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Bicycles | The Ultimate Guide

Heritage Bicycles

So You Want to Buy a Custom Bike...  

Or, you just want to learn more about bikes—either way, you’ve come to the right place. Since we were the first business to offer fully customized, locally handmade bikes, we know a thing or two about them. At a minimum, we sure do love them a lot. 


Know Your Bikes!


Road Racing Bike: Skinny tires, men in spandex. Clip-in pedals. These are the guys and gals going way faster than you on the lakefront path.


Fixie Bike: This is a track bike used on the street. Usually clad with skinny bars, stickers, and spoke cards. Riders typically wear flannel and skinny jeans and wax their handlebar mustaches.  


Mountain Bike | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

Mountain Bike: For off-road enjoyment and general rippage. There aren’t many mountains in the Chicago area, but Palos and Imagination Glen trails can get pretty rad.


  Track Bike | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

Track Bike: For racing on velodromes, track bikes are like road bikes, but they go faster and don’t brake as easily. So not for the faint of heart, in other words.


 Stunt Bicycles | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

BMX: Bicycle motocross (BMX), also known as off-road bike racing. People riding BMX bikes generally look like they stole their little brother’s wheels, except they are wearing tons of padding and a helmet. And are executing sick tricks.


Downhill Mountain Bike | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

 Downhill Mountain Bike: Built for going down mountains at blazing speed. Tons of suspension travel for jumping, or staying rubber side down over terrifyingly large roots and rocks.



City Bicycles

Folding Bike | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

Folding Bike: These tiny-wheeled contraptions fold in half to fit in the trunk of a car, or next to your seat on the bus. Can disappear completely in Chicago potholes.


Beach Cruiser | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

Beach Cruiser: Laid-back bike with fat tires, for taking it easy. Will run you over on the Venice Boardwalk and not even notice.


Hybrid Bicycle | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

Hybrid Bike: A cross between a road bike and a mountain bike, for comfortable all-around riding.


City Bike | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

City Bike: This is the category Heritage bicycles fall into...comfortable, swift bikes that might have a chain guard to keep your clothes clean, and fenders to keep you dry while you pedal to work (or the bar).


Bike Customization

Do you remember your first trip to the bike store, or the first bike you got as a child? Back then, bikes came in one piece, fully assembled. The most tweaking the store might have done was adjusting the seat to your height (assuming the part-time working teenager just trying to make a few extra bucks even remotely cared about his job.

Well, the 21st century is all about customization. You can order custom checks, Nike kicks, even M&Ms. Why should bikes be any different? The possible combinations are literally endless when it comes toassembling a custom bicycle. This ain’t your first Schwinn.


Bicycle Brakes

 Coaster Brake | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee



Coaster Brakes: This is the classic back-pedal brake that you had on your first bike. It probably saved you from riding into many a bush or tree. Coaster brakes are used for their simplicity and cost effective nature. Not the best for the city, but usable.

Pros: simple look, cheap. Cons: no back-pedaling, braking not the best, cheap.




 Caliper Brake | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee


Rim Brakes: Any type of brake where pads are applied to the rim of the rotating wheels. Rim brakes are cheap and easy to maintain, but beware in the rain. It can be similar to how water may make your car slide for a bit before finally coming to a complete stop.

Rim brakes vary in style, depending on where the are mounted, and what type of bicycle they're on. The most popular styles are caliper, cantilever, and linear pull brakes.

Pros: Reliable, powerful braking. Cons: Not amazing in the rain. Take some maintenance.




 Drum Brakes | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

Drum Brakes: Two pads are pressed outward against the hub. The mechanism is fully enclosed, making these brakes good for wet or dirty conditions.

Drum brakes are an older style, but still work well, and braking strength is consistent no matter the weather. They haven’t been used on racing bikes for many, many, decades. They are great for city bikes though, as long as you don’t live in a 3rd floor walk-up apartment (we’re assuming you’re not after Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque calves, thighs, and glutes.

Pros: Low-maintenance, great in bad weather. Cons: Heavy.



Disc Brake | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee


Disc brakes: A metal disc attached the wheel hub that turns with the wheel, and when braking, pads squeeze together on the disc. Just like on a motorcycle, but smaller and lighter.

