Bicycle manufacturing proved to be a training ground for other industries and led to the development of advanced metalworking techniques, both for the frames themselves and for special components such as ball bearings, washers, and sprockets. These techniques later enabled skilled metalworkers and mechanics to develop the components used in early automobiles and aircraft.
It was a pair of bicycle mechanics in Dayton, Ohio, Wilbur and Orville Wright, who achieved the first powered flight in an aircraft. Their design owed much to knowledge gained from bicycles.
They also served to teach the industrial models later adopted, including mechanization and mass production (later copied and adopted by Ford and General Motors), vertical integration (also later copied and adopted by Ford), aggressive advertising (as much as 10% of all advertising in U.S. periodicals in 1898 was by bicycle makers), lobbying for better roads (which had the side benefit of acting as advertising, and of improving sales by providing more places to ride), all first practiced by Pope. In addition, bicycle makers adopted the annual model change (later derided as planned obsolescence, and usually credited to General Motors), which proved very successful.
Early bicycles were an example of conspicuous consumption, being adopted by the fashionable elites. In addition, by serving as a platform for accessories, which could ultimately cost more than the bicycle itself, it paved the way for the likes of the Barbie doll.
Bicycles helped create, or enhance, new kinds of businesses, such as bicycle messengers, traveling seamstresses, riding academies, and racing rinks. Their board tracks were later adapted to early motorcycle and automobile racing. There were a variety of new inventions, such as spoke tighteners, and specialized lights, socks and shoes, and even cameras, such as the Eastman Company’s Poco. Probably the best known and most widely used of these inventions, adopted well beyond cycling, is Charles Bennett’s Bike Web, which came to be called the jock strap.
They also presaged a move away from public transit that would explode with the introduction of the automobile.
J. K. Starley’s company became the Rover Cycle Company Ltd. in the late 1890s, and then simply the Rover Company when it started making cars. Morris Motors Limited (in Oxford) and Škoda also began in the bicycle business, as did the Wright brothers. Alistair Craig, whose company eventually emerged to become the engine manufacturers Ailsa Craig, also started from manufacturing bicycles, in Glasgow in March 1885.
In general, U.S. and European cycle manufacturers used to assemble cycles from their own frames and components made by other companies, although very large companies (such as Raleigh) used to make almost every part of a bicycle (including bottom brackets, axles, etc.) In recent years, those bicycle makers have greatly changed their methods of production. Now, almost none of them produce their own frames.
Many newer or smaller companies only design and market their products; the actual production is done by Asian companies. For example, some 60% of the world’s bicycles are now being made in China. Despite this shift in production, as nations such as China and India become more wealthy, their own use of bicycles has declined due to the increasing affordability of cars and motorcycles. One of the major reasons for the proliferation of Chinese-made bicycles in foreign markets is the lower cost of labor in China.
In line with the European financial crisis, in Italy in 2011 the number of bicycle sales (1.75 million) just passed the number of new car sales.
Really thought provoking. Thank you for such in-depth article!
There is so much I don’t know about bikes!