Vintage Velo: 1957 Columbia 5-Star American

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.

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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.

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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

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Vintage Velo: 1937 Ingo

Words and photos by Jeff Archer.

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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.

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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.

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This Vintage Velo originally appeared in Bicycle Times #25

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