Ever since I got my first decent BMX bike in the 1980s (a Chrome Raleigh Rampar with all the fixings), I have always had a bike under me. I ride weekly and commuted to work for about five years. These days, I have a custom-built single speed Freeman Transport Gravel Racer, a Cannondale Mountain Bike, and a vintage Raleigh three-speed. Some years ago, I went head first into a parked car on my 1980s Guerciotti road bike, and I have not purchased a replacement. Yes, I was wearing a helmet…. But, of course, with the bikes come the accessories and third-party add-ons. I am not immune to the lure of these “extras,” and that’s one reason we added a few biking accessories to our collection many years ago.
Over the years, we’ve designed single and double leather pedal straps, cycling messenger bags, leather U-Lock belt holders, Cordura nylon saddle bags, and a few different hand-stitched leather pouches for the frame, saddle, and handlebars. Many of these items were inspired from vintage biking accessories we had come across. The item I want to highlight below was inspired by old bicycle culture.
No. 211 BIKE FRAME BAG
The genesis for our frame bag included two 50s- or 60s-era French-made bike frame pouches shown blow, that I found years ago while visiting France.
They are not made very well, and the leather is sub-par, but I was intrigued by their shape and how it nestles neatly inside the top frame and down tube. These were slightly small, so we increased the size, added collar button closures, and hand-stitched it from a single piece of cowhide leather.
Below are some shots of Kirk from 2008 stitching up an early sample version of the No. 211.
In the photo above, taken in 2009 for Free & Easy Magazine, the Brothers Bray are giving their new Freeman Transport Gravel Racers a spin with fitted No. 211 Bike Frame Pouches. *Special shout out to Ben Ferencz @fairends
British Tan No. 211 Bike Frame Pouch with British Tan Brooks Saddle
Black No. 211 Bike Frame Pouch with Black Brooks Saddle
Natural Veg Tan No. 211 Bike Frame Pouch aging nicely on our friend DeCarlos’s daily commuter, 2011.
Two No. 211 Bike Frame Pouches (Tan and Black) were spotted in Tokyo on a trip in 2013. These were made for the R.G.D. bicycles (Free & Easy Magazine.)
A few years later, we added the No. 334 Saddle and Handlebar Pouch, which is very similar but has a more symmetrical design.
No. 334 in Brown. Photo by Joe Velez.
No. 334 in Tan. Photo by Joe Velez.
Because my love for bicycles also includes their storied history, I went down a rabbit hole looking for images of bikes with old leather tool pouches. I was also curious about Brooks Saddles, a brand we admire greatly. So, I thought I would highlight some interesting facts I found during my research. Enjoy!
EARLY DAYS OF BICYCLES AND THEIR ACCOUTREMENTS
Bike pouches have been a mainstay for cyclists for almost as long as bicycles themselves. And it’s really no surprise, considering before bicycles there were horses, and we all know that saddlebags and horses are connected, especially if you’re riding for any great distance. In fact, Brooks Saddles, founded in Hockley, Birmingham, England, in 1866, got their start making leather horse saddles. Legend has it that Brooks founder, John Boultbee Brooks, started riding a bicycle in the 1870s soon after his horse died, but found the wooden seat to be understandably uncomfortable. As a result, Brooks cycle saddles were born. Around the same time, as their saddles were getting underway, they also began making bike accessories, including tool pouches that fit behind the seat and on the frame.
Perhaps the bike saddle idea popped into John Brooks’ head while riding around on one of these English-made S&E “Boneshakers” from the 1870s?
ENGLISH BICYCLE MAKERS
This timeline makes perfect sense because, by the late 1870s, fellow Englishman Henry John Lawson was creating his Lever Driven “Safety” Bicycle (pictured below). He adopted the term “Safety” because of all the injuries sustained from getting on and off the larger high-wheeler Penny Farthing bicycles.
A few years later, another Englishman John Kemp Starley, who invented the Penny Farthing (High-Roller bike in 1871), invented his "Rover Safety Bicycle.” Starley’s was the first bicycle to have two similar-sized wheels. Interestingly enough, his factory and the Brooks factory were in the same town of Coventry — so you have to wonder if the two entrepreneurs crossed paths.
In 1889, the company became J. K. Starley & Co. and in the late 1890s, it became the Rover Cycle Company. After JK Starley’s death, this company started to manufacture and sell Rover cars, and, this is where the first Land Rovers would be built.
