New historical hipster photos showcase big-wheeled bikes from San Francisco to Oakland circa 1880

Pub date June 6, 2014
SectionPixel Vision

Hipsters and bikes are as close as Instagram posts of five dollar cups of organic, free trade, Japanese drip coffee. Historical photos recently posted to the California Historical Society’s Flickr page show cycling clubs of the late 19th-century riding around the Bay Area. Yes this includes Oakland, more than a century before Oakland was cool (just kidding, Oakland was always cool).

The photos show the famous (and very dangerous) bikes known as “High Wheelers,” “Penny Farthings,” and “Bone Shakers,” at the height of early bike craze. These are the bikes with the tall leading wheel and a tiny rear wheel. Since these bikes were limited to direct-drives, the bigger leading wheels meant the rider could fly faster.

But falling off an old-timey five foot bike led to quite the kerfuffle (especially since it wasn’t customary to wear helmets). “Safety bicycles” became the norm, the missing link between Penny Farthings and modern bicycles. Safety bicycles had gears, a technological innovation replacing the need of the five foot wheel to achieve respectable speeds.

Also included in the gallery are scans of pages of cycling catalogs, showcasing attire every respectable cyclist from the 1880s could need — include a four dollar “extra-heavy jacket” and a “extra heavy stockings.” (Because riding atop a five foot bike with no brakes isn’t quite dangerous enough, you should also wear trendy, movement restricting, heavy wool apparel while doing it!)

If anything, these beautiful and historic pictures show that everything old is new and ironic today. That silly and incoherent trends have their time in the limelight but ultimately die off. Except for mustaches. Mustaches are awesome.

Thanks to Slate for the original find.

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Undated photograph showing a high wheel bicyclist at Lake Merritt, Oakland, California.

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Tights and men on bikes are a historical match. Undated.

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O.G. Mission cyclists. Photo shot by George R. Butler on June 1, 1890. Taken at 21st and Capp streets, looking toward Mission Street.

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A group of gentleman after a long ride from Oakland to Mission San Jose.

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The gentlemen of the San Francisco Bicycle club on San Leandro Road near Milpitas. Note the abundant mustaches (and lack of helmets).

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Page 55 from the J. J. Pfister Knitting Co., San Francisco. Dated 1882.

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Find the full photo gallery here.