Cykelhistoriska Föreningen - Artiklar
Swedish bicycle history
The first bicycles in Sweden
The next description of a bicycle in Swedish media is from 1869 where
the latest fashion from Paris, velocipede, is described. Several manufacturers
began their own production the same year, including J.W. Östberg
who had a production line of about 150 units of which the first ones were
introduced to paying audiences in Stockholm. Later that same year Sweden's
first "velocipede school" gave classes in Stockholm. Just as
the running machine before it, the velocipede was out of fashion after
no more than a couple of years. Britain, being one of the leading manufacturers
in the world, was thereafter to supply what few velocipedes and, later,
penny farthings that were in demand.
In 1886 a famous jockey named Anton Wiklund began selling well-known British bicycles to his friends; Coventry Machinist's, Hillmans, Humbers and Singers among others. The repair business generated by these bikes gave birth to Sweden's second bicycle factory, whose production began in 1889. Expansion of the production line became necessary and was effected in 1891 when Anton Wiklunds Velocipedfabriks Aktiebolag (Anton Wiklund's Velocipede Factory Limited) was formed. The company was to symbolise high quality and stability for years to come.
The golden decade of the bicycle
To ordinary cyclists, the police, horse carriages and pedestrians were a constant problem, especially the police, whose judgement of the speed was a nuisance and the penalties were harsh. The generally vague law stated that the bicycle should be conveyed at low speed so that a fully grown man with a swift walk would be able to keep pace with the velocipede. Moreover, the cyclist was not to disturb the horses, but to dismount if a horse showed signs of agitation. Cyclists were perceived as the cause of so many problems that license plates were required in a large part of the country from 1894 and onwards.
The British dominance was quickly broken by the increasing import of bicycles from America, which were being introduced by the mid 1890s. Around 1895 began the definite breakthrough of the bicycle in Sweden, giving rise to our own bicycle industry, and a great number of factories were to begin their small-scale production in the following years. In these factories, brand names that were to last for a long time were born, such as Hermes, Fram, Husqvarna, Rex and Vega.
The retailers that were selling imported bicycles were also increasing in number, the most successful brands being the originally American bikes Crescent and Rambler. The retailer which was later to be associated with Örnen also has its origins in this period. The increasing bike import from Germany never really got a hold of the Swedish market, but nevertheless was at its greatest during the years around 1900.
Once again, a sports event rekindled the public's fading interest in cycling. Track races were on the decline, but the open road race Mälaren Rundt, which had not been held since 1893, was revived in 1901. There was a slow and steady progress again, but very little happened before the year 1910 when both Rambler and Crescent began being manufactured in Sweden. Moreover, bicycle production began in Varberg by the company which later was to become Sweden's biggest bike manufacturer and whose product is known today under the name of Monark.
World War I did not affect the general development in Sweden until the very last year of the war when there was a great material shortage. For bicycle manufacturers, the shortage of tyres was so great that tyres and inner tubes were not included in the price of a bike. In the aftermath of the war many bicycle retailers were deeply in debt since prices constantly changed to their disadvantage. Many a retailer disappeared from the market at this time.
Times were once again good around the mid 1920s when the open road race Sexdagars (Six Day Race) became a huge success for the organisers. Sales curves were once again going up until the trouble on the New York stock market began and the subsequent collapse of the Swedish market occurred. The Krüger crash in Sweden had a negative effect on the economy for a couple of years. At the same time, the industry was changing and small-scale production began to disappear.
The renaissance of the bicycle
Many of those Swedish manufacturers which sold German hubs and spare parts in the 1930s were after the war selling the more easily accessible British hub Perry and, above all, Husqvarna's Novo hub. The development towards light bikes where former steel parts were replaced with aluminium ones dominated bicycle advertisement at the time. Mostly, it was only the carrier, the fender and, on some models, the rims which were made of aluminium on the so called lightweight bikes. Gears were also being introduced more and more, however, many cyclists had to do without them since gears were an additional feature. Nymans was manufacturing Torpedo under license from 1946 until the beginning of 1950.
Monark's traffic school for children was initiated as a small-scale one man project in 1950 by the employee Anders Rosengren and, with the help of the company, it quickly spread all over the country. The children were to learn good traffic sense, which became an important feature in the education system during the following fifteen years.
Towards a slow death
Monark's focus on bike races began to pay off after 1950 when the company war against Nymans' Crescent stable was draining the stable owning manufacturers' capital and problems concerning profitability were evident by the end of the 1950s. By this time, the bicycle industry was unstable and the three big manufacturers, Monark, Nymans (Crescent) and Husqvarna, were struggling with profitability. Things were just as bad for the small companies, among which there had been mergers for several years. Now the turn had come to the big giants. Profitability was believed to be found in a merger between Monark and Nymans in 1960. The merged companies which formed this new conglomerate were carrying problems that took longer to solve than expected. When this was almost done in 1965, the name was changed to MCB, Monark-Crescentbolagen (Monark Crescent Companies).
There was one dark cloud on the horizon, however, and it was the new Swedish import laws around 1960, which made it profitable to import from abroad. The bike manufacturer Rex extended their range with British Sunbeam, which were later replaced by Raleigh. The manufacturer Svalan adopted Favorit from Czechoslovakia and their bikes were renamed Svalan after being repainted, but the legend Favorit could be found on many of its parts. In addition to the established bicycle manufacturers, several other small and large companies tried their luck with their own imported low priced models. In ten years imports reached the same level as the domestic production.
Geared towards racing
The racing bike became the latest trend towards the end of the 1970s due to its success in competitions. This model spread to the general public, but not all of these bikes had the ten or twelve gears and the light and stripped frame that characterised a racing bike. In the early 1980s more and more models came equipped with drop handlebars, but most of them were in fact regular bikes made of steel and equipped with stainless steel fenders and rims, carrier, lock and so on. In other words, no lightweight bikes.
From one extreme model to another
In the aftermath of the sport, racing and mountain bike trend, the ordinary bike received its renaissance and nostalgia characterised bicycles just a few years after the mountain bike boom. Suddenly, all the remaining bike brands started selling great quantities of regular 28 inch wheel bicycles, which appeared to emanate from the 40s, but had the latest technology. By the mid 1990s, mountain bikes and nostalgia bikes were not as popular anymore, both models drifted towards the middle again and the more semisporty trend ended the twentieth century.
Irresponsibly out of the head of Åke Stenqvist firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Lots of catalogues & books with long forgotten titles. The following books by Gert Ekström has been helpful: Svenskarna och deras velocipeder and Älskade cykel, plus the books Svenska cyklister i segertröjor and På två hjul.