Very little information is available about this specific bike, except that the Newports of this era were made by a US company called Snyder&Fisher Manufacturer in the small town of Little Falls, New York. A portrait of Homer Peter Snyder, the owner of the company, written by Jessie Snyder Thompson Huberty, his great-granddaughter, for mylittlefalls.com grants us some insight. As the article highlights, not only does bike manufacturing provide a mirror on American social and industrial history, but Snyder himself another embodiment of the American do-it-yourself Dream.
As Jessie writes, “A young man from nearby Amsterdam, H.P. Snyder arrived in Little Falls with nothing but a desire to do something, build something.” At the time he reached the town, Little Falls was experienced a huge boom in factory building, partly thanks to its location next to a transport artery, the Erie Canal. H.P., as he was known, had left school aged nine, and started work in one of the many knitting mills, and then moved to Little Falls aged 23, where he worked his way up to manager.
Having turned around the fortunes of one knitting mill producer, H.P. and Michael G . Fisher hit on an attachment which as Jessie writes, “considerably improved the texture of fabrics. They went on to form a partnership, the Snyder Fisher Company, selling their machines at first in Herkimer County, then throughout New York State, and eventually, around the entire nation.”
Snyder and Fisher also moved into bicycle manufacturing, with two of their earliest models called the Newport Swell and the Newport Belle. By 1894, after the bike now in KOERS possession had been made, H.P. bought out his partner, Michael Fisher and the company then endured until 1972. Agreements were also reached, Jessie writes in the LittleFalls newspaper with the “DeLancey Harris and the D.P. Harris Co. to produce Rollfast Bicycles.”
In turn and in time, Rollfast became one of the largest US bike manufacturers, with their most successful products being the popular (and now much sought-after) Hopalong Cassidy models, named after the fictional cowboy hero who was one of the USA’s best-known figures of popular literature for over half a century. According to Jessie Snyder, her great-grandfather’s company “also manufactured bicycles for Montgomery Ward and Western Auto under their own label, Excelsior” - another classic American model from the 1920s and 1930s.
As a businessman with a keen interest in both local and national politics, after his company had reached full economic stability, H.P. then ran for Congress for the Republican party, where he represented Herkimer County for a decade, being responsible for the Indian Citizen Act of 1924, also known as the Snyder Act, which granted US citizenship to all Native American Indians. After leaving politics, Snyder returned to Little Falls and running his business, dying in 1937.
Racycle was a brand of innovative, high-quality bicycles manufactured between 1896 and 1924 by the Miami Cycle and Manufacturing Company in Middletown, Ohio, USA. The Belgian Museum of Cycle Racing received two Racycle bicycles from an anonymous donor. One is a 1908 Racycle Racer (Model 131), which features a close-coupled frame providing a short wheelbase. The other is a 1912 Pacemaker (Model 170), which is equipped with a very large front sprocket.
The Pacemaker was the finest, most expensive model of Racycle, with a catalog price of $60 USD, roughly equivalent to €1,700 in 2022. Certainly Racycle advertisements of the era were convinced of their worth: a 1908 advert for Racycles calls their “high-grade wheels” (“wheel” was at that time an American slang term for a bicycle) categorically “the best in the world.”
As the advertisement proudly states, having multiple drop-forged parts of the bike (drop forging being a process that shapes and strengthens metal by compressing it between two impression dies using an impact force), and not sparing the extra cost of cold-drawn steel tubing to ensure greater durability of the frames, also added to the intrinsic value of these bikes. They are, the advertisement insisted, “nearly as unbreakable as money, material and workmanship will permit."
Racycles feature a unique, patented bottom bracket and crank design that placed the crank bearings outboard of the chain sprocket. This wider spacing of the crank bearings resulted in less pressure on the bearings themselves, and therefore less friction, supposedly enabling easier pedaling. The reduced friction and pedaling effort were the reason behind Racycles using very large front sprockets and a higher overall gear ratio than ordinary bicycles used.
The Pacemaker was the most extreme example of this approach. Racycle claimed, “Because of the evenly balanced crank hanger, there is 27.9% less pressure on the bearings. You can push farther and faster with less applied energy than required in any other bicycle."
They were certainly very successful, being manufactured not only at the Miami Cycle and Manufacturing Company in Middletown, Ohio, which is on the Miami River, but also built under license in Canada and in Europe. By 1910 Racycle production had reportedly climbed to 100,000 per year.
That was just the production; outlets for the bikes were as far afield as Belgium, Mexico and Japan, as well as across the United States. It is indicative of how widespread the Racycle had become.
