Weird bicycles – a skate bike

Skate bike made by Skate Bike America Inc, Boynton Beach, Florida, USA or Minson Enterprises (USA) Inc, Los Angeles, California, USA, 1984-1986. Collection of the Powerhouse Museum. 2011/24/1. Gift of Kenneth Edworthy, 2011.
Skate bike made by Skate Bike America Inc, Boynton Beach, Florida, USA or Minson Enterprises (USA) Inc, Los Angeles, California, USA, 1984-1986. Collection of the Powerhouse Museum. 2011/24/1. Gift of Kenneth Edworthy, 2011.

What do you get when you cross a skateboard? A skate bike … a really unusual rear-wheel driven unicycle with a set of skateboard trucks and wheels at the front. Skate bikes enjoyed limited popularity during the 1980s and were made in both Florida and Los Angeles. They were 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. So to remedy this some manufacturers made skate bikes.

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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. So to remedy this some manufacturers made skate bikes.

The popularity of the skate bike was limited due to the time required to learn to ride it. as well as the difficulty in mastering it. Apparently riding one was a bit unnerving, like being on a bike 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.

But unitrike collector and skate bike rider, John Main, has a different perspective he says:

‘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.’

Nevertheless, the skate bike’s a rare and interesting example of an adaption of the traditional bicycle and tricycle.

Post by Margaret Simpson, Curator, Transport

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3 responses to “Weird bicycles – a skate bike

  • Hi, I own one of the original Skate Bikes that I purchased in Boynton Beach directly at their warehouse back in the 80s. Is this worth anything today?

  • Yeah these were cool rides in the late 80’s, think I’ve still got 3 or 4 of these in storage lol.

    Purchased a bunch of them in NZ and sold a few to friends and family and road them everywhere for a year or two. Even rode the 6km (12km return) to work every day on road and pavement, up and down kerbs, slopes and jumps.

    John Mains comment about having to sacrifice a balancing arm to activate the brake is a bit of a fallacy really. In the learning phase yes it might have been a hinderance, but when you got good enough you could ride these with out the need to have your arms flailing around to get balance… most times my hands were simply resting on my lap and even used them to help pump the legs up step bits. One day I even carried 2 heavy leaf springs from my car into town (6km) one in each hand.

    To make it more manoeuvrable and multi terrain you needed to spend a bit of money on upgrading the skate wheels and wheel rack to a better quality set. Something a bit more soft compound to stop them skidding on pebbles or bouncing off changes in concrete/tarmac surface eg cracks or slightly raised levels (the original wheels where to hard and non-forgiving)… and a better wheel rack meant a more pliable rubber pivot and allowed you to really lean the bike over even further for tight turns.

    Not to forget that you could also do some pretty cool tricks if you got more adventurous…..like pulling wheelies, and jumps by holding the seat and either using your stomach muscles or doing a push pull action to achieve a bunny hop to get over obstacles… and also doing a quick 180 degree turn while breaking, turning and pulling a wheelie at the same time. I also saw some others doing flips and stuff on ramps but that was never my thing.

    All in all not as difficult to ride as you think.
    I even did a 5hr pub crawl on it once (the riding had become so instinctual by then I didn’t even have to think about), everyone else was on normal bikes…. guess who didn’t fall off!

    Definitely wonderful for improving balance, keeping the abdominals working hard and maintaining general fitness (great for cardio and I had some of the biggest “Vastus Medials” (the tear drop muscle on the quads) as a result…. it really targets that muscle.

    Might have to dust one of them of again for a bit of fun!

  • I’m 52 and still occasionnaly riding my original “le run” skatebike. The good thing is that the brake is integrated in the rear hub (reverse pedaling) so it’s pretty easy to handle. The ride is quite easy on smooth roads…stoned roads area need a bit of speed and to put the wreiht on the back…doing that, stearing is almost impossible. It’s also really compact and can be carried on a bus or even metro. It also fit in almost all cars boot.

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