The Rise of Bike Culture

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The bicycle: a humble mode of transportation for some, a source of fun for many, and a machine whose history goes back nearly two hundred years.

In 1817, Baron von Drais invented the first, but it lacked pedals.

About forty years later, in 1858, pedals appeared on a similar machine called the velocipede.

By 1884, the bicycle as we know it today was invented by Thomas Stevens.

And a decade later, the bloomer costume was re-introduced, giving women the freedom to ride.

Bicycles grew more and more popular; that is, until the rise of the car in 1898.

But in the 1970s, things started to shift again. Bicycles outsold cars, 13 million to 10 million. It was called a “bike boom.”

Fast-forward to the present, and bikes aren’t just popular; they’re serious business.

Bicycle rights groups exist in every major U.S. urban area and cities now scramble to be the most bike-friendly; setting up everything from bike shares to bike lanes to mandatory bike storage rooms in places like Minneapolis. Some call it the rise of bicycle culture.

For those who’ve been entrenched in the bike world over the decades, it’s been quite a journey. Charlie McCorkell is among them. He’s been biking around Manhattan since the 1960s. And in the seventies, he opened what’s become one of New York’s most popular bike shops: Bicycle Habitat, in Soho.



Charlie McCorkell

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [8]

Bundy from Petaluma, CA

Disco lights and fur
Peddling through streets at night
Found love on two wheels

I love my 1979 Schwinn beach cruiser. She loves me back. I can't believe it took you guys for me to write a haiku about her. By the way, Austin has a wonderful grass roots bike share program called the yellow bike program. I was involved in the late 90s. An amazing program that needed more funding

Sep. 16 2013 03:59 PM
Claire from Staunton, Va

My bike says "nobody loves me." ( it's currently listed on craigslist for a merger $40)

Sep. 16 2013 09:50 AM
jf from the future

An electric wheel is not an improvement. It takes away one of the main benefits of cycling. exercise. Bikes are perfect you can't improve. The more vintage the better.

May. 15 2013 09:42 AM
Ed Valdes from Long Beach, NY

Growing up in my neighborhood our bikes were our most prized possessions. All activities were centered around our bikes. We would ride everywhere, and all the time. To school, the beach, the stick ball game, up and down the blocks of our neighborhood terrorizing driveway curbs to get that little extra pop in our jumps. We would ride down to the corner store to pick up the latest issues of bike magazines to see what was new in our subculture. Your bike was your identity in our tribe. You didn't need to have the newest or most expensive bike. It didn't have to have shiny new paint or a fancy name. It just had to be "rad". And you had to know how to ride it. When I was young we would visit my Grandparents in Puerto Rico during the summer. It was usually for about a week or so. During this week I would basically shuffle from relative to relative with my mother and wait... and wait... and wait to get back home. Knowing little spanish and not many children my age, there was very little to do with grown ups other than wait. One summer as before, we were expected to stay about a week which turned into two, then three, then four! We never left my granparent's house. It was a small farm on a hillside in a tropical forest. I didn't understand why we weren't going home. I became bored, quiet and withdrawn. One day my mother took me into town. She parked the car and took my hand and walked me to a store. In the window was an orange bicycle with a black banana seat and these long chrome handlebars. I was ecstatic! When we got it back to the house I went on my maiden voyage. I got to the end of our dirt driveway and hit the burning black asphalt and never looked over my shoulder. My mother found me an hour later. It was the best feeling in the world, freedom! Sometime after that we started going to the hospital everyday. This is when my mother explained to me that Grandma was dying of cancer. I didn't understand the words at the time. I didn't know about dying or why people couldn't get better at a hospital. But it was going to be the last time I saw Grandma and Grandpa. A few more weeks later I was back in my neighborhood. Back on my BMX cruising with my buddies. When I got home I saw there was a large package addressed to me. It was the orange bike. My Grandfather had shipped it us. I dragged the large box into the garage and busted out the tools. After a few hours I figured out what this tool does and where this thing goes. I put it together. After that I did something I never did before, I cleaned it. I polished it and I set it aside. There was a reason. This bike was special to me and was only going to be ridden at certain times. Because every time I rode it I thought of my grandma.

And that is my favorite bike. :)

May. 09 2013 06:43 PM
Charleysgarage from Tulsa

Around 1960 our paperboy in Dodge City KS took his old Schwinn Jaguar and put on a banana seat, 20" wheels with rear slick, and apehanger bars. It was the bike Schwinn copied for the StingRay in 1963. I have been building one-off bicycles for years. My favorite is a '62 SCHWINN Tiger with a 26" knobby rear on a 3spd coaster brake hub, throttle shifter, banana Seat, 24" brick front tire and a Monarck springer Fork. I painted it flat black and made a tank out of weathered barn wood. The "Woody" rides great and makes me feel like I'm 12 years old again!
I have since built the "Matt Dillon" western bike, the "Buck Rogers RocketFighter" on a 42' StraightBar frame and a gas powered "Army Paratrooper Bike". I ride them all and show them at our Tulsa ArtCar Weekend each May.
Art Bikes are a growing Phenomenon at art car festivals and neighborhoods everywhere.

May. 09 2013 02:23 PM
Walter Patterson from Dallas, Texas

I first learned to ride a bike I borrowed from my half-sister. I took it out to a deserted factory parking lot in Lincoln, NB, that had a long gradual slope that made it easy to coast. I was 20 years old, and a paraplegic, as a result of polio. No one had ever told me I could ride a bike, but I wanted to try. I broke my elbow that first afternoon, but recovered, purchased a 10-speed Carlton, and was seen my last two years in college zipping around the campus, free as a bird. Thanks, Liz, for letting me borrow your bike.

May. 09 2013 12:41 PM
Eileen Ricks

My first bicycle was a black Schwinn. I named it Fury after the TV show about a black horse. When I road that bicycle Fury I was truly riding that beautiful black horse.

May. 09 2013 12:40 PM
TXC from Sutton Place South, Manhattan

Bicycle Habitat is okay, but there are several other Manhattan bike stores I prefer. Kickstand Bicycles on E. 49th St. is my favorite. Great mom and pop service there.

May. 09 2013 09:38 AM

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