Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Art of Bicycles

I don't just like bicycles. I like almost anything to do with bicycles. In my home, as much as I'd like to be able to have classic vintage bicycles hanging on my walls, above the sofa, over the fireplace mantelpiece, etc, my wife won't really allow that (some women can be so unreasonable) so as sort of a compromise I have a collection of vintage bicycle advertising posters.

In the early days of bicycles, it was pretty clear from the advertising that people thought of bicycles as something pretty special. Frequently the images emphasize beauty, speed -- sometimes even flight -- and have highly romanticized, nearly mythological themes. Here are some of my favorites:

The Cycles Gladiator poster is probably one of the best known, most recognizable posters that I have. The print that I have is absolutely huge, about 5 or 6 feet across, and hangs above my sofa. The image has been used and copied a lot over the years, and is even on the label of a wine from California (the wine isn't bad either).
 The next three, Fernand Clement, Cycles Sirius, and Falcon, all have kind of a similar theme to the Cycles Gladiator poster above, with ethereal goddess-like women, and a hint of flight -- or at least the possibility of flight. As I mentioned, flight is a common connection in a lot of these posters. Should it be any wonder that the Wright brothers got their start building and fixing bicycles?

This poster, from Cycles Peugeot also features a mythology-inspired woman, gleaming in gold, standing on top of the world.
The poster for American Crescent Cycles is another classic and a favorite of mine. It was created by the artist Frederick Ramsdell in 1899, and it's a great example of Art Nouveau style, with the field of flowers, and the idealized goddess-like woman. I love the way the wind blows through her dress and her impossibly full hair. Victor Bicycles, below, also has a similar Art Nouveau style to it.

Some of the posters, like these ones shown below, highlight the industrial aspect of the bicycle, giving the impression that the great machine is forged from great fires.

You can almost feel the heat from the blacksmith's forge in this poster from Cycles Liberator.
In this poster from Cycles Titania, we have not only a devil emerging from some kind of hell-forge with a bike, but there is a winged dragon flying in the background. Pretty cool.
Being from Northeast Ohio, I can't help but enjoy this poster from Cleveland cycles, even though it has nothing to do with Cleveland, Ohio. It isn't even American, despite the stars and stripes in the name.

All of the posters shown above hang either in my home, or in my classroom at the school where I teach. I kind of wish that bicycle advertising today was as beautiful as it was in the past -- I mean, how many bicycle advertisements of today would anyone want to hang on their wall as art? Sacha White's Vanilla Cycles has some pretty cool posters, and Rivendell Bicycles came out with one recently, but I can't think of too many others.
Available from Vanilla Bicycles -- Almost looks like it's from another time.


  1. Great posters Grouch. Thanks for sharing. I also like the old promotional posters for the big European races. I've been wanting to pick up a couple reproductions of those for the house.

    1. You're right -- some of those old race posters are pretty cool, too -- though I don't have any of those currently.

    2. Yes the posters above are stunning - I am absolutely certain they would sell if reproduced now. But see the new poster for the Cardiff 2017 WNBR event - not bad at all ! Chris.

  2. Can I ask where you get prints? I’ve been hoping to get a large copy of one of these posters for our living room, and my husband the graphic designer has very high standards for print quality.

    1. Hi Marginalla, I have a very large Cleveland Cycles poster from France from 1895 by the artist Pal that measures 96.5" x 124" and is printed in lithography in 4 sheets that I am considering selling. These are hard to find in this larger size. Let me know if you have any interest.

  3. I can't recall where all of them came from. At least one place I had gotten some really nice ones from is gone. VeloRetro has some bicycle-themed vintage posters.