The Bicycle: Art on Two Wheels

Photography by Bernhard Angerer | Captions by Della Watson

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  • Bicycle

    It is the nature of a beautiful object to inspire obsession. The bicycle—a practical, relatively simple machine—has been reimagined by countless enthusiasts over the years and cleverly crafted to fill nearly every imaginable niche and purpose.

    London designer Michael Embacher caught the bike bug about 10 years ago, when he traded his car for a pedal-powered commute. He fell in love with the bicycle's clean, efficient design, and it transformed his life and health. More than 200 bicycles later, Embacher boasts an impressive collection of two-wheeled works of art.

    Enthusiasm is best when shared, and Embacher does just that with his new book, Cyclepedia: A Century of Iconic Bicycle Design(Chronicle Books), a compendium of 100 strange, sleek, and classic bikes from his collection—like the 1949 Mervil Mervilex from France, shown above. This slide show features a few more of our favorites.

  • The Bicycle

    In the 1890s, Danish blacksmith and inventor Mikael Pedersen set about building a bike frame that would accommodate riders of any height. His solution: a flexible saddle. The Pedersen bike was sold in the early 1900s by Dursley in the U.K.; the design was reincarnated in the 1970s in Denmark by Sølling. Pictured above is a 1978 Sølling Pedersen. The unique bike is still in production today.

  • The Bicycle

    Produced by French toymaker MFA (Manufacture Française d'Ameublement) around 1960, this bicycle was designed to look like a motor scooter. The children who pumped the pedals of the MFA bike nicknamed it the "Lambretta" or "Vespa," after the toy's high-powered, adult-size counterparts.

  • The Bicycle

    Built for transporting cargo, the Smith and Co. Long John was the longest two-wheeled freight bicycle on the streets in 1983. This bike from Denmark can support a load of more than 300 pounds, rider included.

  • The Bicycle

    The Schauff bicycle factory in Germany produced only 20 copies of its Wall Street model. The varnished carbon trekking bike won the 1992 Rote Punkt design prize (now called the Red Dot Design Award).

  • The Bicycle

    In 1930s France, recumbent bicycles were all the rage. After a recumbent broke the world hour record—the longest distance covered in an hour—in 1933, the design was banned from competition in the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) conference. Hobbyists continue to tout the comfort and ease of the recumbent, however. This model, the Sironval Sportplex, dates from 1939. Only 200 were sold.

  • The Bicycle

    This lightweight, fixed-gear track bike hails from Italy. The design, from the late 1970s, has recently had a strong resurgence in urban centers due to the simplicity of design and beautiful lines. When used as a street bike, riders must rely upon their own strength and weight to bring the brakeless bike to a halt.