EARLY BICYCLE ACCESSORIES
By the late 1880s, Brooks was already offering a wide range of saddles, along with accessories such as saddle bags, tool bags, golf bag mounts, and the ever-important bicycle-mounted cigar tray. I would love to find one of those at the flea market!
J. B. Brooks catalog from 1888 showing various bike pouches.
A well-worn Brooks bike pouch circa 1890’s.
One of Brooks’s competitors. Lamplugh & Brown, 1884.
Interestingly enough, the first panniers designed specifically for bicycles were patented by John B. Wood of Camden, NJ, in 1884.
Lamplugh & Co. Catalog from 1894
The best catalog cover design goes to Brooks, 1903.
AMERICAN BICYCLE MAKERS
In 1882, the Overman Wheel Company was the first manufacturer of safety bicycles in the United States, made in Chicopee, MA.
1892 Overman Victor Spring-fork Safety.
Close-up of a leather seat and tool pouch on an 1893 Overman Victor Flyer.
Another builder at the time was George T. Warwick who founded the Warwick Cycle Manufacturing in Springfield, MA, in 1888. His “Warwick Safety” design was the first bike with front and back spring suspension.
1889 Warwick Perfection Safety.
Warwick square leather tool bag.
Warwick round leather tool pouch designed to ride in the saddle spring of an Warwick Perfection Safety, 1890.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the Columbia Bicycle Company founded in 1876 by Boston Civil War vet Colonel Albert A. Pope. He’s considered the first bicycle maker in America starting with his version of the Penny Farthing, then transitioning into more traditional designed bicycles. By 1888, his factory was turning out 5,000 quality bicycles a year.
1895 Columbia Model 45 with original leather tool pouch made by Columbia.
Many of the tool bag makers at the time used galoshes clip closures. These were used into the 1960s.
Early 1900's Columbia with two leather Columbia tool bags.
Late teens Pannenton frame tool bag with galoshes clip closures.
THE FIRST GOLDEN ERA OF BICYCLING
In 1890, there were 27 U.S. bicycle firms that produced about 40,000 bicycles. By 1900, that number had risen to nearly one million per year. Then, almost as suddenly as it had risen, the bicycle fad crashed. By 1904, total U.S. bike sales dropped 75% to 250,000. Many bicycle manufacturers tried to pivot to making automobiles with most falling further into debt.
Some manufacturers used durable hickory for their bike frames — think golf clubs of the era.
1890s Chilion hickory frame with tool pouch, M.D. Stebbins Mfg. Co., Springfield, MA.
There were also companies working with bamboo.
Grundner & Lemisch of Austria. Bamboo Bicycle, 1890s with tool pouch.
MILITARY BICYCLES AND THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS
While the bicycling craze was sweeping the world in the 1880s to 1890s, army leaders in several European nations, including Great Britain, Germany, and France, began experimenting with the military potential that these two-wheeled vehicles might have.
The first known use of bicycles in actual combat took place during the Jameson Raid – a failed raid against the South African Republic in late 1895 by a British colonial statesman and his troops.
In America, DC's National Guard was the first in the US to have a separate bicycle corps. In 1888, General Albert Ordway, who was in charge of the DC’s militia began looking into ways that the militia could use bicycles. He started a company but there weren't enough "safety bicycles" around at the time to fill the group out. By 1891 however, Ordway was ready to form the first separate and distinct bicycle corps as a branch of a militia in the United States. In the Spring of 1892 he published, with the help of the Pope Manufacturing Company (which just happened to produce a "Soldier's Standard Bicycle" model of their Columbia Light Roadster), a book on Cycle Infantry Drill Regulations. In it, the owner of Pope argued that if we'd just had the safety bicycle, and a network of well-paved roads, the British would have never burned the Capital.
The same year Ordway had the Washington Military Cyclists participate in a relay to Pittsburgh and in 1895 organized a messenger relay to New York City to prove the value of the bicycle to those in the military that were skeptical. Unfortunately, they were shortly thereafter disbanded due to a high level of defections.
A couple of years later, 2nd Lieutenant James Moss also had thoughts of modernizing the Army. He was able to get permission to organize the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps (Buffalo Soldiers) to test the practicality of the bicycle for military use in mountainous terrain. Moss, a West Point graduate, wanted to show that cycling was faster than marching and cheaper than traveling on horseback. They contracted the bikes to be built by sporting goods maker A.G. Spalding & Co.
