Many of the innovations made by early bicycle designers contributed to the development of the automobile industry. In fact, many of the early automobile and motorcycle designers started out as bicycle designers, among them Gottlieb Daimler of Germany and Bill Harley and Arthur Davidson of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Cycling enthusiasts also clamored for better roads, led by the League of American Wheelmen, which was by 1890 the world’s largest athletic association. The increasing popularity of motorized vehicles ultimately led to a decline in the popularity of adult cycling between 1900 and 1920, particularly in the United States. The average annual bicycle production in the United States fell from 1 million units during the 1890s to 335,000 units during the 1920s. Prices declined 70 to 80 percent during the same period.
Bicycle sales rebounded somewhat in the United States between 1924 and 1941, led by Arnold, Schwinn & Co., which eventually captured nearly 20 percent of the market. Two keys to this resurgence were the repositioning of the bicycle in the market, primarily for children and young teens, and the addition to it of the most flashy accessories of the automobiles and motorcycles of the time. Such appealing nonessential features included whitewalled balloon tires, front fender ornaments, dual headlights, illuminated speedometers, spring fork shock absorbers, and even a hollow “gas tank” under the top tube containing a battery-operated noisemaker that sounded like a motor. In addition, the models were given names such as Autocycle, Motorcycle, and Streamlined Cycleplane. Perhaps most famous was Schwinn’s elegant Black Phantom.
Cycling remained popular in Europe, in part because the population there did not embrace the automobile as wholeheartedly as Americans did and did not have the same need to cover great distances over vast open spaces. As a result, European manufacturers made steady progress in improving the technology for serious cycling, developing gearshifting mechanisms, lighter-weight tubing, wheels, tires, and other components.