BBR Auctions: On yer bike

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Alan Blakeman of BBR Auctions takes us on a tour de bicycle history and looks at what gets bike collectors in a spin.

Sporting events on the scale of the Tour de Yorkshire are akin to Wimbledon and the Winter Olympics; inspiring all to take out their tennis rackets, book a skiing trip, or, in this instance, get on their bikes.

As the cycling event hits Barnsley this May and two-wheel fever hits the nation, I thought what better chance to look at the development of the bicycle and range of collecting possibilities in that field.

Having just returned from a short rock climbing trip to Spain, where every country road seemed to be sporting a bicycle race, it is evident lycra-clad biking is definitely a rising pastime for both young and old. But it’s a hobby that has gone the distance for over 200 years.

The first proven two-wheel propelled contraption, the archetype of bicycles per se, was the 1817 German ‘draisine’; the actual term ‘bicycle’ being coined in France in the 1860s.

Scottish blacksmith, Robert Kirkpatrick, is believed by some to have been the first manufacturer of a mechanically propelled two-wheel vehicle. Around that time the French and American markets welcomed the first mass produced bikes called ‘velocipedes’ in France, but dubbed ‘bone shakers’ in America.

The chance of a collector discovering an example of these early inventions is almost impossible. However, if you are keen, it is possible to acquire an all time classic penny farthing from the Victorian period featuring huge front wheel, wire spoke tensioned, and much smaller rear one. Reproductions are also available for those wanting a novelty form of transport for under £500.

Up to the 1950s our roads and country lanes were generally much quieter than today’s infamously jammed highways. Cycling from A to B was for most folk the only affordable option. After the Second World War as we became more affluent, bicycles developed in leaps and bounds resulting in those familiar bent handlebars found on lightweight road racers. The early 70s saw the rise in popularity of the Chopper with two small wheels – the rear being the larger – the Grifter and onto modern day mountain bikes and BMX’s.

There are two museums devoted to the history of the push bike: the Cycle Museum in Higher Walton, near Warrington; and another, the National Cycle Museum at Llandrindod Wells, Powys, near the lower-middle part of Wales.

Collectors can seek out various past cycle designs for fun riding or displaying.  If decoration is the main reason for collecting, adorn garden walls with colourful old enamel signs featuring famous names such as Nottingham’s Raleigh or extremely rare small scale manufacturers, for which prices tend to climb. For enamel signs condition is the all important factor.

BBR will be offering a number of them in their specialist Antique Advertising auction on Sunday 6th May down at Elsecar with a full week long preview. 

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