These show up on almost all off-road bikes (mountain bike, cyclocross bikes). Very powerful, but high maintenance. Good for any bike that is able to mount them, city to off-road, and if the rider wants to go through the trouble of maintaining them.

Pros: The most powerful bicycle brake style available, good in the rain and mud. Cons: High-maintenance.


Bicycle Gears

Derailleur Gears | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

External (derailleur) gears: Commonly found on most bikes, these gears are, obviously, readily visible. They could also double as throwing stars. You know, if you ever find yourself being attacked by a band of ninjas.

Derailleur shifting exists on 90% of bikes. At the high-end (racing groups), it’s the fastest shifting method available. On the low-end (consumer bicycles), they’re super cost-effective. Can be used on any bike with a derailleur hanger.

Pros: Can be fast and reliable. 

Cons: Easy to damage, can be cheap and ineffective.



Internal Gears | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

Internal gears: These gears are hidden inside a wheel hub. Commonly found on commuter bikes and general city riders.

Used for ease of maintenance and clean look. Can be mounted to pretty much any bicycle. Used mostly for commuter/city bikes, popular in Europe. They tend to have some drag because of their mechanical nature, so they’re not very efficient with your pedalling power.

Pros: Easy to use and maintain. 

Cons: Heavy, slow to shift, not very efficient.



Bicycle Saddles

Saddles just aren’t for horses. It’s actually the proper term for the “bike seat.” The shape of the saddle largely depends on how upright you need to be—which is, of course, determined on the type of riding you are trying to do. The wider the tail (the back-part of the saddle), the more comfortable the saddle is when you are seated upright. If you need to be leaning forward on the bike, the tail and midsection need to be narrow for maximum butt comfort and so that your legs can pedal easily. Some saddles also come with a hole or groove in the middle to relieve pressure on the vas deferens, for all you dudes out there who do not wish for infertility (Warning! Do not go to “Google Images” and search “Vas Deferens!”)

Bicycles Saddles | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

Bicycle Handlebars

Just like the saddle, the shape of the handlebars is dictated by the type of riding you will be doing. Racing bikes, where you are completely hunched over, typically have drop handlebars. Mountain bike handlebars are usually straight across, while cruisers curve upward. City handlebars come in all shapes, but most curve and/or rise to place the rider in a comfortable, upright position. We’ll let the pictures take it from here!

Handlebar types | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee


Bicycle Fenders

Velo Orange Fenders | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

Fenders (you know, those things that covers the top of the wheel) keep the water and mud off you and your bike. The length varies depending on how much coverage you want. Fenders can be wood, aluminum, steel, or plastic. To be totally candid, deciding on the fender type really comes down to how much you want to spend:

Wood: Expensive, high maintenance. Look great!

Aluminum: (left) Light, low-maintenance, not cheap, but not crazy expensive. Super decorative and awesome looking.

Steel: Cheap, heavy. Decent looking.

Plastic: Cheap, light, flimsy, ugly. Does the job.


Racks and Other Bells & Whistles


The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Rear racks, front racks, baskets, and panniers will hold your crap for you. You can ride 80's style by sticking some baseball cards into the wheel spokes. Strap on some headlights for night riding — Heritage even offers self-generating lights that are powered by your pedaling. Streamers, pennant flags, and bells are are also part of the myriad ways you can spice up your bike. We’ll keep this section simple and just let the pictures do the talking.

 Sunlite Deep Wire Basket | Heritage Bicycles and CoffeeWald Rear Rack | Heritage Bicycles and CoffeeSpurcycle Bell | Heritage Bicycle and CoffeeBrooks Suffolk Rear Pannier | Heritage Bicycles and CoffeeB&M Lumotec Classic head light | Heritage Bicycles and CoffeeKnog Pop i Headlight


What Makes Heritage Bicycles Special?

A Heritage bike is, first and foremost, all about quality. We use long-lasting components so your bike breaks in, and rides like a dream for thousands of miles before it needs any service. Our bikes are equipped with premium parts, quality pieces that wouldn’t see on bikes at much higher price-points, and leagues above what you’ll get on a mass-produced bike. We agonize over every nut and bolt to ensure a long-lasting and smooth ride for you.

