Words and photos by Alan Mayes
Like many kids in the late 1950s, my younger brother and I learned to ride bicycles on hand-me-down 16- and 20-inch-wheeled bikes from older cousins. By virtue of my seniority and size, I got the 20 inch. However, I had a friend who owned a 24-inch bike, a big step up from my 20-incher, so I conned him into trading with me as often as possible when we were out riding around our little Daleville, Indiana town.
On my 9th birthday in late 1959, everything changed. My parents went to our nearest Sears, Roebuck & Co. store and bought me a brand new 26-inch 1960 J.C. Higgins Deluxe Flightliner. That bike was Sears’ top-of-the-line, featuring candy red paint, whitewall tires, a tank with dual headlights and built-in horn, plus a rear luggage rack, and chrome; lots of chrome. The Deluxe was a step up from the standard Flightliner in that it also featured dual taillights under the luggage rack plus “torsion spring-action fork,” a mechanical front suspension my dad called “knee action.”
I’m almost ashamed to say what I put that bike through in its short life. I can tell you that I probably rode it thousands of miles. Those were the days when small towns were safe and everyone knew everyone. We were on bikes almost all day in the summer, riding all over town, out in the country, anywhere we wanted. The nearest Western Auto store was only about three miles away and I think I may have been their best tire and tube customer.
About four years into the Flightliner’s life, I got a paper route carrying the now long-defunct Indianapolis Times. That proved to be the death knell for my trusty Flightliner.
See, middleweight bicycles were not made to carry a hefty rider plus the extra load of big city Sunday newspapers along rough, potholed Midwest streets and across vacant lots. The frame on my Flightliner broke once and we had it welded. It broke again and we scrapped the bike. But it was always my favorite bicycle.
Fast forward a few decades. Before eBay and the Internet, I casually searched flea markets and antique shops looking for a duplicate of my long gone Flightliner. I found one in an Indiana antique shop, but it was rusty and overpriced so I passed. Then about three years ago, I spotted this one on eBay. I placed a reasonable bid, not expecting to win, but win I did.
When the bike arrived, I eagerly assembled it, checking everything over as I did. The bike was in remarkably good shape for its 40-plus years. It had obviously been ridden a lot but had also been well cared for. Even the original Troxel saddle was nice, though the silver edging had come un-sewn in a few places. The bike’s paint and chrome had a few scratches and little pits, but way too nice to restore. Even the jeweled pedals were right.
There was just one thing wrong: the huge 26-inch bike that I remembered from my youth wasn’t huge anymore. When I tried to ride this memory-on-wheels, my knees hit the handlebars and I felt I was going to break the bike. It was made for kids of the 1950s, not large adults of the new millennium. Ok, there was a second thing: This Flightliner was like my bike, but it was not my bike. I sold the bike this past winter.
Keep Reading: You can find more Vintage Velos here!
Words and photos by Jeff Archer
Travel back in time to 1957: cars were growing fins, Mother Russia launched Sputnik, Elvis bought Graceland, “Maverick” was on TV and the popular toys were Slinkys and Hula Hoops. Heady times indeed.
The bike industry was not to be left out. If some was good, more had to be better. Take the 1957 Columbia 5 Star American as an example. Chrome is slathered onto nearly every part and accessories abound. A front wheel drum brake is added to the standard rear coaster brake. Lighting duties are handled by a front light (with green and red side panels so everyone knew which direction you were traveling), along with a rear rack-mounted taillight.
For times when the battery powered lights were off, the bike has a dual panel fender mounted reflector along with four more reflectors on each side of the rear rack. Not that theft was a big issue in the 1950s but the Columbia sports a fork-crown mounted lock that locks the handlebars into one, off-center, position. The thief could still steal your bike but they could only ride in circles! The springer fork and sprung saddle combined to smooth out the ride. The full wrap chain guard covered the entire sprocket and also contained a chain oiler. Just flip up the cap mounted on top of the chainguard, fill the oiler blocks with lube, and ride. The lube would then be transferred to the chain as it passed through the blocks. Columbia threw the whole accessory catalog onto this model.
Just think of this as the 10-year-old boy’s equivalent of his dad’s 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hard top.
This bike can be seen at the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology which is housed at First Flight Bicycles in historic downtown Statesville, North Carolina. If you can’t visit in person, check out the collection at www.MOMBAT.org.
This story originally appeared in Bicycle Times #36.Tweet Print
Words and photos by Jeff Archer.
While on their way home from the Chicago World’s Fair, the Huyssen brothers, Phillip and Prescott, observed a group of neighborhood kids riding homemade scooters and wondered about the possibility of making an adult-sized version. The brothers tried combinations of various wheel sizes, including wheels with off-center hubs on both front and rear. Since the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, funding to develop the scooter was scarce. Taking advice from their lawyer, the brothers approached Borg-Warner, a company that produced a variety of items including automotive, agricultural and marine products. Borg-Warner was interested in pursuing the idea and transferred development work to their Ingersol subsidiary.
While the brothers worked to refine the design with Ingersol, the working name was the “x-ercycle.” The off-center wheel would allow the rider to use body English to propel the platform up and down, which would translate into forward motion. The up-and-down motion, along with pulling on the handlebars, would give the rider a full body workout. The scooter design was also considered safer than a traditional bike since the rider was just inches off the ground and there weren’t chains or cranks in which to get tangled up. Ingersol sold “Ingo-clad” steel, so the name was changed from x-ercycle to Ingo before hitting the market, although some early literature did use the x-ercyle name.
As the scooters entered production, folks found interesting uses for them. In 1935, Phillip Words and photos by Jeff Archer Vintage Velo: 1937 Ingo Huyssen rode an Ingo from Chicago to Miami in 12 days, garnering publicity along the way. Distance contests were staged using the Ingo scooters and they were popular rentals in tourist areas. The Ingo even made an appearance in the Three Stooges film, Yes, We Have No Bonanza. Despite some success, the Ingo factory was converted to Army shell production in 1937 and continued producing munitions into World War II, effectively killing the Ingo scooter.
The technical details of the scooters are interesting. The rear wheel was a 28” diameter while the front was a 20”, and both used single-tube (glue-on) tires. The rear wheel is laced off-center to give the forward motion. The pictures show the axle in both the highest and lowest positions. The wooden platform, with rubber mat, was placed on top of the flexible steel frame, which provided the spring motion. This was also a weak point where the frame could break when ridden hard. Braking was provided by a plunger-type brake that would rub on the top of the front tire. The rear fender features a handle to help move the scooter around. This particular scooter is missing the standard kickstand.
The bike industry often “re-cycles” ideas from the past, but surprisingly, the Ingo doesn’t seem to have a modern counterpart, even thought period advertising claimed “The Ingo- Bike is for everyone from 8 to 80.”
This bike can be seen at the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology, housed at First Flight Bicycles in historic downtown Statesville, North Carolina. If you can’t visit in person, check out the collection at MOMBAT.org.
This Vintage Velo originally appeared in Bicycle Times #25.Tweet Print