Skate bike, full size, metal / rubber, made by Skate Bike America Inc, Boynton Beach, Florida, United States of America or Minson Enterprises (USA) Inc, Los Angeles, California, United States of America, 1984-1986
This unusual bicycle is called a skate bike or unitrike. It has three wheels and is a cross between a BMX bicycle and a skateboard, comprising a rear-wheel driven unicycle with a set of skateboard trucks and wheels at the front. A disc attached to the seat stays would have indicated the manufacturer but it has been sprayed with paint. It was most probably made by Skate Bike America Inc., Boynton Beach, Florida, USA or Minson Enterprises (USA) Inc., Los Angeles, California, between 1984 and 1986.
The skate bike enjoyed limited popularity during the mid-1980s. It was a short-lived fad but apparently achieved something of a cult following in America and other places including Australia, especially in skate parks amongst some skateboard riders. The former Australian skateboard champion, Tony Hallam, rode his first skate bike at a skate park in Melbourne in 1982. According to Hallam, this was just after BMX bike riding had become popular in skate parks and the popularity of skateboarding had hit an all time low. To remedy this some manufacturers made the skate bike to combine both a BMX bike with a skateboard.
Skate bikes were probably first made in America by the Michigan firm, Le Run, in the late 1970s or early 1980s. By the mid-1980s personal youth transport such as inline skating and skateboarding had become very popular using more sophisticated and modern materials such as polyurethane wheels which allowed for greater speed, manoeuvrability and tricks to be performed.
The popularity of the skate bike was limited due to the difficulty in mastering it and time required to learn to ride. Riding a skate bike has been described like being on a bicycle with no handle bars and with the front wheels failing to swivel. Another limiting feature was the fact that skate bikes needed careful calibration and maintenance and were ridden in quite a different way to conventional unicycles in terms of balance and manoeuvrability. Nevertheless, it is a rare and interesting example of an adaption of the traditional bicycle and tricycle.
Email correspondence with John Main
Email correspondence with former Australian professional skateboarder, Tony Hallam
Advertisements in 'Boys' Life' August 1984 and December 1984.
Advertisements in 'Popular Mechanics' December 1985 and September 1986.
Advertisement in 'Popular Science' December 1985.
Curator, Science, Technology & Industry
It is uncertain which of two American companies may have made this skate bike, either Skate Bike America Inc., of PO Box 41, Boynton Beach, Florida or Minson Enterprises (USA) Inc. of Los Angeles, California. The Minson firm held a number of patents for other skate related items. The Skate Bike America company advertised skate bikes to young teenage boys in the August 1984 edition of 'Boys' Life', the magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. The advertisement stated: 'Something new on wheels┬?Skate Bike' and went on to grandiosely say that skate bikes have 'shaken California like an earthquake. They've been cruising, whirling, spinning all over the coast while the rest of us sat and watched.' The skate bike came in a choice of 4 colours, red, blue, green or yellow and retailed for US $99.95 by mail order. The lack of sales is indicated by the fact that by 1986 the advertised price for this skate bike had halved.
Skate bikes with much smaller rear wheels were also made by other American manufactures, including Le Run Industries Inc. of Michigan and Max, while Garel Monocycles were made in Italy. Early models of these skate bikes featured brakes which were applied by back pedalling but these tended to lock the wheel completely, launching the rider off the bike. Later models had calliper brakes to the rear wheel.
Nothing is known about the history of this skate bike. It was given to the donor by a friend.
According to unitrike collector and skate bike rider, John Main: 'they are great fun to ride but can be rather dangerous ┬? you can go at great speed (particularly downhill) but steering is an art in itself and they have a rather wide turning circle so avoiding obstacles takes practice ┬? When you are up and riding the first thing you notice is the response of the front wheels ┬? with more weight forwards it is easier to steer but bumps in the road, stones etc are much more of a problem. You naturally find yourself leaning forwards for corners and back for straight paths┬? as you lean to steer but also lean to balance you need to get used to shifting your hips when you want to turn and balancing with your shoulders and arms ...also the brake lever is under the seat┬? which means that to operate it you must lose the balancing ability of one arm.'
Skate bikes also needed careful calibration for them to be ridden well. John Main continues 'the steering bushings [sic] need to be tensioned just right, the front wheels need to be at the right level┬?and if the seat is not at just the right height for your legs you┬?ll find steering difficult. To me, with a little love they are the coolest vehicle out there, but I would bet that most people lose patience before they really start to enjoy riding them.'