Heritage Jane | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

Our expansive customization makes every one of our bikes unique. When you buy a Heritage bike, you can choose from over 150 paint colors and a multitude of gears, seats, fenders, tires, handlebars, and chain guards. That’s a level of service that you can’t come by easily these days. You’ll also never confuse your bike for someone else’s.

All our bikes are hand-welded in Chicago and then hand-assembled in our flagship shop on Lincoln Avenue. You won’t find another handmade bike in the Midwest. Heritage bikes help keep local craftsmen and mechanics in business, so you can feel good knowing that in addition to buying a good-quality custom bike, you’re also buying local. Stop by and see us, or order your bike online.



The History of the Bicycle

(For you history nerds out there…er, buffs! History buffs! Crap, it’s too late).

The ancestor to the modern bike was the Laufmaschine (“running machine”; also called a “dandy horse”). Creator Baron Karl von Drais (wow, now that’s a German name!), introduced his Laufmaschine to the public in 1817. It is believed that Drais invented this contraption because he wanted to obviate the need for horses as a result of a major crop failure in 1816 that led most of the area horses to starve to death.

 Laufsmaschine | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

The major distinction between the Laufmaschine and bikes as we know them today was the lack of pedals or crank drive—you had to push your feet off the ground to make the contraption go. Think of it as a Balance Bike for adults.


Improvements came rapidly. During the 1860s in Paris, Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lallement took the basic dandy horse and added a crank drive, pedals, and a larger front wheel. They dubbed this the “velocipede.” This quickly evolved into the penny-farthing, the highly recognizable Victorian-era vehicle that featured an extremely large front wheel and much smaller back wheel. This was the first model to actually be called a “bicycle.” The penny-farthing was incredibly difficult to ride because of its poor weight distribution and high seat.

Pennyfarthing | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee


In 1868, an Englishman named Rowley Turner brought a velocipede back to his workplace, the Coventry Sewing Machine Company. The company was co-owned by Rowley’s uncle, Josiah Turner, with James Starley. The two men (Josiah and James) took an interest in the velocipede and set about making further improvements to it.

Josiah decreased the size of the front wheel and moved the seat farther back on the frame. This fixed the weight distribution issues, making the velocipede safer to ride and less likely to tip. However, it was harder to manipulate, so Starley added a pedal system attached to the front wheel. Because of his achievements, Starley is widely considered to be the father of modern bikes.

Having to steer and pedal from the front wheel was still not ideal because the pedaling legs restricted the rider’s range of motion and ability to steer. Starley’s nephew, JK Starley, resolved this by adding a chain drive and connecting it to the back wheel. Now the pedals didn’t have to be attached to any wheel, and balance problems were resolved by placing these parts toward the back of the bike. Starley called this the safety bicycle, and it débuted in 1876.

Starley Safety Bicycle | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee


With the safety bicycle now gaining in popularity, other inventors began to turn their focus to cycling. John Boyd Dunlop added a pneumatic tire (a tire made of rubber and full of compressed air) that added traction and absorbed shocks. Coaster (back-pedal) brakes were also invented around this time. Because of the increased ease and safety of biking, cycling became even more popular. The 1890s are thus considered the “Golden Age of Bicycles.”

By the turn of the century, bicycling was a major craze in the United States, both as a method of transportation and as a pastime. Women benefitted immensely, suddenly finding themselves with a safe, easy, and practical means of getting around and being self-reliant. The bicycle craze, in fact, contributed to the changing fashions, as women found that the voluminous skirts and restrictive corsets of the time made cycling difficult.

 Cycling's golden era | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

After the invention and widespread distribution of the automobile, cycling’s popularity dropped off in the United States by 1910. Bikes became a children’s toy until the 1970s, when mass production technology made bikes cheaper and easier to purchase.


Bicycles in Chicago

Chicago has a long history of bike manufacturing, beginning with such companies as Crane Bros. and Loring & Keene. In the mid-19th century, these two companies were among the first velocipede manufacturers in the US. Crane still exists today, now Crane Co., a holding company whose portfolio includes vending machines and telecom equipment.

Schwinn Factory | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

In 1871, after his toy factory burned down in the Great Chicago Fire, Adolph Schoeninger opened Western Wheel Works, which quickly became one of the largest bicycle factories in the country. The company closed its doors in 1900 due to the aforementioned decline in popularity.