1897 Spalding 'Special' Model 922 (Buffalo Soldier Bike) Manufactured by A.G. Spalding & Co. of Chicopee Falls, MA. Model 1873 Trapdoor Springfield Rifle.
Large center gear bag and Spalding badge,1897.
Each bike also came with a Spalding Cyclometer that would repeat every 1000 miles. These were $1.50 at the time.
The 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps pose on Minerva Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park in 1897.
At the time, their accomplishments were only celebrated by black Americans and marginalized by American society as a whole. The Buffalo Soldiers provide an important role model within African American history. As Bob Marley famously stated in his song “Buffalo Soldiers”:
I’m just a Buffalo Soldier in the heart of America,
Stolen from Africa, brought to America,
Said he was fighting on arrival, fighting for survival;
Said he was a Buffalo Soldier win the war for America…
French folded military bikes, 1908.
By the early teens, BSA and Raleigh, among others, were producing folding bikes for WWI paratroopers.
1914 Folding BSA bike with leather tool pouch.
1914 Raleigh WWI bike featuring leather tool pouches and rifle mount.
Turn-of-the-century photographs showing bicycles with leather tool pouches.
When the teens and early 1920s rolled around, bike sales were flat with Columbia and newcomer Ignaz Schwinn selling the lion’s share of U.S.-produced bikes and bike accessories. Through the Great Depression, annual sales of bikes in America were under 300,000. Then, with new streamlined designs, fat “balloon” tires for easier riding, and better marketing, demand took off crossing 500,000 in 1934 and reaching a record 1.2 million by 1936. Schwinn was a big factor in all of this.
U.S. BIKES OF WWII
WWII saw a resurgence in military bikes with Westfield-Columbia and Huffman (later known as Huffy) getting contracts to produce olive drab military bikes. Most came with leather tool pouches. However, for civilians, bike production was limited when the government imposed a freeze on bicycle sales and allocated almost 10,000 bikes to war production plants for use by workers and messengers. So, to help with the war effort, Uncle Sam created “Victory Bikes.” Columbia and Huffman were contracted to make them but they were only able to produce 95,913 adult bicycles for civilians in all of 1943 or, a dismal 13% of the 750,000 originally promised. This form of WWII rationing must have been upsetting to a ton of smaller bike builders. Of course, these measures were designed to conserve rubber and metals needed for war and complement gasoline and automobile tire rationing by providing an alternate form of transportation for war production workers and other workers.
Early 1940's USMC Bike by Westfield-Columbia.
Persons Co. leather and pressed OD painted steel tool pouch with galoshes clips. Made in Worchester, MA.
Westfield-Columbia, female model,1944.
1944 Huffman Dayton Model G519 Bike. Note the OD painted sides of the Persons Co. leather tool pouch.
1940s Swiss Army foldable paratroopers bike. Imagine the weight of these with all the heavy woolen and canvas clothing and gear.
THE SECOND GOLDEN ERA OF BICYCLING
As the 1950s came into view, the major bike builders began to focus on inexpensive bicycles sold under store brands (private labels) for the largest retail chains, leaving the top end of the market to the independent bicycle dealers and Schwinn. Big customers for Huffman (Huffy) and Murray were Sears, Montgomery Ward, and JC Penney.
By the mid-60s, the next golden era of bikes had begun. And once the 70s hit, business really took off. Low-riders, banana-seats, “hot rod” bikes like the Schwinn Sting-Ray, as well as BMX dirt bikes were coveted from coast to coast. We also got our first look at the “English racers,” often made by the Raleigh in England. Adults also flooded back into the market as more sophisticated gearing systems, stronger and lighter frames, and lighter and more weather-friendly touring bags and panniers hit the market. Helping sales in the 70s were more televised European road races like the Tour de France and cycling sports and hobbies like randonneuring and touring.
1974 Schwinn "Cycling Adventures" Catalog.
Schwinn touring bags of the 70s.
The ultimate Schwinn for decades was the Deluxe Touring Paramount. Hand-built in their Chicago factory from 1940-1982. These were pushing $500 in 1974. My father's friend had a blue Paramount that I envied.
As high-end road bikes have evolved in unimaginable ways, we have remained rooted in the classics. Be on the lookout for a small collection of Waxed Canvas Standard Issue Bike Accessories that will hopefully thrill fans of the 70s touring bike era. Safe Travels!
I will leave you with this to contemplate....