Here is an example of stripped down kustom bike style from 1959. Based around an old Monark bicycle, it sports the newly available 12 inch "apehanger" or "butterfly"
handlebars, and a "super riser" gooseneck handlebar stem. The combination of
the tall handlebars and super riser could get a set of handgrips 25 inches higher
than the top tube of a bicycle frame. Homemade bicycles like this caused
alarm amongst police and safety officials.
In Southern California, in '59, interest in bicycle modification continued to spread.
Handlebars continued to get higher, and more bike shops were supplying the parts needed to feed the growing interest. 1959 was also significant as it appears to have been the first year that tall "apehanger" handlebars first became available for bicycle use. The component industry responded quickly to the growing demand for special parts, and the kids showed their gratitude by raising sales figures.
1959 was also the year when handlebar safety became a hot topic issue. With the retail introduction of tall 12-inch "apehanger" (or "butterfly") handlebars young people could obtain a handlebar grip position that might extend up to 25 inches higher than the top tube of their bike frames (when the bars were used in conjunction with a long handlebar stem), This striking change to handlebar height alarmed police and safety officials; they believed that it significantly impaired young persons' ability to ride their bicycles safely.
Police began to refer to bikes with elevated handlebars as "hot rod bicycles" or "riser" bikes (photo 4). They claimed that the modifications were raising accident statistics, and they started to become vocal about wanting to see the "fad" die off. Young people were warned by bicycle safety officers at their schools, and parents were asked by police in public statements not to buy components that would raise height of their childrens' handlebars. But, all the official pressure seemed to backfire. Kids knew what they wanted, and without a law to prohibit such modifications the police were powerless to stop the popular alterations from being performed.
Harmless modifications and accessories were promoted as safe alternatives for use on kids bikes, ostensibly to keep young people from getting interested in the more "dangerous" modifications. Parents bought their children accessories (photo 7) like saddle bags and "Hubba Hubba" lights, which attached to the wheel hubs creating a swirling color effect when the bike was in motion. Special seat covers, name plates, handlebar streamers, fox tails, and lights in all shapes and sizes were offered as safe bicycle add-ons. But often, these accessories were used in conjunction with the cooler more "dangerous" modifications, not as a substitute for them.
Young people's interest in modifying their bicycles would continue to grow, and official safety concerns would also become more heightened as time went by. The 1960s were just around the corner, and would usher in a time that would come to be referred to as "the golden age of kustom bicycling". John Brain
Below: An increasing number of shops carried the parts needed for kids to hot rod their bikes. The combination of riser handlebars and long gooseneck stems made a striking change to a bicycle's physical appearance. This adult-upsetting combination was available for less than $5, making it affordable to just about any youngster who wanted a set. Newspaper advertisement-
Long Beach California.
Above: Here are three boys riding on modified bikes in August 1959- all sporting the newly available "high rise" or "apehanger" handlebars (probably manufactured by "Wald"). Bicycles of choice were large 24 and 26-inch balloon tire bikes, thousands of which were cheaply available at the time. The boy in the center riding the tall bike is "Russ Hess". In the 1960's Hess got involved with hot rods, drag racing and chopper motorcycles, and, in the last 5 years Hess has re-entered the world of kustom motorcycles by opening a shop named "Cowboy Customs"; where he has made a number of award-winning bikes recently featured in magazines. From a California newspaper.
Below: The 13-year-old boy in this photo is holding the riser handlebars and long gooseneck stem from his bicycle. He states that having high handlebars makes it easier to throw newspapers. But, the article goes on to say that police are concerned about handlebars "which place the grips above the head" as it makes stopping distances much farther, and creates a dangerous riding situation. Newspaper-Fresno California
Below: The media sensationalized concerns over what police called "Hot Rod" bicycles. This photograph shows an officer with a tape-measure checking handlebar width on a wrecked bike. Police claimed that the majority of bicycles involved in accidents were "hot rod bikes". Newspaper-Lakewood California
Below: Bike shops made "newsboy specials" available. Bikes with the riser handlebars and long goosenecks were popular with kids who delivered papers.
Below: The trend to higher handlebars is
shown in this illustration. With interest in high bars increasing many bike shops advertised
the availability of bikes with the popular parts as standard equipment (bike far right). Newspaper advertisement- Long Beach, CA.
Below: There were many standard bicycle accessories available to young riders. Young people were eager to get their bikes dressed up and loaded down. Everything from Saddle bags, flags and mud-flaps were available. Newspaper article-San Antonio, TX.
Below: Wheel inserts were a fun accessory available to kids, when mounted they covered the spokes and made optical patterns when the wheels were in motion, a real attention getter. Newspaper- Lancaster Ohio
Below: Another public announcement from the California highway patrol, warning of the dangers of high handlebars Eureka CA.
Below: Tall bikes were also becoming quite popular with young people. These sky-scraping machines were generally made by inverting a regular bicycle frame upside down, in order to get the pedal crank up to an extremely elevated position. The seat and handlebar position were also relocated so that a regular seating position (in relation to the crank) was maintained. Examples of this kind of modified bike seemed to pop up all over the United States and elsewhere. But, like the hot rod bikes with their tall handlebars "tall bikes" were very unpopular with police and safety officials. Newspaper article-Long Beach California.
Right: Not all 4 wheeled vehicles needed an engine. Young people used pedal power in many exciting ways during the the late 1950's. If you were mechanically inclined you could build your own stripped-down street cruiser - like these boys did. It may not have been as fast as a motorized hot rod, but it was pure kustom all the way.