Opel Offers Mobility Early On: Bicycles for the World from 1886 to 1937
- 1886: First Opel high-wheel bicycle leaves the Rüsselsheim factory
- Over 560 cycle racing victories: Opel sons as best brand image promoters
- Mid-1920s: Opel becomes the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer
- 122.771 km/h: Léon Vanderstuyft sets motor-paced world record with ZR III in 1928
- 1937: Production ends after more than 2.6 million Opel bicycles built
Rüsselsheim. The site of Nici Walde's 24-hour world record attempt – the Opel Test Center Rodgau-Dudenhofen – may seem odd at first glance. But there are several reasons Opel supports this event: On the one hand, the extreme athlete’s determination and attitude reflect the spirit of the brand and the company. On the other hand, Opel can look back not only on many decades of automotive production, but also on a long and successful bicycle tradition. Before Opel dedicated itself to building automobiles, focus was on the bicycle. One of the most successful chapters in Opel's history began in 1886, when the first high-wheel bicycle was manufactured in Rüsselsheim. The company even became the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world in 1927. Countless records and sports successes made the brand famous and the five Opel sons alone achieved over 560 victories. With focus on the automotive business and the sale of bicycle production to NSU, the bicycle chapter ended in 1937 after the production of more than 2.6 million bikes.
First acquaintance with the bicycle: Paris 1884
During a trip to Paris in 1884, Adam Opel becomes acquainted with this new invention, which was popularly called a "bone shaker". The first ones he buys are for private use. Convinced by his sons’ enthusiasm and the commercial possibilities of the new means of transport, Opel decides to build bicycles. And as early as spring 1886, the first high-wheel bicycle built in Rüsselsheim rolls off the grounds – making Opel one of the first bicycle manufacturers in Germany. Soon the model portfolio is expanded to include tricycles and low-wheel safety bicycles. In 1888 the first factory is inaugurated, which is exclusively reserved for bicycle production. Next to it is a riding hall where customers can practice undisturbed. The same year Adam Opel founds the first cycling club in Rüsselsheim with around 20 cyclists. In 1889 Opel already employs more than 1,000 people, who build 2,200 high and low-wheel bicycles in addition to sewing machines every year.
Opel bicycles and cycling pros: Public favourites race from victory to victory
The commercial success of Opel bicycles is accompanied by 240 competition victories in the early years. Among them is a special highlight: On July 20, 1888 August Lehr wins the "Championship of the World" on an Opel high-wheel bicycle in London. However, the five Opel sons themselves are the best advertising figures for their own brand – the picture of the brothers on their five-seater, the Quintuplet, is iconic. Fritz, Heinrich, Ludwig, Wilhelm and Carl together achieve more than 560 victories. Carl wins a total of 60 first prizes, Wilhelm 70, Ludwig over 100, Heinrich 150 and Fritz is the most successful Opel rider with over 180 first place finishes. One of his greatest triumphs is the long-distance tour Basel-Cleve in 1894; it takes him 27 hours and 50 minutes to complete the 620 kilometres. His bicycle is the "Opel-Victoria-Blitz" semi-racing bike introduced in 1893, whose name will become the type name of the "Opel Blitz" commercial vehicle portfolio in the distant future and subsequently the company trademark.
The success streak stretches through the decades. Especially in the 1920s, the company works team rides from victory to victory. The riders on yellow-black ZR III racing bikes are among the favourites in all the big races. The three-time Tour de France winner Philippe Thys from Belgium already relies on racing bikes from Rüsselsheim during his victories in 1913, 1914 and 1920. In 1925 Frenchman Robert Grassin is World Champion stayer with his Opel. Motor-paced races, in which the racing cyclists have to prove their stayer qualities in the slipstream of a motorcycle driving ahead, are extremely popular in the first third of the last century. 1928 is a year of sensational successes:
"Opel breaks the world record. On the Montlhéry racetrack near Paris, Belgian endurance rider Léon Vanderstuyft managed to cover 122.771 km per hour1 behind pacer Lehmann, breaking the world record of 120.900 km/h set by Brunier three years ago on the same track. He set further records on over 25 km (12:41.8 min), over 50 km (24:44.8 min) and over 100 km (49:00 min). The unparalleled performance was only possible with a bicycle that combines maximum lightness with maximum strength. Vanderstuyft therefore used the bicycle, which is unique in its quality, the bicycle of the largest bicycle factory in the world, the bicycle of bicycles OPEL", reads the text of a poster.
The legendary speed record set on a modified ZR III racing machine was to stand for more than 50 years.
Fresh off the assembly line: Opel becomes world market leader in bicycle production
Parallel to the sporting highlights, Opel becomes the world's largest manufacturer with the conversion of bicycle construction to series production in the mid-1920s. In full operation, a bicycle leaves the production line every seven seconds. This is a phenomenal work performance and logistical challenge – in 1929 an average men's bicycle consists of 1,435 parts and a ladies' bicycle of 1,465. A contemporary book includes the statement: “Within seven hours of receiving an order, the Opel factories are able to ready any of the millions of possible variations in size, paintwork, rims, tyres, etc. that customers could want for dispatch to one of the 15,000 dealers”. Individuality à la Opel even back then.
After 51 years, bicycle production ends at Opel. A total of 2,621,965 bicycles were produced. In the company's 75th year, focus is on the automotive business following the sale of bicycle production to NSU – where bicycles with the designation Opel-NSU are still produced for one more year.