The Western Flyer bicycle was a popular American bicycle manufactured by the Western Auto Supply Company from the 1930s to the 1960s. With its stylish design and affordable price point, the Western Flyer became one of the best-selling bikes during the classic “middleweight” era of cycling.
Today, vintage Western Flyers are sought after by bicycle collectors and enthusiasts. However, identifying the specific year and model of a Western Flyer bike can be tricky given the numerous styles produced over multiple decades. This guide will provide tips on how to identify key features and decipher serial numbers to determine the approximate year of your Western Flyer bicycle.
Examining the Frame Style
The style of the frame is one of the best initial indicators of the era of a Western Flyer bike. Here are some telltale signs of different frame styles over the years:
Classic Balloon-Tire Frame
- Curved top tube and down tube
- Rear dropouts facing forward
- Twin top tubes running parallel from head tube to seat tube
- Tank or truss rods on men’s models
- Rack over rear fender
Pre-1950s models had this classic balloon tire frame style. Men’s models featured a twin lateral truss rod design while women’s models had a tank just below the top tube.
- Lighter weight tubing
- Angled rear dropouts
- Single top tube sloping rearward
- Optional tank or truss rods on men’s models
This frame style emerged in the late 1940s through the 1950s as multi-speed derailleur systems became more common. The sloping single top tube allowed for easier mounting and dismounting.
- Rear dropouts facing rearward
- Single top tube sloping sharply rearward
- No top tube in front of seat tube
- Integral rear rack
First introduced in the late 1950s, this frame offered increased standover clearance thanks to its cantilever design. The lack of a top tube in front of the seat tube made it easy to straddle.
Muscle Bike Frame
- Banana or high-rise handlebars
- Upturned rear dropouts
- Extended seat post
- Smaller 20” rear wheel
- Prominent frame decals
Emerging in the mid-1960s, muscle bikes featured ape hanger handlebars and attitude. The Western Flyer Wildcat was a classic example.
Inspecting the Fork Style
Like the frame, the fork can provide clues about the era of a Western Flyer bike:
Curved Fork Blades
Early Western Flyers through the 1930s featured artfully curved fork blades that followed the contour of the front wheel. This graceful curved fork style was a carryover from vintage bicycles of the early 1900s.
Straight Fork Blades
By the late 1930s and 1940s, straight fork blades became more common. This gave the bike a more upright, modern look compared to the older curved fork style.
Truss Rod Fork
Some models in the 1940s-50s had a sturdy truss rod fork marked by two parallel rods connecting the fork blades for rigidity. Western Flyer’s Super and Golden Flyer models featured this strong fork design.
Single-Plate Crown Fork
Starting in the 1950s, forks adopted a simpler single-plate crown design at the point where the fork blades meet the steerer tube. This replaced the previous two-piece fork crown in most models.
Studying the Badge and Logos
Western Flyer head badges and logos also provide clues on the age. Here’s what to look for:
Four-Lobe Cloisonné Badge
Earlier models from the 1930s often had a four-lobed cloisonné badge on the front head tube. Cloisonné involved enameling a brass badge and sometimes adding decorative stones around the border.
Porcelain Enamel Badge
From the late 1930s into the 1950s, Western Flyer switched to glossy porcelain enamel badges that were less ornate but helped reduce costs. These badges said “Western Flyer” with a small airplane graphic.
Screened Paint Logos
Starting in the 1950s, the badges transitioned to painted logos screened or stenciled directly onto the bike. This eliminated the metal badge altogether. Logos said “Western Flyer” or just “WF”.
Metallic Foil Decals
Later bikes from the 1960s might have modern metallic foil decals applied to the frame. These decals came in sparkling chrome, gold, or other eye-catching finishes.
Reading Serial Numbers and Codes
Western Flyer bicycles from the 1930s into the 1960s had serial numbers stamped into the frame, usually on the rear dropout, bottom bracket, or seat tube. Understanding these serial number codes can narrow down the manufacturing year. Here’s what to look for:
Early serial numbers were just 2 or 3 letters like “AA” or “FZ”. Letters started over each year so bikes with similar letters are likely from the same year.
