This is how Cycling was for me growing up in the 60’s


In 1960, the Bicycle Owner’s Complete Handbook was published. There were 3.7 million bicycles sold in the US that year (55 million bikes had been sold during the period from 1933 to 1959, which included the depression and the war, so this was probably just a gradual increase).


In 1961, the Velo Sport Newsletter was published in the Bay Area in California. It was eight pages long, run off on a mimeograph machine by Peter Rich, the owner of a bike shop with the same name as the newsletter. Who would have dreamed that it would eventually become a major magazine? The same year, policemen were given bikes to patrol with in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


In February of 1962, Paul Dudley White, Eisenhower’s former doctor, dedicated the first bikeway in the US in Homestead, Florida. White was a strong proponent of cycling, saying, “The American public is a slave to the automobile,” and stating that no one should sit still for more than an hour without getting some exercise. That same year, the Velo Sport Newsletter became the Northern California Cycling Association Newsletter. At the time, there were about 1,500 racing cyclists in the US, according to Pete Hoffman, who wrote for the magazine at that time, and who later was in charge of it.


In 1963, Cycling in the School Fitness Program was published. At the time, due to President Kennedy, the schools were really pushing physical fitness. Bob Davenport, a head football coach at Taylor University in Indiana, organized a cycling group called Wandering Wheels. The first trip, was a thousand mile trip down the Mississippi. During the next two years, tours were made through Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky. The gear for the riders was all carried on a following truck, and the bikes were all purchased by Davenport, at first all Louison Bobet 15-speed bikes and later all Schwinn Super Sport 10-speed bikes. In the beginning, these were probably all his own male students, but he gradually allowed other students at the school, students about to enter the school, students from other schools, and finally female students to ride also.


In 1964, four people met in Chicago to refound LAW, the League of American Wheelmen. The motivation for doing so was that the organization had last disbanded in 1955, and according to the laws of Illinois, the money in the bank account would belong to the bank unless the account was reactivated. There were several active bicycle clubs in the Chicago area, so they believed that LAW could serve a useful purpose once again. In St. Louis, Missouri, a Midnight Ramble bicycle ride was organized that ran through the downtown, which is still run yearly.


In 1965, the number of bicycles sold was 5.6 million. This should be a wake-up call to anyone that something was changing, as this was a 51% increase in bike sales in only five years. The League of American Wheelmen held a convention which turned it into a national organization again. The American Cycling Newsletter was renamedAmerican Cycling, and the cost went up to 35¢. At that time, Pete Hoffman took over the magazine and kept building it up until 1969. There were three cycling books published that year with titles which indicate topics of interest at that time: Bike Trails and FacilitiesSafe Bicycling, and A Handbook on Bicycle Track and Cycle Racing.


In 1966, John Howard was in his first bicycle race, which he lost. TOSRV really did become an event this year, with 45 riders, three from out of state. A director was chosen, and a regular date was set. This was also the first year that it was called the TOSRV. That same year, Wandering Wheels made its first coast to coast ride, with 35 students on the trip. After that, coast to coast rides by the Wandering Wheels, with different starting and finishing points, became common.


In 1967, TOSRV had about two hundred riders. The Wheelmen was founded the same year. This organization consists of enthusiasts who collect old bicycles and memorabilia and who ride high-wheelers.


In 1968, TOSRV had about four hundred riders.  In December, American Cyclist changed its name to Bicycling! (with the exclamation mark). Circulation had climbed to 12,000, as the magazine had been broadened to include touring and family cycling.


In 1969, TOSRV had about seven hundred riders. The first edition of the North American Bicycle Atlas, an AYH publication, was published. Judging from the third edition (1971), this was a collection of day trip locations from around the country, with a few longer rides and some general information about touring. That year, Wandering Wheels went coed for the first time, including young women on a 900 mile tour in Georgia and Florida. Pete Hoffman left Bicycling! that year, and it was purchased by Rodale eight years later.


In 1970, it was obvious  that the bicycle had come into its own. That year, Eugene Sloane’s Complete Book of Bicycling was published. Bike sales had increased to 6.9 million by 1970, which was only a 23% increase from 1965, but the feeling of change was in the air. The next four years would see a number of new bicycling books, and bike sales would jump to 15.2 million in 1973.

