A Bike That Can Cross Oceans (and other amazing 1930s bikes)

Digging through old magazines the other day, we came across this gem of a photo that answers the question all long-distance bike tourists have to deal with: “How do you cross the ocean?”

It’s a question we’ve personally been asked so many times that it drives us bonkers to hear it. “With a plane, of course!” we want to scream. Some bike tourists even make up ridiculous answers to the water-crossing question.

But did you know that someone thought of the answer to this very dilemma way back in 1932? Oh yes they did… and here it is.


Perfect! Now where can we get a couple for our next world bike tour? And can you get luggage racks for that? (Source: Popular Mechanics, December 1932 and Popular Science, December 1932)

Of course this piqued our interest, so we did a little more searching and discovered something else equally amazing: a trailer that is, uh, shall we say a little on the big side.

Big Bicycle Trailer

It doesn’t surprise us that the two people who went bike touring with this are from Holland. After all, some Dutch people currently bike tour on huge cargo bicycles (big enough to hold a full-size bed). What is amazing is that these friends in the 1930s went to France with their larger-than-life trailer! We doubt it was level cycling all the way to France, let alone around the country. What a shame that we don’t know their names. That would surely be a story worth telling. (Source: Popular Mechanics, March 1935)

The deeper we dug, the more fun and interesting things turned up. There was a story entitled ‘The Amazing Return Of The Bikes’ with pictures of bicycle basketball and a description of the newest “gadgets” of the day.

“Other ‘gadgets’ are a speedometer which shows both the speed at which the bicycle is traveling and the total mileage covered, a streamlined saddle, balloon tires, rims of chrome-plated steel in place of wood, a combination headlamp and horn unit, the lamp equipped with an automotive type lens, and a ‘pencil-type’ tire gauge.” (Source: Popular Mechanics, January 1935)

bicycle basketball

Finally, we give you an image of a 12-year-old inventor who created a bike that might be suitable for arctic expeditions or commuting during harsh winters. (Source: Popular Mechanics, May 1931)

Ice Bicycle

We wonder what ever happened to Billy Bataille. Did he go on to invent other bicycles? How well did his invention work? It seems unlikely we’ll ever find out but if anyone has a lead, do let us know!

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  1. Peter in Chicago
    17th February 2011 at 5:23 am #

    All of those pictures from old issues of Popular Mechanics reminded me of a blog that I think you will like. Modern Mechanix – Yesterday’s Tomorrow Today (http://blog.modernmechanix.com/).

    Before you ask, yes, they have a Bicycle section, under the Transportation category (http://blog.modernmechanix.com/category/transportation/bicycles/).


    • friedel
      17th February 2011 at 6:30 am #

      This is fantastic, Peter! You’re right, I absolutely love it. Thanks for sharing! Now I’m off to build me a bike with shoes for wheels…

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