventional bicycle and it is usually made by two bicycle frames welded together with one on top of the other. The first tall bikes were made in the late 19th century. They were sometimes used by lamplighters who would ride around town on a specialized tall bicycle with a torch. The tall bike gave the worker enough extra height to reach the lamp and light it. Modern tall bikes are used largely for recreation and are often built by people who make art bikes or clown bikes.

Clowns have used custom bikes in their acts. Joe Jackson Sr. (1873 – 1942) was a cycling champion turned circus performer known for his skill as a trick bicycle rider. During one performance in London, his bike’s handlebars came off. The audience assumed that was part of the act and burst out laughing, which inspired Jackson to actually make it part of his act. He devised a come-apart bike, which was essentially a unicycle with bicycle parts attached to it. Other clowns have used tall bikes, extremely small bikes, or bikes with small wheels in their acts.

The lowrider bike dates back to the 1960’s and is said to be inspired by lowriding cars. The bikes have a long wheelbase and often have a banana seat and extremely tall handlebars. they also tend to have a lot chrome and other decorations. The Schwinn Sting-Ray was the bicycle most commonly modified in the 60’s.

Kinetic sculpture races can involve custom bikes, since these races are between homemade, people-powered vehicles. Kinetic art is defined as art that incorporates movement. The term generally refers to sculptures or items like mobiles that have moving parts. The first kinetic sculpture race took place in 1969 in Ferndale, California. A local sculptor, Hobart Brown, decided to “improve” his son’s tricycle by adding two more wheels to it. When a fellow artist challenged him to a race using the modified tricycle, Brown accepted. The resultant race involved twelve people and their creations. Kinetic sculpture races gradually spread throughout the U.S. The first East Coast race was held in Baltimore in 1999.