The Bicycles

One of the changes during that period of time that greatly contributed to the popularity of cycling was in the bicycles themselves. After Schwinn introduced the balloon-tired bicycle in 1933, these bikes made up 2/3rds of the sales until 1960. These single-speed bikes were heavy, with fenders, carriers, lights, and fake gas tanks, which added to the weight. They are the daddy of the current mountain bike. The second most popular bike was also single speed, with somewhat lighter tires and a minimum amount of tubing, very much like a hybrid bike. However, the English had been making lighter bikes, equipped with Sturmey-Archer three-speed hubs, and these bikes began arriving  at the end of the fifties. In 1960, Schwinn had begun production of derailleur-equipped, moderately-priced bikes, the Varsity and the Continental.  While bicycles had been imported from Europe all during the fifties and sixties, towards the end of this period, lighter, better, and less expensive bikes than the Schwinn models began arriving while the Schwinn’s actually became heavier in an attempt to keep the price low. ( 1965 Varsity weighed 40 pounds; 1971 Varsity weighed 45 pounds, in spite of a smaller frame, due to a change from alloy to steel handlebar, stem, and seatpost. The ’71 Varsity also had a plastic seat, while the ’65 Varsity seat was leather.) In 1970, it was possible to purchase a ten-speed, 21-pound Peugeot PX-10 “racing bicycle” with double butted 531 seamless tubing for $160, while the Schwinn cost $100. However, the prices for the European bikes doubled within a few years, and the Schwinn Varsity managed to survive until 1986, a real dinosaur by that time.


Bike Shops

Bike shops were not the same back then. Only the largest cities had real bike shops; otherwise, one mainly looked for bikes and bike supplies in the hardware store; in fact, a hardware store and a bike shop looked a lot alike anyway, as the bike shop would be garage-like, with cardboard boxes full of old parts. At that time, a bicycle was a once in a lifetime purchase for a child, and the bikes were seldom serviced, so there was not much money in selling and repairing bikes. Nor was there much bicycling gear available for sale either. Some cyclists have made fun of the Schwinn’s being sold with lawn mowers, but actually that was the only way for the company to sell bikes during the long years when bike shops were not profitable.

Bike Equipment

Equipment, as you may imagine, was in short supply, and often of toy quality. To measure the miles on my bike, you had to get a big, car-like toy speedometer. However, there was one exception: it was always easy to find a generator light for a bicycle, something which is impossible to find even in a bike shop today.

Cycling Clothing

In short, there wasn’t any. There really wasn’t any during the 70’s either. However, don’t think of 60’s cyclists as having long hair, granny glasses, bell-bottomed blue jeans, and tie-dyed shirts. That was the 70’s. To go bicycling, one would put on some tennis shoes, canvas shoes, or loafers, a T-shirt, and some shorts. In the first half of the 60’s, young males wore crew cuts, and in the second half, they began letting their hair grow a few inches long, which created great anguish for their parents and their barbers. Young females wore elaborate hairdos during the first half of this period but more simple styles towards the end, along with tighter dresses and sometimes mini-skirts and short shorts.

Bicycling on the Roadway

Traveling on a bike was actually much easier back then, at least for me. Although the highways were narrower, speeds were a lot lower, and there was a lot less traffic. Motorists were more polite as well. In making my trips, I just used the main highways. Unfortunately, there was some additional danger because motorists did not know how to behave when approaching cyclists, and there were many inexperienced women drivers on the road, as many middle-aged women were just then beginning to drive.


In many ways, the sixties were a less desirable time for cycling, but in many other ways, they were better than today. My overall judgment, however, is that bicycling is the same now as it was back then. While some things get better and others worse, the pleasure of riding a bike is the same, no matter the bike or the decade in which it is ridden. The most important factor is whether the cyclist is spending time on the bike or doing something much less important.

Sources of information: Glenn's Complete Bicycle Manual, 1973 edition, and The Cyclist's Sourcebook by Peter Nye, 1991, were the sources for most of this information. These books provided a great more detail than was used. Also used was the TOSRV website,   memory. A few other cycling books, The Bicycling Guide by Rodale, Sidwells Bicycle Manual, Hillsborough Co. MPO, and of course GOOGLE search, furnished a fact or two each.

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4 Responses to This is how Cycling was for me growing up in the 60’s

  1. Another excellent article here. Fantastic photos and history.

  2. Florida Biking says:

    Thanks, Charles. History is easy when you are part of it! 🙂

  3. Ross-Barry Finlayson says:

    Steve this is a great article. It reminds me of my childhood and growing-up in a small town and biking everywhere. I loved it back then and I still love it to this day. Amazing how bikes have changed over the years and have become more sophisticated. I couldn’t help noticing, in one of the photos (bike shops), the Hertz sign in the shop window. I never realized they were into cycle-hire.

  4. Florida Biking says:

    Barry, this brought back a lot of good memories researching this theme. I wish I still had my JC Higgins bike, it was so cool with tassels and wide tires and fenders, battery operated light mounted on top of the fender, rear rack, Red and White in color and looked like it had a gas tank. I road that bike until I was thirteen and got a 3 speed english bike (black and white)… and as they say the rest is history! Yes Hertz was in the bike rental business several years ago and the program wasn’t very popular, but with the E bikes around the world they have once again started back up in Europe and have been successful in their first year. I believe they are in England, Holland, and France, now, possibly some other countries that I’m not aware of.

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