An exhibition of antique bikes opened on Tuesday in Greater Taichung’s Da Ya International Flower Market, featuring an array of old bicycles ranging from classics that were used to peddle green-pea soup to the engine-propelled bicycle that was billed as a “must have” for the O Gau Hiann (黑狗兄) in the 1950s for picking up girls.
O Gau Hiann, a term in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), was used to describe young men who were popular or stylish.
According to bicycle collector Chen Chih-lung (陳志龍), the bicycle was at one time the most popular mode of transport in the nation and saw its heyday span from the 1940s to the 1970s.
It was only in the 1980s that the bicycle began to be gradually replaced by scooters and cars, Chen said, adding that the bicycles on exhibition had witnessed the development and trasnformation of the nation’s economy.
There were a multitude of trades and businesses that relied on the of use bicycles or tricycles. Tricycles were the most common way to ferry passengers around, public officials used bicycles to get to work and postmen and grocers used them to transport mail, groceries and beverages, Chen said.
He also said that because people in that era often raised chickens or ducks at home, some bicycles had been specifically made for peddling young chicks and ducklings around.
Among the many bicycles used by businesses and government agencies in the past, only the bikes for postmen and delivery of Yakult drinks had specific colors — green or blue respectively — Chen said.
Yakult is the brand name for a Japanese probiotic beverage created in 1930 by fermenting skimmed milk with a special strain of Lactobacillus casei Shirota.
In addition to their coloring, the bikes had other common characteristics, such as the postal bikes’ top tube being reinforced with metal plating to better bear the weight of mail bags, while the Yakult delivery bikes usually had step-through frames because most deliveries of Yakult were made by women.
Bicycles used by the military, civil servants and teachers were the least decorated, but also had the strongest frames and were the most expensive, Chen said.
Chen said it was very interesting to note that in the 1950s, bicycles were actually considered a luxury item. Bike dealers offered payment installment plans and worked with the government to promote low-cost purchases of bicycles.
The exhibition displayed a public notice issued in 1957 which stated that the Taiwan Provincial Government’s Bureau of Supplies was selling bicycles made by the Fulu Bicycle Company for NT$940 (US$31) if purchased outright and for NT$960 if the buyer chose to buy the bike in six installments. The notice limited the offer to civil servants, teachers and workers at public or private companies.
However, wages at the time for elementary-school teachers stood at only NT$300 per month.
One of the people visiting the exhibition was 66-year-old Cheng Chi-lin (鄭啟林), who pointed to a bicycle used by green-pea soup vendors and said it was one of the sights from the old days he missed the most.
Cheng said that in 1960, a bowl of green pea soup cost about one or two jiao (角), a currency unit of the time that was roughly equivalent to one-tenth of NT$1.
Peddlers at the time used to place the green pea soup in drums attached to their bicycles that were separated into two compartments. The inner compartment contained ice to cool the soup, and just as the ice was about to melt the peddler would add some salt to it to lower its temperature, Cheng said.