Thursday, April 30, 2009

Racycle Frames

“There are two things in the make up of every Racycle frame that are not always considered in the manufacture of bicycles—honesty and common sense.” --Racycle catalog, 1901.
The following discussion of Racycle frames is offered as an example of the high quality build of Racycle bicycles and as a means to summarize some of the production changes and unique features of Racycle frames.
Frame Tubing and Construction
Racycle frames appear almost svelte compared to the heavy frames of most bicycles of the late 1800s. The catalog illustration at the top of this post is a cut-away view showing the method of pinning the frame tubes to the intersecting joints, which reach far down the inside of the frame tubes. The joints were then brazed.
To illustrate the effort and fine materials that went into constructing a Racycle, a narrative description of the manufacturing process was included in the 1905 catalog. The frame department occupied an area 200’ by 50’ in the basement of the three-story Miami Cycle & Manufacturing Company factory in Middletown, Ohio. “We shall start in at the further end of the basement on Grand Avenue where peculiar machines cut the 1-inch, 20-gauge seamless tubing into proper lengths. Proceeding along the north side of the building, we pass a long row of benches where busy workmen are putting the head, seat post, and other connections into the tubing, which, when rough shaped, are carried over to the forming machines to be drilled, wired, riveted, and made ready for the noisy, sputtering brazing tables on the south side of the room. Here brawny artisans ladle molten brass around the red-hot joints, turning and twisting their work to make sure that the brass penetrates to the end of each reinforcement.”
In 1897, a wide variety of frame configurations and styles were offered. By 1901 the line was standardized with respect to frame geometry (only the Racer and the ladies’ models were obviously different), and the tandems had been discontinued. The frame geometry of the 1901 models was described by the maker as “practically the same as they were last season, with not quite so much drop to the crank hanger.”
The Miami Cycle & Manufacturing Company continually improved the Racycle frame. The 1901 catalog lists 1 and 1/8-inch (1.125”) diameter, 22-gauge tubing on all models except the Racycle Racer, which was built of 1-inch, 20 gauge tubing. By 1904, all Racycle frames were constructed of the smaller-diameter (1 inch) and thicker-walled (20-gauge) tubing that had first been introduced on the Racer. At some point between 1905 and 1908, slightly thicker 19-gauge tubing was introduced throughout the Racycle range, but the diameter remained at 1 inch.
Seamless English tubing was introduced in top-end models in 1908 but appears to have been quietly dropped in favor of tubing that retained the same specifications without the cache or expense of English tubing. The 1908 sales literature described “weldless English steel tubing and drop-forged heads, fork crowns, and seat-post clusters.” As testimony to the strength of its frames, the same brochure includes photos of ten men on a single Racycle and America’s heaviest bicycle rider with his Racycle roadster, which was a standard production model.
Catalogs from 1910 and later do not mention English tubing. For instance, the 1913 catalog describes the frame material as “19-gauge cold-rolled seamless steel tubing. All joints are heavily reinforced with extra long reinforcements of the fishmouth design and are carefully brazed together by the immersion process, which unites the frame as nearly as possible into one piece.” “Frame connections are made of extra-heavy gauge stock.” The Miami Cycle & Manufacturing Company claimed that the use of these materials in the manufacture of Racycle frames “…Represents a new era in bicycle frame construction that has never before been approached.”
Frame Colors
We usually see Racycles in black, which was the standard color for most all of the production run, but it appears that they started out much more colorful. For instance, black paint was not mentioned in the 1897 advertising. Instead Racycles were supplied in carmine (red), with royal blue supplied on a couple of the lower end Racycles. By 1901 (and perhaps a couple of years earlier) black was the standard color.
The 1901 catalog mentions that other colors and striping were subject to a two-week delay. However, custom colors were available on only the top-end Racycles; the Roadster (Model 64) and the Taper-Head Chainless (Model 67) were available in black only. (Yes, there was a shaft-drive Racycle for a few years around the turn of the century.) Similarly, the 1905 catalog indicates that you could order your Racycle in whatever color you wanted if you were willing to wait an additional two weeks and if you sent in “a piece of silk in the desired shade…attached to each order as a guide for our enamellers.” It seems there was no extra charge for the custom color, but an extra charge would be levied for “full nickel frames, combination colors, (on Model 105 only) gun barrel blue, or rims enameled to match.” This seems to have been the company policy from about 1900 to 1910, after which catalogs did not refer to custom colors but instead offered one or two selected color options.
From about 1908, the Pacemaker and other top-end models were standard in “gun blue” or black. Catalog descriptions suggest that “gun blue” was probably a paint color that looked similar to a gun-blue metal finish like on firearms. For instance, the 1913 catalog description for the Pacemaker lists color “No. 1 translucent gun blue” as the standard color on this top-of-the-line machine. An option was No. 4 black.
From 1910, a few colors followed translucent gun blue onto the Racycle pallet, but black endured as the standard color. Garnet and blue were listed as options on the Tourist and the ladies’ Pacemaker, and color options on the Rideabout and the Roadster were limited to blue and garnet, respectively.
To its credit, the Miami Cycle & Manufacturing Company made a real effort to build high-quality frames for the Racycle line. The design, materials, and construction techniques were first rate for the day and probably did much to help legitimize the maker's claim, “buy the Racycle and you will have the best; there are no cheap Racycles.”


  1. Great posts. The info on Racycles is awesome. There's an ad for a $100 Raycycle Tourist. I wonder how much $100 is equivalent to today. Did Racycle build different sized frames?

  2. Glad you like this web log! Regarding how much the old Racycle prices are in today's dollars is an excellent question, but my search of internet info suggests that the answers are not easy to find. I found one estimate that 1908 dollars should be multiplied by 20 to compare with our current cost of money. That means a 1908 Pacemaker at $60 would have cost the equivalent of about $1,200 today. Financial instability around the turn of the century just muddies the waters. There was a depression in 1893 that lasted three or four years, so the $100 price from 1897 might be affected by the tail end of that economic calamity. Then there the Bank Panic of 1907, which affected banks, farmers, and manufacuturers ( U.S. Census Bureau figures for median household income go back only to 1945. All of which suggests that the factor of 20 is likely in error but is probably reasonably close for turn-of-the-century prices. Let me know if you come up with a better answer!

  3. Regarding your question about whether Racycles came in different frame sizes, the typical offerings were 20", 22", and 24". However, some models (for instance racer and woman's frames) were available only in 20" and 22". You can click on the catalog pages within the postings here, and they should enlarge big enough that you can read the descriptions under the pictures of the individual models. The available frame sizes are usually listed there.

  4. Thanks for posting this info. Today I bought what looks like a Racycle Pacemaker of around 1900. Paid about 8 times original cost. It needs lots of work but it will be a nice project plus it goes with my chainwheel collection.

    Pictures at