Wings to Wheels: Wright Brothers Launches 21st-Century Bikes

Before their leap of faith at Kitty Hawk, Wilbur and Orville Wright made bicycles. More than a century later, their brand unveils two stunning commuter builds.

Wright Brothers USA head badge Van Cleave

Perhaps the most important machine the Wright Brothers ever built was the bicycle. No, really. The duo not only designed and manufactured their own line of bicycles, they used the two-wheeled device to fund and eventually crack the conundrum of manned flight.

And now, more than 120 years after Wright Cycle Exchange began churning out handmade bicycles, The Wright Brothers USA releases two new builds. Both the St. Clair and the Van Cleve pay homage to the brothers’ original 19th-century builds.

Wright Brothers USA St. Clair

Wright Brothers Bicycle Brand

The bicycles carry both the classic The Wright Brothers Cycle Company moniker and “Built Wright” tagline on the head badge. But the bikes are manufactured in Oregon by Co-Motion Cycles for The Wright Brothers USA brand, the commercial merchandising arm of The Wright Brothers Family Foundation.

Wright Brothers USA head badge St. Clair bicycle

As such, these bikes are not built to win over a segment of the bicycle industry. Instead, they’re functional collectors’ items. And the price reflects it, ranging from $3,950–4,750 for the St. Clair and Van Cleve, respectively.

That’s a hefty asking price for a rigid steel-frame bike that weighs over 24 pounds – even if it is handmade. But buyers are most likely paying for the name. After all, you won’t see many Wright Brothers badges on a bike that’s not behind a glass case at a museum.

Original Wright Brother bicycle
Wright Brother bicycle on display at the National Air and Space Museum. Photo credit: 350z33

And according to the brand, “The lion’s share of income from the business goes to The Wright Brothers Family Foundation to support the legacy of the Wright brothers, along with maintenance and programming of Hawthorn Hill (the Wright brothers’ family home in Oakwood, Ohio), rehabilitation of the Wright Company buildings (the first U.S. airplane factory), and the foundation’s promotion of aviation heritage around the globe.”

Wright Brothers USA Van Cleve, St. Clair Bicycles

Wright Brothers USA Chris King headset

Both builds carry a classy commuter design that favors comfort and ease of use, like an external bottom brackets and a nifty two-leg center stand. Plus, they each use Reynolds 725 chromoly steel, among the best you can find in the bike world.

Wright Brothers USA Van Cleave bicycle

While both bikes carry essentially the same build, the flag bearer is the Van Cleve. It sports an 11-speed Shimano Alfine internal hub. The Van Cleve also features a Selle Anatomica leather saddle, which true bike snobs will argue beats even Brooks as the most comfortable seat for anything with pedals.

A Chris King headset promises smooth, hassle-free steering, while a Gates belt drive offers smooth, quiet, and grease-free riding. In fact, a good chunk of the Van Cleve’s cost derives from its majority composition of made-in-America parts.

Wright Brothers USA Van Cleave Gates belt drive

The frame comes from Eugene, Ore., with Chris King parts from nearby Portland. The belt drive is supplied by Gates in Denver, the Velocity rims come from Grand Rapids, Mich., Georgia-based L.H. Thomson supplies the seat posts and stems, and the Selle Anatomica saddle is made in the USA too.

The St. Clair, meanwhile, saves some cost with fewer American-made parts and some downgraded features. It has an eight-speed Shimano Alfine internal hub, SRAM chain, FSA headset, and Race Face seat post.

Both bikes have mechanical disc brakes, FSA city handlebars, and front and rear rack and fender mounts for customizing the commute or long weekend ride. You can get a Van Cleve here or a St. Clair here.

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Adam Ruggiero is an all-sport activity junkie - from biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming. If it's outside, it's worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.
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