Bicycle HistoryThe 1920s

The 1920s

In the 1920s, using bicycle for daily travel became increasingly popular in the world and in Estonia, too. Massive spread of automobiles was still several decades away, railways did not reach everywhere, and horse-driven vehicles were clumsy and slow. European pre-war bicycle industry advanced further and production volume increased tenfold. Major German and English bike manufacturers produced over a million bikes. The growth was somewhat less striking in Estonia. For example, in 1921 – the first full year after Tartu Peace Treaty that ended the Estonian War of Independence – the total of 5130 bicycles were registered, i.e. on average one bicycle per two hundred people.

The bikes that came to Estonia were mostly of German and English origin – vendors discontinued import of bikes made in USA before World War I. There were also some bike models from Sweden, Denmark, France and Latvia.

It was the policy of the Republic of Estonia at that time to promote domestic industry, and thus import bicycles were subject to rather high customs duties, which resulted in high bicycle price. Thus, the spread of bicycles was significantly more limited than in Western Europe, and they were not common in every household in Estonia. In the 1920s, a bicycle price was equal to worker’s several monthly wages – ca 20-25 thousand Estonian Marks or, after the monetary reform of 1928, 200-250 Estonian Kroons.

In terms of construction, the bicycle of the 1920s reminded the one from the 1910s. The most common wheel dimension (at least on local market) was 28 inches. Similar to the 1930s, most of local bicycles had tyres with beaded edges, whereas wired edges became more popular elsewhere in the world.  The profile of rims for beaded edges tyres were mostly flat in the 1920s. As for chains, both ½" pitch chain (which was  a tyüical standard during 1930s-70s) and long pitch chain (5/8" pitch) were commonly used.

Unlike Western Europe, local bicycles had to have mudguards, as majority of roads in Estonia (espacially in rural areas) were unpaved and often wet and muddy. In the 1920s (similar to the 1910s), front mudguard usually ended at front fork and did not extend further forward. At those times (unlike the 1930s), mudguards were typically very narrow and had simple curved profile (e.g. Latvian bikes used the same profile until mid-1950s). Rack, which was usually optional in Western Europe, became standard equipment in Estonia, because bicycles were frequently used to carry goods (or even another person). If the bicycle did not have a rack installed in the factory, it was usually added at the local distributor or (village) shop.

In the 1920s, certain differences from western bicycles became rooted and mostly (including import bikes) remained so until 1940 (until WWII). While painted rims and mudguards were popular in Western Europe, Estonian local buyer preferred nickel (since mid-1930s also chromed) rims and mudguards. They were often decorated with wide colourful stripe in the middle with narrower stripe of different colour on both sides. Frame colour also differed – in Western Europe various colours were used, but Estonians preferred to classical black frame, which was usually embellished with thin decorative stripes (often with double strips).

In the late 1920s, most of exporters (Germany, England, Denmark, and Sweden) acknowledged such differences, and the assembly of bikes manufactured for Estonian market involved different components and design that was different from those intended for Western Europe.

Another dissimilar feature in English bikes was rear wheel brake. In England, the brake was usually activated by  the lever on the handlebar and affected to the rim, but Estonian customers preferred coaster brakes (due to muddy and wet road conditions, especially in rural areas).

As for German bikes, all the major manufacturers were present in Estonia: Dürkopp, Seidel&Naumann (S&N), Wanderer, Diamant, Presto, Opel, Brennabor, Urania, NSU, etc. There were also many bikes from small-scale manufacturers.

English bikes were represented by small (Hercules, Sterling) and large manufacturers (e.g. Swift).

Import bikes from Denmark were common in the late 1920s; best-known models were Grandios, Grand, and Marathon.

Besides the above-mentioned countries, in the 1920s certain amount of bikes were imported from Sweden and Latvia, but their peak time was in the late 1930s.