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.

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