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!