Dick Rath, circa mid 1950s.


About Richard Rath

One man, passionately dedicated to the preservation of early bicycles, describes the basic concept. Beyond that, during more than 35 years restoring and conserving these beautiful machines much has been learned, special skills have been developed and honed, sources for parts and information nurtured, relationships with important specialists and suppliers formulated, and most importantly, many wonderful rewarding friendships have been formed.

The preservation, conservation, and restoration of bicycles produced during the mid 1890’s thru the early 1920’s, a period defined by the single-tube safety tire in use almost exclusively during these years, is tended to by a handful of dedicated craftsman working in small shops around the U.S and Europe.

What defines the fascination with this period is centered around an appreciation of the beautiful wooden rims, fenders, chain guards and, on certain models, handle bars. The hand crafted leather saddle designs, the shapely spoon brake mechanisms, and the unique and functional frame geometries compliment the gracefully curved handle bars and the polished nickel bright work. Extraordinarily fine paintwork, ornate transfers and delicate pin stripping, help enhance the overall high quality of design and the era's exceptional talents at solving machining problems. While the Victorian era continued to influence style and design, just forty years earlier we fought a war with muskets and cannon balls. The internal combustion engine was just evolving, the automobile, and mankind’s first flight was still years away, fields were tilled by horse drawn plows, and the high wheel bicycle’s day was over.

The early 1890’s saw the development of much lighter weight frames which were made possible by the recent introduction of an inflatable tubular type tire. The new tire design eliminated much of the violent road shock that had previously been transmitted to frame-joints on the earlier bikes through the unforgiving solid hard tires. The new tire changed and revolutionized the bicycle industry. It allowed bicycle designers and manufacturers to concentrate on reducing frame weight and in modifying frame geometry to take advantage of the benefits of the new type tire. Cushion frames appeared during this time as did much improved saddle design incorporating elaborate spring suspension systems. Road and track racing began to take serious hold leading quickly to the development of 2 and 3 speed geared rear hubs, coaster brake systems, elliptical sprockets, toe trap pedals, rams horn handle bars, special helmets and clothing to reduce drag.

Along with the changes brought about by the new tire design came a host of new accessories; oil lamps gave way to carbide head lamps and even to early experiments with battery powered models. Horns, sirens, intricate bells, whistles, fancy tire pumps, elaborate package carriers, child seats, leather carry bags, mounting devices for rifles, shotguns, and tennis rackets. The end of the high wheelers tenure as a recreational novelty almost exclusively for gentlemen saw the single tube safety bicycle develop as an actual means of transportation for the general population, a source for family recreation, and a highly competitive road and track sport.

This period also saw the development of a variety of shaft drive systems, elliptical sprockets, two and three speed geared drive systems, and front and rear suspension systems -- all of which played a part in improving the bicycles performance and it’s acceptance as a serious means of transportation regardless of terrain and landscape.

Considering the vast number of bicycles that were manufactured during this period, very few survive. Those that have are generally in poor condition with dented and rusted frames, bent forks, deteriorated nickel plating, scared and rotted leatherwork, warped rims and deteriorated rubber tires. Missing parts frequently include head badges, saddles, hand grips, drop stands, roller chains, pedals, and a host of other things that tend to discourage the timid restorer. The scrap metal drives that took place during World War I consumed an enormous number of these bicycles. The development of the motorcycle and the automobile had an equally devastating effect on the survival of bicycles produced during the turn of the century.

Fortunately for all of us, there does remain at least a few surviving examples. Some are yet to be discovered in old country barns, field stone basements and Victorian attics...perhaps leaning against a rafter, hanging on an old forged hook, or crammed into a hidden corner, all but forgotten through the years and generations. The discovery of one of these treasures on an afternoon over 35 years ago at an estate sale in eastern Connecticut , a pea soup green 1897 ladies Sterling, is where Time Machine’s story actually begins. I didn’t know it at the time, but the decision to attempt a restoration of this lovely machine would come to define a significant part of my life after retirement.

Time Machines Limited is a relatively small endeavor dedicated exclusively to the preservation, conservation, and restoration of these wonderful old machines. Finished examples of Time Machines work may be found in collections and museums in the U.S, Canada, Europe, and South America. Completed work is often offered for sale through select galleries, auctions, the Internet, and bicycle shows, as well as through direct offerings to previous collector and museum customers. Restoration work may, on occasion, be accepted on a commission basis.

The accompanying photographs, I hope, will give the viewer an appreciation of the wonderful machines produced during this period, some more than one hundred years ago. The very high standard to which these bicycles have been restored is difficult to convey with a photograph but hopefully they may give, at very least, an idea of the attention paid to even the smallest detail and the level of care given to each project.