Schwinn was founded in Chicago in 1895. Realizing he faced declining sales in the early 1900s, founder Ignaz Schwinn bought up smaller local bike firms, began mass producing bikes at a lower cost, and expanded into motorcycles. These moves helped him stay afloat and even thrive. During the Great Depression, Ignaz’s son Frank took over daily operations and refocused entirely on bicycles—obviously that worked well, since most every kid growing up in the 20th-century United States rode a Schwinn at some point. In the early 80s, Schwinn production left Chicago to avoid a unionized workforce. In 2001, Schwinn declared bankruptcy and was sold to Pacific Cycle, a division of Dorel Industries.


The Modern-Day Bicycle

Bikes today are made of carbon fiber, alloy, or steel. Some have wireless electronic shifting (meaning no wires from the gear shift on the handlebar to the chain) and eleven cogs on just the rear cassette alone. More cogs close the gaps between the gears, making it easier to accelerate and easier to ride at a comfortable pace (less leg rotation). A lot of brakes are hydraulic (like on motorcycles). Materials like titanium, magnesium, forged then machined alloys, and advanced plastics adorn high-end bikes. Because biking has once again surged in popularity, more money and time has probably been spent on improving bicycle technology in the last ten years than in the previous one hundred.

Modern Bicycle | Heritage Bicycles

The largest recreational bicycle manufacturer and brand name in the world is Giant. Selling everything from racing bikes to city cruises, Giant boasts the largest market share in the Western hemisphere. Their factory in Taiwan also manufactures frames for other major bike companies. Accompanying Giant, Specialized and Trek round out the “Big Three” bike brands in the world.

United States-based major bicycle manufacturers are few and far between. Some Trek bikes are still are produced in Waterloo, Wisconsin, but most are made in Taiwan. Cannondale moved to Taiwan in 2009 after it was bought by Dorel (who owns other US legacy brands like Schwinn and Mongoose) in 2008, and the powers that be decided money was better than heritage..

There are very few small-production bicycle brands in this country today. Stinner Frameworks in Santa Barbara, Stanridge Bikes in Columbus, and Humble Frameworks of Chicago still make bicycles to order, and Waterford bikes in Wisconsin makes semi-custom bikes.

Cycling Clubs and Racing

Cycling clubs were first established during the 1900s in England and the United States. The premise was simple: create a group where bike enthusiasts could get together, talk shop, and ride. Today there are countless clubs across the US. Clubs can range from casual meet-ups for “civilian” bike enthusiasts to ultra-competitive racing clubs for track racing, cyclocross, road racing, and time trials.

Le Tour de France | Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

The most famous bike race is, of course, the Tour de France (above, c.1992). Held every year since 1903, the Tour de France spans three weeks.The Tour is a multi-stage race run by twenty-two teams of bikers (as of 2015). Each team has nine cyclists.


Heritage Cycling Club

The Heritage Cycling Club was organized in 2013 as a place for new and seasoned bike enthusiasts to get together and ride, talk shop, and learn from one another. Heritage also sponsors several bike clubs including the Intelligentsia Racing and the DePaul University Cycling Club. Heritage also works with nonprofits like West Town Bikes, which focus on teaching bicycle maintenance and service skills to Chicago’s youth.


Bike Maintenance—How to Care for Your Bike 

Depending on what your bike was built for, it could wear like stone, or act like a fickle waif that goes sour with merely a stern look. Odds are, by now, you know where your bike falls in that range. 90% of bicycles require very little maintenance, but the small amount of attention that is required is quite important.

First thing: pay attention to your tire pressure. Even the fanciest of tires need their air topped off every couple of days, so keeping your tires at the prescribed pressure (which is molded into the tire sidewall) makes for cheerful rides and long-lasting tires.

After that, your drivetrain, the collection of chain rings, chain, and cogs that transfer your power from the pedals to the rear wheel, also needs love. 

In Conclusion…

If you’ve read this far, congrats! You now know more about bikes than the average layperson. We tried to keep this pretty basic, but we love bikes and we love to geek out over bikes, so feel free to come chat with us anytime. You can stop into our Lincoln store, or email us at