The Fix Is In: Napoleon Mens Bicycle by The Jenkins Cycle Co., ca. 1895

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There is something to be said for tracing a design’s lineage. Modern utilitarian objects are expected to be refined and improvements made as they become more common and as technology warrants. We’re sometimes astonished when the primitive is, in fact, as refined — if not more refined — than the modern version.

Take, for example, this Napoleon bicycle, manufactured by the Jenkins Cycle Co. of Chicago (1895–1898). This lightweight, fixed-gear bike feels so light in the hand, one could mistake the carefully engineered steel frame for carbon fiber or aluminum. The black structure retains most of its finish along with what appears to be faded gold detail. The wood rims have survived without the hindrance of cracks or splits, giving them the potential to once again carry tires, while the head badge, showing some wear, sits proudly in place.

Though primarily a commuter bike, this model encapsulates the notion of quality craftsmanship with the simplicity of pared-back, functional design.

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