Bicycle HistoryThe 1900s-10s

The 1900s-10s

By 1900, bicycles had become quite common in the streets and roads of Estonia (as well as elsewhere in the world). In those days, bicycle looked quite similar to modern bike (or, to be more exact, men’s bicycle from the 1970s-80s). The standard bike introduced in the early 20th century involved 28-inch wheels, basic shape of steel tube frame, leather saddle with two rear springs, non-slip rubber pedals and other structural components, and such standard persisted for many years to come.

The shape of curved central frame of women’s bike also became standard back then (dominant in Estonia until the 1940s-50s). This frame was inevitably weaker and heavier than the solid frame of men’s bike, but considering that women wore skirts and not pants, it was unthinkable to mount or dismount the bike by throwing the leg over the frame. Instead, women raised their leg to the other side of the frame over lower frame tubes.

In addition to import bikes (prior to World War I they came mostly from Germany, but also from England, USA, and elsewhere), there were bike manufacturers in the Russian Empire as well. One major manufacturer was bicycle factory Rossija in Riga, established by Alexander Leutner in 1896, which soon became the greatest bicycle manufacturer in the Russian Empire. The production of that factory was widely used in Estonia. There were also many Liva bikes made in Liepajas (Liibav). Common German bikes included Gritzner, Kayser, Dürkopp, etc. Small-scale bicycle industry existed in Estonia, too.

However, bicycle was rather expensive at that time and was thus not widely used. A bicycle typically cost about 50-150 (gold) roubles, i.e. more than half of worker’s annual wage.

In addition to touring, bicycle obtained another function in the late 19th century and early 20th century, namely sports and racing. In fact, all the car and motorbike races started from bicycle races. Estonia was also actively involved in building tracks, arranging competitions, etc. Already in the late 19th century, Jurjew (former official name of Tartu) Cyclists Society was founded in Tartu. Even our current largest sports association Kalev was established in 1901 as a cyclists’ society.

There was no major difference between touring bicycle and racing bicycle in the 1910s (often the only difference was lack of mudguards). The distinction became more prominent in the 1920s-30s with the introduction of a special racing bicycle.

In 1914, after the onset of World War I, bicycle was used as means of transportation in the army of several countries. Folded (collapsible frame) bicycles and special short-frame French military bikes with saddle above the rear wheel (Peugeot model, so-called Gerard system) made their appearance. The latter was also used in Russian army. After the war, certain number of both German and Russian bikes were left behind in Estonia.