What attracts me to early (from the 1880s to the 1940s) print bicycle advertising is the way the artists and copywriters romanticized bicycling,” wrote self-proclaimed “bicycle fanatic” Jim Langley, a writer, teacher, inventor, and collector living in Santa Cruz, CA.
These interesting artifacts from bicycling’s past can often be found in old magazines and newspapers and provide a glimpse at the early excitement and fervor with which the bicycle was received. “Bicycles have always meant freedom, escape, and adventure,” said Langley.
“Before we had modern conveniences like automobiles, electricity, and air conditioning, all you needed was any bike and you could travel farther than you might have ever traveled in your life. You could see things brand new to you. You could meet new people, maybe strike up a romance, learn new things, in short, open whole new worlds that had been completely out of reach by foot or even on a horse.”
While Langley has a few favorites in his collection, there is one, a 1901 Columbia ad, that really connects him to his own early experiences on a bike. “If you leave Concord, NH, bicycling due north toward Canada, passing through Colebrook, you’ll come to a remarkable downhill that resembles the one in this ad,” said Langley. “In 1969, my high-school chum Bruce Holden and I flew down this hill at sixty miles per hour. I’ll never forget it, which is why this ad is among my favorites. Bruce went first, screaming with joy. I followed, my eyes filling with tears from the wind. We picked up so much speed that we coasted for eight miles into a tiny town. We stopped and bought a bowl of pommes frites. They were delicious. Then we turned around and headed home, pedaling every inch up the hill that had been so easy in the other direction. Fortunately, and unlike the fellow in this ad, Bruce and I could shift into low gears.”
The ads shown above, with captions provided by Langley, make up a small part of the passionate collector’s series of restored ads.