Letter + Number Codes
By the 1950s, serial numbers switched to a letter followed by four digits like “C1234”. The letter indicates the year while the digits mark the individual frame.
Starting in 1957, numbers reflect a clear manufacturing date code. For instance “57F1234” translates to a 1957 build date and the individual frame number.
Studying Component Details
Small details on components can provide further clues to pin down the year of a Western Flyer bicycle:
Wheels and Tires
- Wood or steel rims indicate pre-1940s
- Middleweight models had chrome, painted steel, or alloy rims
- Balloon tires in the 1930s-50s. Narrower tires by the 1960s.
- Rear hub markings can reveal the maker and date range
Pedals & Crank
- Early models had steel one-piece crank sets and block pedals
- Three-piece crank sets with alloy arms by the 1950s
- Torrington or Schwinn script pedals in the 1950s-60s
Saddle & Seat Post
- Troxel longspring saddles were common before 1950
- Vinyl saddles & chrome posts emerged in the 1950s
- Extended seat posts on 1960s muscle bikes
Grips & Tape
- Classic cork grips used initially
- Rubber grips and handlebar tape by the late 1940s
- Sparkle grips on 1960s models
Paint & Finish
- Enamel paint in basic colors initially
- Two-tone paint jobs by the 1950s
- Metallic paints and wild graphics in the 1960s
Key Model Names and Years
Western Flyer produced many named models over the decades. Here is a overview of some of the most iconic Western Flyer bicycles with the approximate years of production:
Youth model made from 1933-1968. Standard boys’ and girls’ versions available.
Men’s model made from 1937-1961. Featured sturdy cantilever frame and tank.
Women’s model made from 1937-1953. Had swooping twin top tubes and tank.
basic men’s road bike model made from 1947-1963. Multiple versions produced.
Columbia (H.P. Snyder Built)
Roadster model outsourced 1937-1940. High wheel guard and truss rods.
Muscle bike made 1964-1968. Banana seat and high rise handlebars.
Stingray-inspired bike made 1966-1968. High-rise handlebars on 20” rear wheel.
Girls’ model made 1955-1968. Multiple versions with baskets and racks.
Determining Approximate Year of Manufacture
With close examination of frame details, components, and serial numbers, the approximate year of manufacture of a Western Flyer bike can be determined:
- Curved top tubes, truss rods, 4-lobe badges indicate 1930s
- Straight top tubes, painted logos indicate 1940s
- 2-tone paint, decals indicate 1950s
- Wild frame designs, metallic paints indicate 1960s
Narrowing down the year to a smaller range makes it easier to identify the specific model. Always compare details to catalogs from the era whenever possible.
Small variations occurred within model years so certain features may overlap across decades. Serial number databases can help pinpoint the exact year if codes are legible.
Examining Condition and Restoration Needs
Once the era and model of a Western Flyer have been identified, assessing the bike’s condition is important to determine restoration needs:
- Inspect paint and chrome for rust, chips, fading
- Look for dents or damage to the frame and fork
- Check wheels, hubs and bottom bracket for looseness
- Assess seat, grips and pedals for wear
- Test ride to check brakes, gears and overall function
Well-kept original Western Flyers may just need cleaning and maintenance. Heavily worn models can require component overhaul or frame repainting. Replacement decals and some parts can be sourced online.
Restoring a vintage Western Flyer back to its original glory can be a satisfying project for a bicycle enthusiast. Avoid over-restoring to maintain authenticity and value.
Joining Western Flyer Collectors Groups
There are active collectors of vintage Western Flyer bicycles across the United States. Connecting with fellow enthusiasts can aid in identifying models and sourcing parts:
- National Western Flyer Co. – Active forum for Western Flyer fans
- Flying W Ranch Bicycle Museum – Extensive collection in Ontario, CA
- Nostalgic.net – Resources for pre-1965 bike collectors
- Western Flyer Bicycles – Facebook group for fans to share info
- Rat Rod Bikes – Online forum with Western Flyer discussions
These groups give the opportunity to display prized Western Flyers and get knowledgeable help from fellow hobbyists. Swapping period-correct components or buying/selling bikes is also possible.