Regarding these specific models, Racycle collector and researcher Brian Doan points out that, “Happily, both machines have their model number badges. Racycle model numbers tell us both the year and model of the bicycle. The last numeral identifies the model and the first numeral or two match the number of years that Racycles had been in production when the bicycle was produced. (Production started in 1896.) Thus 130-series models were made in the 13th year of production, which was 1908, and 170-series models were made in 1912, the 17th year of production.”
Doan concludes: "You have the two top-of-the-line Racycles. Congratulations! Though I have seen photos of quite a few Pacemakers (I suspect they have survived fairly well because they are so unusual), but I have seen only one other racing model. Coincidently, it also was from 1908. I've never seen wooden handlebars before on a Racycle.”
According to the original donor, “The handlebars are steam-bent hickory with extended wood and leather grips. The seat pan is wood and originally may have been leather covered. The chain is the original block type with the master link missing. The front wheel is an extremely rare radial type racer. In this period they were used for racing due to their strength but were difficult to lace up. In the world of old racing bicycles, radial spoked rims are virtually non-existent."
The reason why the Racycle came into being is symptomatic of the fast-moving industrial world of the times. According to a series of articles published on the CABE (Classic and Antique Bicycle Exchange) website, a valued website for vintage North American bikes, Paul J. Sorg, the eventual founder of the Miami Cycle and Manufacturing Company, was Middletown’s leading industrialist of the era.
He was involved in tobacco, railways, paper and banking, before producing bicycles. His initial purchase of a farm machinery manufacturer gave him a base in Middletown and (as we have seen with the sewing machine origins of the Dayton) also the type of operating equipment that could be easily adapted to produce other technologically complex machinery, like bikes.
As an independent manufacturer with tobacco interests, and by now a millionaire businessman (and congressman, like the maker of the Newport), Sorg was soon to cross paths with the monopolistic American Tobacco Company (ATC). According to the CABE article, the ATC attempted to buy out Sorg’s independent tobacco company. It was all part of the so-called “tobacco wars” of the era.
In the battle for control of a rapidly growing market for packaged, processed tobacco and machine-rolled cigarettes, which were a relatively new product at the time, competition was fierce, and the ATC bought independent tobacco companies like Sorg’s at lightning pace.
An element in the tobacco wars was to try and maintain customer loyalty through the inclusion of tokens in cigarette packets that could be exchanged for products from a company catalogue. P.J. Sorg Tobacco decided that in the case of their company catalogue, one of the products for sale would be bikes. To that end, the Racycle production began.
An article in the CABE forum includes a press cutting from 1895, dateline Middletown, Ohio, outlining how a “local tobacco company” had placed an order for 35,000 bikes from the Miami Cycle Company. The bicycles were to “go as premiums to purchasers of the tobacco.” The article claims this was the largest ever single order in the world for bikes. Racycle production duly began in 1896.
Time and again, it is possible to see how the bike manufacturing industry in the USA in the 1890s and the 1900s and consequently these six representatives of it reflected massive social and cultural changes of the era. Sport and leisure activities often act as a mirror to social change in any country, but on this occasion the connections were exceptionally deep.
The owners and manufacturers themselves and how they encapsulated the American industrial dynamic and ethics of the time are just one facet of that. The bike production of that era and the bike users themselves were another indication of how American society was changing and expanding, from an agricultural-based nation to an industrial one, from a more conservative, socially rigid and intolerant one to something more similar to the kind of ‘broad church’ US society - albeit far from perfect and often ‘in reverse gear’ - that we recognise today.
Time moved on quickly for many of these companies and having invested, and benefited, considerably from the bike boom, they were equally quick to move onto the next consumer craze: automobiles. Not all of these investments worked or course: forums in CABE discussing the Miami Cycle and Manufacturing company contain a photograph of various top-hatted and besuited businessmen on board a Ramapaugh, a steam-powered car named after a local Native American chief of which only three were made. But the company’s move into high-end motorbikes, such as the Flying Merkel, was far more successful.
Either way, it was a symptom of how fast the markets were moving, and, as ever, how industrialists had few criteria beyond the financial well-being of their companies when it came to maintaining or ending products like bikes. Such rapid trends sound all too familiar to our ears, battered as they are with marketers offers. But like it or not, it’s true to say that the 1890s laid many of the foundations of modern American society. And albeit tiny cogs in a much vaster machine, these bikes were a part of it.
With thanks to Ian Austen, Brian Doan, Lennard Zinn, Andy Hood, everybody at CCM but particularly Brian Reynolds, everybody at CABE including the forum member ‘locomotion’, the Smithsonian Museum and particularly Alexia MacClain at the National Museum of American History Library, the Lotto-Dstny team, but particularly mechanic Noel Vermeesch, who drove these bikes in the team truck all the way from Spain to Belgium; Juan Ignacio Romero.
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