Few of us forget our childhood bike. In all its shiny, tasseled, banana-seated glory, it brought us pure joy and our first taste of freedom. Lately, it seems, our collective love affair with bikes is being rekindled, with adults around the country feeling a passion for cycles they haven't experienced since their youth. The objects of their affections? Old-fashioned commuter bikes -- the kind you ride sitting upright, with sleek frames, wide handlebars, and leather handgrips and saddles. Their combination of utility, beauty, and efficiency inspires both design lust and nostalgia.
Indeed, some enthusiasts get downright obsessive about these bikes. "They don't just want a Schwinn," says Candy Sanders, owner of Rosebud Antiques, in Countryside, Illinois, and Twiners Bicycle Pedalers, a vintage-bike eBay store. "They want a specific make and model, something that takes them back to a moment in their lives that they want to relive."
The trouble is, it's getting harder to find the models of the fifties and sixties from manufacturers such as Raleigh and Schwinn, with prices getting into the thousands for a rare model in mint condition. Happily, however, more manufacturers and shops are offering new bikes made in the spirit of vintage models -- and with the everyday rider, rather than the die-hard cyclist, in mind. "I opened a bike shop because of my experience as a consumer," says Julie Hirschfeld, a graphic designer who owns Adeline Adeline, a New York City bike shop. "The general bike stores I found didn't cater to urban riders like me, who want a single- or three-speed upright bike that you can ride to work, wearing normal clothes. They didn't understand that I didn't want a mountain or racing bike." When she stocked her store with understated, practical cycles and beautiful baskets and bells to go with them (good-looking helmets are still a challenge), she was thinking of the millions of Europeans who commute each day atop a stylish two-wheeler.
Hirschfeld is one of a growing crowd that believes Americans are catching on to the allure of the commuter bike. Bowery Lane Bicycles, also in New York City, started making affordable throwbacks in 2008, including sturdy cruisers with handmade wooden crates for carrying a briefcase or groceries. And in Los Angeles's Venice Beach, Linus designs svelte bikes in subtle shades, such as navy and bone, with leather handgrips and waxed-cotton panniers (bags slung over the front or back of the bike). "We set out to make commuter bikes that appealed to us aesthetically, too," says Chad Kushner, who founded the company with Adam McDermott, a longtime bike hobbyist. "We experimented with different bike shapes and styles, but the ones that really inspired us were the elegant French models from the fifties and sixties."
Whatever your two-wheeled fantasy may be -- 1960s French, 1970s American, modern-day Dutch -- there's a bike out there for you. And as they say, you never forget how to ride.
You'd never guess it from their vintage look, but these photos were taken with an iPhone, using the Hipstamatic application. With a variety of filters, this app lets you re-create the kinds of photos taken by the original Hipstamatic, a popular 1980s toy camera. Download for $1.99 at hipstamaticapp.com.