Frequently Asked Questions About The Wheelmen

Is membership limited to owners of antique bicycles?

Definitely not! All you need is an interest in antique bicycles.

When and where can I see some of these old bicycles?

One major purpose of The Wheelmen is to explain to people how and why the bicycles developed and what they have contributed to our culture. Consequently we appear at many local events to demonstrate the bicycles and to talk with you one-on-one about any details you may be interested in. See our schedule of Wheelmen Events and join in the fun!  Many museums have a limited number of old bicycles in their collections. There are fine museums, however, devoted exclusively to the history of bicycles. See Wheelmen Links-Museums And Collections.

Where and when can I see them being ridden?

Wheelmen proudly ride their old machines at many Wheelmen events, and in parades large and small, around the country (and in Canada). Places and dates for some of these events may be found on The Wheelmen Events page.  We also hold international, regional, state, and local gatherings of Wheelmen. We call them “meets,” where we get together to ride our old bicycles, challenge our riding skills with informal casual games, and share our knowledge of bicycle history and of collecting and restoring old bicycles.

Any chance that I could ride one of the ``high wheel`` bicycles?

All of these bicycles are privately owned and therefore it is strictly up to each owner to decide if they will loan their bicycles. Since most of these bicycles are rather rare, and are more than a century old, it is not surprising that many owners want to protect them.  However, there are many Wheelmen who enjoy introducing others to the exhilaration and joy of riding these grand machines.

What is the cut-off date for ``official`` Wheelmen tours and centuries?

The Wheelmen concentrate on bicycles built up to and including 1932 and restrict their “official” interest to the periods from 1817 to up to and including 1932. These periods include the Draisienne or “hobby-horse”, the boneshaker, the high wheel (the Ordinary bicycle), the hard tired safety, and the pneumatic tired safety, including variations thereof like tricycles and tandems. So to be “official”, a machine must have been built up to and including 1932.

Why up to and including 1932?

The end of World War I saw a major change in the way the bicycle fit into American society. With the growing popularity of the automobile, the bicycle assumed a less important role. From the early 1900 until after 1932 the pneumatic tire safeties manufactured in the United States changed very little, therfore they were accepted for century qualification by vote of Wheelmen members at the Annual Meeting held Saturday July 9, 2016.

What is an OHWT or an OAST?

OHWT stands for “Official High Wheel Tour” and OAST stands for “Official Antique Safety Tour”. Both of them are the means by which Wheelmen members acquire the right to vote on Wheelmen issues. We are an active organization, so we want every voting member to have the “feel” of what we stand for. By “Official” we mean a pre-announced, observed ride of at least ten miles on a qualifying bicycle, that is, a high wheel, hard tired safety, or pneumatic tired safety that was made  up to and including 1932.  If a member does not own an antique bicycle, it is almost always possible to borrow a qualifying bicycle from another member to complete the tour.

Does the term ``Classic`` apply to these bicycles?

No. This term, borrowed from old car collectors, is used to identify more recent bicycles built during the second quarter and early third quarter of the 20th century. They are typically more flamboyantly designed. To appeal to the children’s market, they featured tanks, lights, horns, balloon tires, etc.

What do you call high wheel bicycles?

Would you believe that we call them “ordinary” bicycles? Although the high wheel was not the first successful design for a two-wheel vehicle that could be pedaled, it was the first design to actually be called a “bicycle”. In the late 1880s, high wheel bicycles were the Kings of the Road, but there were new designs appearing, some with the small wheel in front and more with both wheels of approximately the same size. So the established high wheels came to be called ordinary bicycles to differentiate them from the newfangled “safeties”.

Why were those newer bicycles called safety bicycles?

“Ordinary” bicycles are somewhat dangerous to ride. The rider, in addition to being high off the ground, sits almost over the bike’s center of gravity. It does not take much for the rider to be thrown forward, into what we call a “header.”

Do Wheelmen ride their bikes over long distances?

One of the featured events at each Annual Meet is a day devoted to “Century” rides in which Wheelmen ride their old machines 100 miles in one day. Centuries are also featured in many of our other meets. Some Wheelmen opt for doing a “quarter-century” or 25 miles.

How many Wheelmen have ridden Centuries?

Somewhere around three hundred Wheelmen have ridden Centuries on antique bicycles and tricycles.

Do Wheelmen have to ride old bikes?

There a quite a few Wheelmen who do not ride at all. However, in order to become a Voting member of The Wheelmen, you must ride an officially sanctioned ten-mile ride on a qualifying bicycle or tricycle.  All privileges of membership (except for voting) are available to all other members who have not done an official tour.

Do Wheelmen ever ride really long distances?

In 1884 a fellow named Thomas Stevens rode his high wheel bicycle from San Francisco to Boston. Of course that was before there were any roads out West. What roads he could find had very poor surfaces. When wet they were very muddy, and when dry, very dusty. None were really very smooth. Since 1884, over forty people have ridden high wheel bicycles across the USA, the majority doing so after 1971. The first and second women to accomplish that feat did so separately in 2016.

The most often asked question is: ``How do you get up on those things?``

It is much simpler than you might think. On the lower part of the “backbone” (the part that goes down to the small wheel) there is a small step. The rider stands in back of the bike, with his hands holding the handlebar grips, with a foot up on the step. Pushing forward to get enough momentum to steer and balance (like a scooter), he steps up, settles into the seat, puts his feet on the pedals, and rides on. (If the rider in the picture below isn’t showing you how to mount the bicycle, click your “Refresh” or “Reload” button.)

The next most often asked question is: ``Why did they make the wheel so big?``

The short answer is “To go faster!” The larger the wheel the more ground covered with each rotation.  A taller person had an advantage over a shorter person simply because the taller person could ride a larger wheel and outpace his counterpart.

Which high wheel bicycle fits me best?

The high wheel bicycle was made in a variety of sizes.  The size was based on the diameter of the front wheel (the distance across the wheel at its center most point).  Common sizes normally ran from 48″ to 60″ in diameter in two inch increments, such as 48″, 50″, 52″, 54″ and the like.  The inseam of your leg would be the determining factor as to the proper size high wheel for you.

I have an old bike. What is it worth?

This is impossible to answer more completely without knowing all the details of manufacturer, model, age, and condition.  The book, Collecting and Restoring Antique Bicycles by G. Donald Adams, can help you learn more about your old bicycle although it concentrates mostly on early American brands.

I have an old bike. How can I restore it?

Bicycles are more desirable with their original finish.  However, if the original finish is too far gone, photograph and make notes of important details and markings on the frame before stripping and repainting.  The photographs and notes will help you in bringing back the original color and details.  The best sources of information on restoration are the various Wheelmen Bulletins as well as the book, Collecting and Restoring Antique Bicycles by G. Donald Adams.

My question wasn't answered here? Can I ask a specific question?

Yes. Please contact The Wheelmen directly regarding your specific question or comments.