BARNES WHITE FLYER
That beautiful wheel as light as a feather, as strong as steel, as swift as the wind. It runs with ease. A Barnes Wheel is a mount to be proud of. Other riders envy you.
– Meriden Morning Record, 5th May 1899
Faced with increasing competition in the ‘bicycle boom’ years of the 1890s, cycle manufacturers looked for new gimmicks to make their bicycles stand out from the crowd. Stearns was a company operating near Barnes Cycle Co factory in Syracuse, NY. Stearns made ‘The Yellow Fellow’ which was painted in yellow, and their advertising campaigns promoted this machine with great success worldwide. I’m not sure which company first hit upon the concept of a coloured frame to identify the model, but Barnes Cycle Co used a similar idea for their ‘White Flyer.’ It was a well-built and respected bicycle and sold at the top end of the market.
Barnes Cycle Co was in existence as an independent company for only five years because, by 1900, with the downturn in the cycle trade, all the American manufacturers were absorbed by ‘The Trust’ also known as ABC or the American Bicycle Co. As you can see below, and no doubt because a bicycle with suspension was still a novelty at the time, the Cushion Frame version sold for $60.
1900 Barnes ‘The White Flyer’ Cushion Frame
The ‘feature’ on this bicycle, a novelty in 1900, is its rear shock-absorber and pivot behind the bottom bracket, which turned it into a ‘cushion frame’ model, ie a bicycle with suspension. Cycle companies were experimenting with features that could be used in motorcycle and automobile manufacture – they knew that powered vehicles would soon take over from bicycles. For a few years around the turn of the century, cycles benefited from these new inventions as the manufacturers tried them out on their bicycles first. After a few years, modifications such as rear suspension became obsolete on bicycles. Only a few American bicycles had this additional feature, so it’s now an unusual and interesting ‘conversation point’ to ride a cushion frame bike …watch fellow cyclists and vintage enthusiasts do a double take when they spot it as you ride past.
This ‘Cushion Frame’ model was manufactured and prepared in 1899, but too late for that year’s Barnes catalogue. In 1900, the Barnes Cycle Co was absorbed by The American Bicycle Co, the conglomerate formed by all the American cycle manufacturers. The Barnes Cushion Frame appeared in American Bicycle Co adverts in 1900, priced at $60 (See top of page). But it was not promoted as heavily as other American Bicycle Co models, and this Cushion Frame quickly faded from existence, as did the Barnes Cycle Co name.
This rare Barnes ‘White Flyer’ would, as the name implies, usually have been painted white. However, as you’ll observe in the ‘Model 20 Special’ specification reproduced below, black was an optional colour. You can see white paint under the current layer of red on this bicycle.
It has been mechanically restored, and is ready to ride. It is scruffy cosmetically, but most of us prefer to ride our bikes this way. It adds to a bike’s character. But if you want a restored cushion frame bicycle, it would not be difficult to strip the paint and create a shiny white flyer.
Originally, American bicycles had wooden wheels and 28″ tubular tyres, until the early 1930s. As a result, the American cycle industry died – tubular tyres have no inner tubes and wooden wheels crack, necessitating the replacement of both: an expensive exercise. These days tubular tyres are not available and any original ones that remain are only fit for display purposes. Early 1900s American coaster hubs are only good for a mile or so before they pack up. Original is fine if you only want to display the bike; but what about if you prefer to ride your 112-year-old rare American Cushion Frame Barnes White Flyer?
…To solve the problem, I use retro metal wheel-sets with coaster hubs that are reliable. The Schwalbe tyres and inner tubes that are fitted are cheap and reliable, the best available. Problem solved – it’s now a ridable bike.
SYRACUSE, NY, CYCLE INDUSTRY IN THE 1890S
The most popular and successful bicycle manufacturer in the city was E. C. Stearns & Company, producer of the popular “Yellow Fellow” model, which was known world-wide. At its height in the 1890s, E. C. Stearns Company employed 2,000 and made 500 bicycles a day.
Barnes Cycle Company was another well-known bicycle manufacturer of that era in Syracuse. Located on East Water Street, it was most known for the popular “White Flyer.” William Van Wagoner, a well-known Syracuse bicycle racer, designed bicycles for the company, and earned a reputation as a tandem builder.
The Syracuse Cycle Company also began business in 1892 on Wyoming Street and manufactured a brand called Syracuse Bicycles – with a motto: “There is but one Crimson Rim — It is the Syracuse.” 1895, the company participated in the New York Cycle Show, held in Madison Square Gardens in New York City, where they displayed models of the year including the Racer, Special, Spacer, Model C and Thelma, a ladies model.,
Another local company, Westfield Manufacturing Company of Syracuse manufactured pneumatic safety bicycles with “tall cushion” frames in 1898. Worden Hickory Frame Cycle Works, maker of Worden Bicycles, sold their bicycles from the Olive Wheel Store at 121 West Jefferson Street.
A prominent early name in bicycle racing was John Wilkinson, a native of Syracuse and graduate of Cornell University with a degree in engineering. By 1880, Wilkinson was one of the country’s leading bicycle racers. After college he went on to become a champion cyclist and worked at The Syracuse Cycle Company. It was a logical progression for him to develop a keen interest about the inner-workings of internal combustion engines for motor cars. Wilkinson later developed a successful air-cooled engine and teamed with Herbert H. Franklin to form Franklin Automobile Company in Syracuse. Wilkinson’s air-cooled engine was used in Franklin runabouts, touring cars and sedans.
Local entrepreneurs and engineers, Alexander T. Brown and Charles E. Lipe invented the two-gear chain in 1894 in order to offer different speeds to the more advanced riders. The gears were produced at the Brown-Lipe Company on the Near West Side who named it the two-speed Hy-Lo Bi-Gear. It soon became installed on all makes of bicycles. The company was located in Syracuse, in the C. E. Lipe Machine Shop, an early business incubator in the city. The firm evolved into the Brown-Lipe-Chapin Company and went on to become the world’s “premier automobile gear manufacture.”
By 1897, special paths were first constructed in the city and every “wheel” rider had to carry a tag showing payment of a tax to maintain the paths. There were “special constables” to arrest those unlawfully cycling on the paths.
The number of bicycle riders in Syracuse during the 1890s totaled 10,000 and the city was a “hub of bicycle production.” Bicycles were so popular during that period that streetcar earnings declined. By the early 1900s, the bicycle industry slowed, with the advent of the automobile.
Bicycle races were often used to promote sales. In 1896, the Stearns Company arranged a race between a New York Central locomotive and a 6-passenger Stearns’ sextuplet bicycle. The race was to take place on a stretch of railroad tracks in Solvay. The publicized date arrived and the team was ready to show its strength. The riders awaited the appearance of the No. 999 engine and when she came into sight, the cyclists slowly and steadily got up to pace so that when the engine was nearly alongside, they were going approximately 45 mph. The race continued for the prescribed half mile and the specially designed “Yellow Fellow” came out ahead by four lengths. Although it captured a great deal of attention and publicity, the feat was not able to markedly reinvigorate the sport and by 1900, its popularity began to wane.
1897 BARNES CYCLE CO CATALOGUE
1899 BARNES CYCLE CO CATALOGUE
FRANCE v AMERICA:
MACHINE ‘BRILLANT’ No 1 MODELE 1903 v 1900 BARNES WHITE FLYER CUSHION FRAME
Syracuse info with thanks to – http://connectivecorridor.syr.edu/2012/10/23/iconic-syracuse-the-hub-of-the-bicycle-world/