Rare Birds
February, 2006

Over the years, I've had a lot of conversations with people who know that I own a bike shop. When the conversation gets a little more detailed though, they usually express surprise to hear that we manufacture our own bicycles right here in our store. "You mean you cut and weld the metal in your shop?" Yes, we do, we paint and assemble them as well.

This morning this was the case. I was explaining what we do to some acquaintances, and they asked "Do other bike shops make their own bikes?" "Unfortunately, not many do anymore." I replied. "Not since the days of Orville and Wilbur Wright." "You mean the Wright Brothers?....the ones who invented the airplane?" one of them asked. "The same." I said. "I didn't know that the Wright Brothers made bikes." he said, surprised.

I've always loved bicycles, and I've been involved in the business since I was the 8 year old kid who repaired the bicycle tires when they came into my dad's gas station in Jerome, Idaho. I remember learning to ride, and I remember the first ride on every bike I've ever had.

It occurred to me that I have run into a lot of people that knew of the Wright Brothers' accomplishments in flying, but were surprised to hear that they started out as bicycle mechanics. As a matter of fact, during a proof reading of this ariticle, my own Mother-In-Law didn't know of their bicycle days. A lot of people assume that Orville and Wilbur were Aeronautic engineers of some kind, but their history was neither Aeronautics nor engineering.

Here's a short history of the Wright Brothers bicycle days as summarized from first-to-fly.com:

An early ad for the Wright Brothers Cycle Co.
and their Van Cleve Bicycles.

For 17 years the brothers owned a bicycle shop called Wright Cycle Company (originally the Wright Cycle Exchange). They started as a bicycle repair shop. As the business grew, they sold several lines of bicycles as well. In 1895, the Wright Brothers began manufacturing bicycles themselves. The "Van Cleve" and the "St. Clair" were 2 models that they manufactured right in their shop.

The Wright Brothers were innovators in the bicycle world before they invented the airplane. One invention still in use today is the left handed pedal thread on the left pedal. This prevents the left pedal from loosening up if it isn't tightened properly.

The Wright Brothers manufactured, sold and repaired bicycles in their bike shop until 1910.

How about that? A couple of bike mechanics with less tools than most of us keep in our garage, accomplished something that governments around the world had spent obscene amounts of money trying to do. It just goes to show, that the bicycle industry really attracts some rare birds.

For most people, the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. For me, the Wright Brothers were always bicycle mechanics who invented the airplane. Being the daydreamer that I was as a kid, I could go there and watch their creative minds at work. I could hear the sounds of the lathe turning metal, feel the heat from the torches lighting up, smell the smoke, the fire. I've always loved bicycles, and when I grow up, I want to do what they did.