Monday, March 14, 2016

Bike Shorts: The Great American Bike Tour

That's bike FILM shorts, don't you know?

When I was searching for examples of bikes from the '70s that featured early versions of disc brakes, I happened upon this short film, The Great American Bike Tour.

Got to love the patriotic motif.
This 1975 promotional film was produced by J.C. Penney, which apparently hired a bunch of young college-aged men and women to ride Huffy-built J.C. Penney bikes across the country, from New York City to San Francisco. The point was to promote their new disc-brake-equipped bikes, and maybe bike use and bike safety along the way, as well.

Penney's made sure to get several close-up shots of the new disc brakes, including a scene with a sponsor describing the brake's benefits to a fresh-faced rider.
The participants dip their back wheels into the Atlantic at the beginning of their adventure.
Totally befitting the times, the film is full of these '70s video effects, montages, and really cheesy music.
The group stops off at a shopping mall to promote riding safety as the kiddies look on.
One of the things I love is the matching tennis outfits on all the riders. Anybody notice something missing? Yep, not a helmet in sight.  Granted, bicycle helmets were only just beginning to be introduced to the market in '75, but can you imagine a bike safety film (ostensibly) today without helmets?
One might also notice that the riders are carrying virtually no gear with them whatsoever. That's because they are being followed by a married couple in a big-ass R.V. with tents, clothes, and all their supplies for the trip.
Arriving at the Pacific (now in matching track suits) the riders rush to dip their front wheels.
Close the film with a shot of one of the bikes as the riders celebrate their achievement on the beach. Does anybody else think that looks like an awkward bike setup for a cross-country ride?
I love re-living my youth with these '70s era graphics.
I shouldn't be too hard on the bikes, though. I mean, they did make it cross country, even if it was with a lot of sag-wagon assistance. But the snob in me would prefer something much better-suited for an unsupported adventure.

It's sort of interesting to think of all the attention that bicycle riding was getting in these right-after-the-bike-boom days. I'm sure that the gas-crunch helped with that. Keep in mind that this little promotional exercise just barely preceded the huge Bikecentennial tour of 1976. I wonder if any of the participants in this tour went on to do Bikecentennial as well?

If they did, I hope they got better bikes.

If you've got about 15 minutes, you can watch The Great American Bike Tour right here, courtesy of YouTube user Sam Handelman, who was one of the riders.



  1. I don't remember the Great American Bicycle Tour, but my first real bike was a JC Penney's 10sp with a Shimano mechanical rear disc brake. Pretty much the same bike, as I would have gotten this bike around '76. I rode this just about every day (I used it as transportation in MS and HS). I never used the front brake (it was a cheap center pull) ever. But this was the bike that turned me into a life long cyclist.

  2. Thanks for reposting the video Brooks! That was a fun summer. JC Penney paid for everything and then gave us $1200 at the end. Given that my annual tuition at UC Santa Barbara was less that $1000, that was a major financial windfall, not to mention an amazing US travel experience.

    1. My pleasure, Sam. I can imagine that it would have been a great opportunity and experience. Get to tour the country for free, and even make a little extra cash on the side? Hell yeah.