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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