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The Rebirth of an American Classic: Columbia Bicycles and my Military-Inspired ‘Liberator’

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This post is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group® and Columbia Bicycles, but all my opinions are that of THE ROCK FATHER. #pmedia #RideColumbia http://my-disclosur.es/OBsstV

There is a rebirth taking place… With roots dating back to the 1877 opening of Boston’s Pope Manufacturing company under the leadership of Colonel Albert Pope, America’s first bicycles bore the name “Columbia,” and were manufactured using pioneering techniques that would later win fans and adopters such as a cyclist by the name of Henry Ford. In fact, Columbia Bicycles once had a sister company in Pope Automobiles, a short-lived venture that while innovative at the time, would somewhat ironically be eclipsed by the Ford Motor Company, among others. While automotive aspirations didn’t quite pan-out, the Columbia Bikes would amass a rich history, rolling on for well-over a century before slightly fading from the public eye, just waiting for the right time to re-emerge… now.

Columbia Liberator Bicycle

As vintage-styled bikes like “The Cruiser” have seen a resurgence in popularity over the past decade, it seems fitting that the originator returns to the road for new generations – this one and beyond. It’s an inspiring story, and one that could be described as “the cycle of life,” and as it’s noted in the video below, “things come back.”

With Pope having served in the Union Army during the American Civil War, there’s a military lineage that runs through the history of these bikes, with Columbia producing bicycles for the U.S. military in both World War I, and World War II. Pope himself never lived to see it, but soldiers from the various branches of our Armed Forces each had different models of bicycles to choose from, some with specialized applications – like the Compax Paratrooper bike, which could be folded and broken-down to be dropped into battle with our troops from the skies. 

Columbia Bicycles - WWI
A previously-classified image from WWI. Photo provided by Columbia Bicycles

My Grandfather, Harold Zahn, was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne – a 2x Purple Heart recipient that also received a Bronze Star and fought in The Battle of the Bulge. While he didn’t speak much of it, as a kid, I knew that he’d had issues with his feet that were the result of frostbite he’d suffered after parachuting into a frozen lake during a night jump while fighting Nazis in Belgium.


A photo posted by James Zahn (@therockfather) on


I don’t know if my Grandpa Zahn ever jumped from a plane with a Columbia on his back, but if he was rockin’ a bike on the ground, the likelihood is that it would’ve been one of the Columbia models that were being made in Westfield, MA – the only bikes that were permitted to continue production once the U.S. entered the conflict. Odd thing is, without even knowing the full history of Columbia’s wartime contributions at the time, when I heard that the bikes were being relaunched and was shown an early prototype image of their new “Liberator,” I knew that I had to have it. It’s not an outright reproduction of the bikes from that time, but one that’s certainly inspired by the era – a head-turning retro-military Columbia design with a sweet-looking hydroformed “tank” on its 26″ aluminum frame. The fenders, forks and chain guard are all pure steel, and it’s got a Columbia-embossed seat and hand grips, along with a coaster brake.

2016 Columbia Bicycles Liberator
Rock and Roll. Even little Addie appreciates the “Metal” qualities (and family bike rides).

If I were to be asked to name the true appeal of my new Liberator bike, I couldn’t peg just one thing. For starters, for the first time in ages, we can do full family bike rides – as I hadn’t owned a bike in several years, but my wife and The Rock Daughters have a whole fleet. I can incorporate bike riding into my fitness routine (never-ending battle), and the styling is just fantastic. The little details like the striping and stenciled “no step” really remind me of playing with my G.I. Joe figures and vehicles as a kid in the 80s as well.

THE ROCK FATHER on a bike.
Captured during my first ride. I’ve since bought a helmet. 40 years, and I’d never worn a bike helmet until now.

Are you ready to #RideColumbia? The Liberator is occasionally available on Amazon, while you can find other sweet Columbia Bikes at Toys “R” Us, Target, Walmart, and Dick’s Sporting Goods as well. See the entire collection of new Columbia Bicycles on their official website. The next chapter in Columbia history is just getting started!

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