When I was home visiting my family earlier this winter, a cousin of mine informed me that he had a vintage city bike at his house, made in Chicago of all places. He wondered if I’d be interested in taking a look at it. Let’s see, bikes, plus city bikes, plus some Chicago history? Yeah, I was interested.
Turns out he has one of the pre-war (so we guess) all-aluminum Monark Silver King bikes. When he acquired it, it was not a complete frame. The front fork is not original- the pictures I’ve seen of others have a sort of double front fork. He added newer handlebars, a different saddle, and seatpost. Still a cool-looking bike, and fun to ride.
Check out the picture of the joint, below. According to one Silver King ad: “5 tons pressure can’t pull apart Silver King joints!” These joints were not welded – instead the tubes were “mushroom wedged” into these aluminum lugs. (Got that bit of info courtesy of an article on the NBHAA site.)
The entire original bike was made of aluminum – rare for that time. I’ve read descriptions of these weighing anywhere betweem 42-57 pounds depending on which year/make , but that’s lighter than a similar-sized steel bike of the time. Here’s a photo I found on Flickr courtesy of the Adventure Cycling Association – it’s a 1936 women’s Silver King, but you can see the similarities between the bikes.
Monark was one of the many bicycle manufacturing companies that used to do business in Chicago, making our fair city the bicycle-building capital of America at one time – according to Geoffrey Baer in hisrecent Biking the Boulevards documentary. Based on the poster (above) that my cousin found on ebay, they had a factory on the far west side of the city at 6501 W. Grand Avenue. Unfortunately, nothing exists with that address now, but their neighbors at 6515 W. Grand Avenue are still there – the Radio Flyer company!
I did a little more digging, and learned that Monark also made bikes at a facility at 1240 N. Homan, also on the west side of Chicago. I found a few ads in various editions of Boys Life Magazine from 1936 and 1937 that referenced this address. Since it was sunny and sorta warm this past Saturday, Mr. Ding and I got on our bikes and went in search of the building at 1240 N. Homan. It’s still there, looking vary much like many cool old industrial complexes in Chicago.
We rode around the complex, bud didn’t find anything that suggested its past as a bicycle factory.
One last bit of Chicago/Monark bicycling history for you as well. As I was digging around online for any information about the Monark-Silver King bicycle comapny, I came across this photo that Matt Bergstrom took back in 2006 . He told me that he saw this sign for Monark Bikes painted on the side of a building near Michigan and 18th street, though he doesn’t remember which building, just that it was on the west side , and he was riding south when he saw this. I’m guessing it’s no longer there – sounds like another bike ride for Mr. Ding and I.
There are a lot of old Schwinns around Chicago and I swear I saw a fancy Monark Silver King in West Town last month, but that’s about all I’ve seen around the city. Do you have an old Schwinn bike, or another vintage city bike that was made here in Chicago?