Mike Wolfe of the History Channel's "American Pickers" is a junk archeologist even during his free time. Mostly, he feeds his jones for vintage bicycles. Over at Collectors Weekly, Ben Marks talked to Wolfe about old bikes, from Victorian high weelers to balloon-tire Schwinns:
The late ’80s, early ’90s, was the heyday of balloon-tire bike collecting. That’s when Schwinn went crazy. This was before the bankruptcy and everything, and they were trying to create a museum in Chicago. Schwinn had warehouses full of its turn-of-the-century bikes, but they had failed to keep any of their balloon-tire stuff. So they hired James Hurd as a curator for their museum, and he started selling off all these turn-of-the-century bikes to enable for them to acquire balloon-tire ones.
"Mike Wolfe On His Love Affair With Vintage Bikes"
I’d find a bike for $50, sell it for $500, take that $500 and do it again.
Guys like me were out there looking for balloon-tire stuff to feed that flame. In return, we were getting early turn-of-the-century bikes from the Schwinn collection. They had a big sale in downtown Chicago. Wood-rim bikes were stacked like cordwood in these warehouses.
Around that time I restored a bike called a Sterling. It was a turn-of-the-century, shaft-drive, wood-rim bike with rear suspension–there was a shock absorber up by the seat stays. I found the bike in pretty rough shape, but I just went full on with it and redid all the nickel and disassembled the bike and found a pair of new-old-stock wood rims. That was my prized possession for many years.
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