Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back to the Future, Antique Chainless Bicycle!

This is a very cool bit of news that I just found on Bicycle Newswire and decided there was too much good stuff not to share the whole announcement with you....

A lone surviving copy of a bicycle from another era, a chainless 3-speed relic manufactured in early 1900, has been recovered and is being restored; called "The Hill-Climber," it was the first multi-speed bicycle to be produced in America. A bicycle believed to be the first production model in America to employ multiple-speed gear ratios has been found and is being restored to original condition. When found, only the patented gear-changing mechanism was still attached to the rusty frame. A nationwide search for replacement parts and information about the company that produced it has been undertaken.

Before this discovery, the first-known production multi-speed bicycle was marketed under the Columbia brand in 1903. It featured a two-speed "kickback" hub, and was also a chainless bicycle. The story of "The Hill-Climber" has recently been published in a book titled "Restoration." It is available on the Amazon-affiliate website Createspace at

The inventor of this 3-speed bicycle, Peter J. Scharbach, called it "The Hill-Climber." It was originally produced by Scharbach/Hoerth and Company in San Francisco in 1902. Research shows that the company also tried to produce an early automobile. It is not known how many of these bicycles were sold during its production years from 1902-1904. Chainless bicycles are manufactured today by a few companies, but the product form is not widely known to bicyclists.

The surviving Hill-Climber, a frame with a shaft-drive (like an automobile) instead of a chain, has three bevel gears at the rear wheel, and shift linkage to change speed ratios. It was stored in the basement of a retired dairy farmer outside of Pe Ell, WA, after spending most of its life on his farm junk pile. His father, John K. Muller, and many residents of the area invested in a manufacturing company formed with the inventor in late 1903. Assembly operations were moved from San Francisco to Chicago in early 1904. Mysteriously, all their investment was gone by the end of the year, and the company folded.

A descendant of the inventor was found living in Arizona. His great-grandfather was a blacksmith, inventor and entrepreneur whose patent for the chainless bicycle is still being referenced today. Remnants of the bicycle business are a few surviving photographs taken at a product roll-out event in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, c.1902. An advertising flyer, and other surviving documentation, was found in the possession of relatives of John K. Muller.

The bicycle is scheduled to be on display at the 32nd Annual LeMay Auto Collection show August 29, 2009, near Tacoma, WA. For details go to

More information about the bicycle, its restoration, and its place in history can be found at

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