From the training wheels used by a young child learning to ride, to the airborne wheels underneath a daring BMX racer, bicycling is an activity enjoyed by millions of Americans. And with four new colorful, se-tenant designs, the Postal Service celebrates the popular hobby as a source of recreation, transportation, exercise, competition, and in all, fun.
Bicycling has a long history of appearing on stamps — the first dating back more than 100 years to the 1902 Messenger on Bicycle Special Delivery stamp. Since then, bicycling has been featured on a variety of issuances, including those recognizing the Olympic Games, the history of American transportation, extreme sports, and recently, environmentally friendly tips.
View a slideshow of past stamps featuring bicycling.
Art director Phil Jordan was thrilled at the chance to dedicate an entire issue to the activity. “Bicycling has experienced a tremendous revival in the past few years,” he says. “From its initial popularity in the 1900s, there has been a resurgence in interest in all sorts of cycling, from road to off-road, touring, and racing.”
Jordan dove into research, citing Bicycle: The History by David V. Herlihy as one of the many resources he consulted when brainstorming stamp concepts. Jordan’s “research” also extended to his own recreational activity, as he and his wife have often enjoyed weekend rides in the countryside.
With input from researchers, Jordan narrowed down the arenas of cycling to four potential designs — with a specific illustrator in mind. Among enthusiasts, Jordan noted, there was a tremendous interest in historical bicycle ads and posters. So he contacted John Mattos, whose work on the 2006 Olympic Winter Games stamp he greatly admired, knowing Mattos could accomplish a graphic, retro-style poster effect.
Mattos has mastered portraying movement in a postage-size image; his other designs include Indianapolis 500 and the Seabiscuit stamped envelope. “I like action subjects,” he says. “I tend to indicate detail, not render it, so my style lends itself to the small format.”
Mattos developed a strip of four designs with one panoramic background, accentuating the feeling of continuous movement from stamp to stamp.
In addition to the challenge of refining the background so that it moved through all four stamps yet worked with each individually, Jordan and Mattos faced one major dilemma. While their renderings of bikes had to be accurate, the depictions had to be generic enough that no single brand could be identified.
“The challenge was because of rights issues and considerations to manufacturers,” Jordan explains. “The closer our bike resembled an actual bike, the more we had to alter it.”
Using a large collection of photos as reference — including one of his niece riding a tricycle — Mattos worked through many rounds of changes recommended by researchers to achieve just the right balance.
Once the art reached a near-final stage, another challenge presented itself in the form of a new denomination. While early concepts showed a large numerical rate — the rate at the time of artistic development — it was easy to see that the same space did not lend itself to the word “Forever.”
So Mattos devised a new version, with “USA” as the prominent type and the denomination smaller. “That was the beauty of working in electronic form with John,” Jordan adds. “Those changes could be made relatively simply.”
The design, like bicycling itself, withstood many changes only to flourish. The final stamps capture the timelessness and broad reach of the activity, at once bringing to mind memories of one’s first wobbly pedal forward, while paying tribute to the extreme heights reached by more experienced riders.
36 U.S.C. Sec. 220506. Official Licensed Product of the United States Olympic Committee.