10 January 2016

If You're Under 50, You've Probably Never Heard Of It. Why?

Unless you are, um, of a certain age, you've probably never heard of this bike brand.  If you are familiar with the name, you probably know it from another field of endeavor, to which the early history of bicycling is more closely connected than most people might expect.    It also was one of the pioneers in  one of the major technological changes that has transformed bicycles, especially the ones ridden in the peloton.


I have never owned or used a gun, but I would guess that anybody who has would know about the company started in Connecticut by Swedish immigrant Oscar F. Mossberg, who previously worked for bicycle manufacturer Iver-Johnson.  By the time he got his operation going, in 1919, bicycle sales, particularly to adults, were fading.  That is probably the reason he turned his attentions to revolvers and such.

Very little information is available about the bikes.  It seems that some time in the 1950s or '60's, kids' bikes, especially of the "muscle" variety, were being sold under the Mossberg name in department stores.  Like most bikes sold in such outlets at the time, they were made by American manufacturers like AMF and Huffy, but not Schwinn.  Another thing they had in common with such bikes is that they were heavy, with the frames and all of their parts--including one-piece craks--made of mild steel.

Their foray into the adult bicycle market began, not suprisingly, around 1970, early in the Bike Boom .  At first, Mossberg ten-speeds were made by the companies I've mentioned and gradually found their way into bike shops. Later, the company offered lighter Japanese bikes much like other entry- to mid-level ten speeds of the time. Those bikes featured   SunTour and Shimano derailleurs and swaged cotterless cranksets from Sugino, SR and Takagi on carbon steel, or straight gauge Chromoly, frames. 


Mossberg carbon bikes.  From the Fairwheels Bikes site.


In 1972, Mossberg building experimental carbon frames.  One of those would, I imagine, be very collectible, as the special facility built to make it burned down only a year or so into production.  Perhaps the most interesting feature of the company's track frame was adopted by a few bike makers, such as GT, for at least some models:  a third set of rear stays, in addition to the seat and chain stays.  Given the state of carbon bikes at that time, I imagine that those stays would have been necessary to strengthen and stiffen the bikes.

From what little I could find, I surmised that Mossberg ended their venture in the bike business some time around 1980.  Around that time, production of other early carbon fiber frames such as the Graftek also ceased. The then still-primitive state of carbon fiber technology and techniques for using it led to failure of many frames built with the material; bike-builders and manufacturers would not re-discover the material for another decade or so.

Although its presence in the bicycle world was short-lived, it's puzzling that Mossberg bicycles aren't better-known, given the history (however checkered) I've described as well its connection to one of the world's leading firearms manufacturers.

2 comments:

  1. I was just thinking about my first "serious" bike as a kid. I got it for one of my birthdays probably somewhere around 1976 or something like that. It was a Mossberg 3 speed with drop bars and was candy apple red. It served me well and I rode it like crazy. Unfortunately I probably didn't take the best care of it but I loved that bike and had good memories of it. If I was more mature I probably would have pampered it a bit more. I still ride today and am a lot more serious about it. I wish that I still had the Mossberg for sentimental reasons but, unfortunately, one time when I rode it to the pool it was stolen. We didn't live in a big community but the bike never showed up anywhere.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's funny, my beautiful gold Mossberg 3-speed "muscle" bike was stolen as well. I received it as a birthday present in 1974 and got to enjoy it for maybe a week. It was taken off our front porch, never to be seen again. I hadn't gotten "the talk" about locking bikes up yet (or at least not leaving them in plain sight)--my parents gave it to me with no lock or even the notion of a need for one. Its replacement was an older Schwinn 3 speed that I sort of resented. That Mossberg was the iconic 70s bike for kids my age and the Schwinn felt so yesteryear. The Schwinn is now in my basement--probably about 55 years old and still in reasonable,rideable shape. I only now realized the connection to the gun manufacturer when I Google the name "Mossberg."

    Thank you for this article and the trip down memory lane!

    ReplyDelete