Displaying and Safeguarding a Western Flyer Collection
For serious collectors, properly displaying and securing a Western Flyer bicycle collection requires some important steps:
Create a Climate-Controlled Space
- Maintain a dust-free room with consistent cool temperature
- Use a dehumidifier to prevent mold and rust
- Install sunlight filters on windows to limit fading
Use Bike Stands for Storage
- Store bikes on sturdy stands to avoid tire flat spots
- Avoid hanging bikes to prevent frame and wheel damage
Perform Regular Maintenance
- Keep tires inflated and bearings lubricated
- Wipe down frames with gentle cleaner and polish chrome
- Test ride bikes periodically to keep components functioning
Install a Security System
- Mount cameras to monitor the collection
- Use individual bike locks and anchor stands to floor
- Maintain a detailed inventory with photos and serial numbers
Taking these measures will help preserve these classic bicycles in their original condition while protecting the investment. Vintage Western Flyers deserve TLC.
Assessing the Value of Western Flyer Bikes
Western Flyer bicycles from the 1930s-1960s now have considerable collectible value depending on rarity and condition. Here are some price ranges:
- Restored models – $200-$2000
- Original paint prewar bikes – $500-$2500+
- Balloon tire classics – $600-$3000
- Vintage 1950s models – $300-$1200
- Muscle bikes – $400-$1500
Rarer models like 1930s Super Streamlines or 1960s Wildcats can fetch higher prices from collectors. Documented provenance and period components also increase value.
Common models like 1940s Roadmasters or base Cadets have less value, around $100-$400. Mix of vintage and modern parts lowers worth.
Prices fluctuate based on demand. Joining Western Flyer collector groups gives insight on fair market values.
Finding Replacement Parts and Resources
Thanks to a vibrant community of enthusiasts, many resources exist for vintage Western Flyer bicycle parts and documentation:
Members often buy/sell/trade parts on Rat Rod Bikes, Flying W Ranch, and other forums.
The Western Flyer Bicycles group has members able to identify parts.
eBay and Etsy
Listings for NOS or vintage Western Flyer parts appear regularly.
Seller offering restored tanks, racks, guards and decals.
Reproduction reflectors available for prewar models.
Blue Moon Bikes
Custom frame decals matched to vintage Western Flyers.
Website with archived Western Flyer catalogs and ads to aid research.
Bicycle Heaven Museum
Massive vintage bike collection with rare Western Flyers on display.
Preserving Western Flyer History
The Western Flyer bicycle played an important part in the golden age of American cycling. Preserving the legacy of these classic bikes serves to continue their story:
Support Bicycle Museums
Visit or donate to museums like Bicycle Heaven and Flying W Ranch showcasing Western Flyers in their collections.
Contribute to Online Archives
Upload old catalogs, ads, photos to help document the brand’s history online.
Publish Articles and Books
Share insights and images of unique Western Flyers to bring them to life.
Attend Swap Meets
Display your Western Flyers proudly and share knowledge with fellow enthusiasts.
Restore and Ride
Keep vintage Western Flyers on the road to demonstrate these bikes in action.
By learning to identify the various models and vintages of Western Flyers, each bike’s place in cycling history comes into focus – as more than a relic of the past but an icon to be preserved.
Identifying a vintage Western Flyer bicycle requires a close examination of frame design, components, markings and serial numbers to determine the approximate year and model. Comparing catalog images and joining collector groups can aid in pinpointing the era. Once identified, the bike can be properly restored and valued. Preserving these classic American bikes keeps an important piece of cycling heritage alive. With some knowledgeable sleuthing, the story and spirit of the Western Flyer lives on.