Friday, December 31, 2010

Would You Like a Revolver? Or a Bike? (1896 ad)

At least it gives some context for the prices of bicycles at the time . . .

Revolver With Bike Purchase

From the September 17, 1896 issue of Cycling Life.

This ad is a bit puzzling - the magazine Cycling Life was intended for "the bicycle trade" and not bicycle consumers, so the marketing strategy of telling (reminding?) this audience that the very same Iver Johnson that made quality bikes would sell them a reasonably priced high-quality revolver is not clear 100-plus years later.

If nothing else, this gives some sense of the relatively high cost of a bicycle in those days - Iver Johnson bicycles were many times more expensive than a revolver.
The price of the Iver Johnson bicycle for men and women in standard finish for 1897 will be $100; the price of the Fitchburg bicycle for men and women in standard finish will be $75.
Fitchburg was the name of the town where the Iver Johnson factory was and was used as the brand name for the lower cost cycles.

In fact, a revolver was less expensive than a pair of tires (with tire pump) ~
Possesses all the advantages of the highest priced tires on the market, and yet it can be fitted to any bicycle at the moderate price of $7.00 per pair; with pump and repair outfit.
(Ad from the same issue for Web Tread tires.)

Below, from Flickr, a handsome example of a Iver Johnson truss frame bike (and Iver Johnson rifle, apparently).

Iver Johnson Bicycle-Truss Frame

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Bicycling for Ladies" (Book - 1896)

Bicycling for Ladies available online from Another version (with the cover) from Harvard.

Bicycling for ladies : with hints as to the art of wheeling, advice to beginners, dress, care of the bicycle, mechanics, training, exercise, etc., etc. by Maria E. Ward. Published in 1896.

Bicycling For Ladies - Cover

Includes many illustrations showing how to (and how not to) ride and repair a bike. The illustrations were made from photographs from Alice Austen and are quite interesting themselves, aside from the text.

How to make a turn.

Correct Position

And how not to make one.

Incorrect Position

How to coast.


This bike is like a modern "fixie" and the pedals keep spinning as you coast - there is no freewheel feature. Although not clearly visible, the bike she is riding does have a hand brake that will apply pressure to the front tire to slow the bike down, since putting one's feet back on the pedals during this coasting activity could be difficult.

Under "Women and Tools" the author states:
I hold that any woman who is able to use a needle or scissors can use other tools equally well. It is a very important matter for a bicyclist to be acquainted with all parts of the bicycle, their uses and adjustment.
The author then provides a fairly detailed set of basic mechanical advice, although she starts with care of the rider, who is the "engine" after all.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Yet Another Alternative Drive System for Bikes (1896)

While the drive system was a bust, he did have a good idea with his spring-suspension.

"McIntire's Bicycle"

From Cycling Life, September 10, 1896. Another invention announced that the inventor hopes will supplement the reliable basic chain system.
The bicycle shown herewith is the invention of John W. Mclntire, of Chicago. The principal object of the inventor is to provide a driving mechanism by which greatly increased speed may be obtained. The rear wheel is constructed with an open center and in reality constitutes a circular track upon which the driving friction-wheel of the machine rests and runs. The track-wheel comprises an outer rim of crescent shape, in which is arranged either a solid, cushion or pneumatic tire, and also an inner rim concentric to the outer rim and connected thereto by spokes. The inner rim of the track-wheel is U-shaped in cross section, comprising a flat horizontal bearing surface and a pair of flanges. These flanges receive the ends of the spokes. The rim of the driving-wheel is composed of two metal rings. Each ring is formed with a flange, by means of which the rings are united to form a rim, the flanges being perforated to receive the spokes. The two rims slide and adjust themselves relatively to each other, thus compensating for inequalities in the surface traveled over and keeping the driving-wheel in constant engagement with the track-wheel. In order to guide the track-wheel and hold it against wabbling [sic] a triangular frame is connected to the main frame of the machine. In this frame are two guide-wheels, each provided with oppositely disposed flanges. These wheels run freely against the inner surface of the wheel-rim and support the track wheel against lateral movement. A brace is interposed between the rear end of the upper main horizontal bar of the frame and the rear corner of the supplemental frame. This brace is made in two sections and permits of-contraction [sic] and expansion by means of a spring. The spring serves to cushion the weight of the rider and prevents his weight tuning transferred to the supplemental frame in such manner as to cause the latter to bind against the inner rim.
The complexity of the drive system description suggests immediately the unlikeliness that this is a better solution than a simple chain connected to wheels with teeth to transfer power. On the other hand, Cycling Life had an oligation to the cycle trade to do this sort of publicity.

On the other hand, the spring "to cushion the weight of the rider" was not the main point of this invention (and perhaps not as unusual as it seems to me 100-plus years later) but is a feature in modern bikes.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"The Dancing Chain" (Book for Christmas)

The Dancing Chain (third edition) is the "history and development of the derailleur bicycle" and a wonderful book. Just got it for Christmas - previously I had looked at the second edition but the third is updated/added to quite a bit.

Dancing Chain Cover

Reall, though - the subtitle is a bit off. What this is is a history of the 20th century (and now into the 21st century) bicycle as influenced by the development and imnprovement of derailleurs.

Dancing Chain Sample Page

Chapter 15 is a helpful explanation of "how derailleurs work" that is good to look at early rather than at the end - but then this isn't exactly the kind of book that one reads from start to finish but rather dips into here and there.

This is one sort of book that's not going to be replaced by an e-book reader soon!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bicycles Out of Favor in Beijing

Article in the People's Daily describes efforts in Beijing to get people back on bicycles, rather soon after they just got off. Including rental bikes.

"Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing"

Some people gave up commuting by bike because it became too dangerous on roads packed with cars, Zhang Zhuting, a member of the Ministry of Transport's legal consulting committee, said.

Concrete measures are needed to ensure the effective operation of the public bicycling system, and the bike rental industry needs more policy support to survive, he said.

Tsinghua University law professor Yu Lingyun said many European cities, such as Paris and Amsterdam, have long run effective public bike systems.

"They have developed detailed rules and management mechanisms to maintain the system, and their residents obey the rules," Yu said. "Beijing should learn from their experiences."
Somehow to me this seems like a coals-to-Newcastle kind of thing, but I suppose it is different. Anyway, I think the problem in Beijing is economic and not about getting peoiple to obey rules.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bicycle Patents (for Entertainment/Historical Value)

In addition to searching the texts (old books) at the Internet Archive or old books at the Hathitrust (that are in the public domain) one can look at old patent applications with Google's patent search tool.

This is a odd undersized bike with gun for military use - in theory.
The full application is here. Oddly it is a "shaft drive" rather than using a chain. The handle bars pivot behind rather than in front of the rider, much like the triangle bike I wrote about earlier.

Some patents border on simple-minded, such as this parasol attachment/system.

Parasol Bike
(The full application is here.)

Searching for "bicycle pedals" reveals that toe clips were already developed in the 1890s. Perhaps most entertaining is searching for "bicycle brake" which reveals many less than optimal approaches that nonetheless had proponents. Some attempt to improve the simple and widely employed "press something against the rubber front tire from above" model (such as this example) others tried to act to slow the chain (such as this one).

Monday, December 20, 2010

This Bike Commuter's Favorite Day - 12/20

From here on the days get longer, until late June at any rate.

Morning Commute Four Mile Run
Bike trail along Four Mile Run approaching the south end of National (Reagan) Airport. The snow and ice from last week has cleared nicely.

These days I ride in as the sun is just coming up and then home in the dark. Even if there is plenty of cold weather ahead, more light and less dark is good.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Slow Bike as Fast as Fast Bike for Commuting (says MD)

This article in the UK's online Telegraph refers to a medical journal's study that demonstrates that commuting on a cheap steel bike is every bit as fast as commuting on an expensive carbon fiber (or fibre, since he's British) one. The author is a medical doctor, which apparently is considered enough to make up for the many methodological problems with his "study."

As is often the case, the comments are more entertaining than the article itself. Some completely miss the point and a few quibble that the author's "expensive bike" wasn't expensive enough to properly compare to the cheap steel bike.

The best comment includes this:
But the best bike is better, although the difference is marginal. Carbon fibre means the bike is lighter and stiffer and more efficient to ride at any given speed. I would suspect the doctor's heart rate and power output will be slightly higher on his steel bike compared to his carbon bike. If you are very fit and taking part in events at a reasonably accomplished level, spending more on a bike is worthwhile.
I particularly found the article interested since the good doctor's equipment (two bikes being compared) is similar to mine - a steel bike around 30 pounds and a carbon fiber around 20 pounds. (One difference is that I spent about the same amount on each, where he spent very little on his steel bike that he bought used and also less than I spent on either on his expensive carbon "fibre" bike - he's more fiscally sensible than I am, I guess.) And the commuting distance, around 40-45 minutes in good weather - is also similar.

My impression is that the increase in the average speed when riding the lighter bike (and using messenger bag rather than panniers) may not even be two miles per hour - say, from 15 to 16 mph average (for the whole ride, including sitting at lights and various slowing down for this and that). But the enjoyment of riding a faster bike and being able to accelerate much faster if I want to is more than enough that I choose to ride carbon fiber whenever that bike fits with the weather.

The suggestion that the cyclist losing weight is simpler and cheaper than paying big bucks to buy a lighter bike is something one sees in print often enough, but it doesn't work for me. By the same logic, I can argue that a particular tool (say a wrench)is just as good as a more expensive one that applies more force if the purchaser went to gym and worked out more and was stronger. Besides, if most people could lose five pounds or ten that easily, presumably they would.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Google Tool and Cycling

A new tool for analyzing frequency of words in the texts that Google Books has digitized (and has in its publisher program, too, I assume) allows some analysis (or conjecture, anyway) about cycling history.

An easy example that demonstrates this is to look at the frequency of the word "wheelmen" in American English - the results are fairly dramatic. With "ordinary" bicycles after the Civil War, there is some mention, but it is only with the introduction of modern safety bicycles in the 1880s that the term is much used - reaching a peak in 1885. The falloff seems earlier than I would have expected. Hmmm.

The tool also allows closer examination of a narrower time range, such as 1875 to 1925.

Other languages are available, including Russian. What was the usage of велосипед (bicycle in Russian) for example?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Commuting in the Snow

Snowed yesterday here in Washington DC during the day; took me about 75 minutes I would guess to get home in Arlington (about ten miles). I was riding my Traitor Ruben bike that is a steel road bike with disk brakes. Riding in the dark is slow, even with a headlight.

This morning I rode in, having reduced the tire pressure to around 60 psi and swapping in regular pedals instead of clipless, and it went pretty good although I guess it took me around an hour - so, ten miles per hour avg. Actually, not so bad.

Snow and Bike on Gravelly Pt

Usually here the ground isn't frozen solid and I need to stay on the bike trails, which get to be a mess with snow, ice and ruts. Today the ground is frozen solid so I went across the field for fun - a little more pedal energy required but easy to steer in a straight line.

Me and bike in snow

Much of the rest of the way I road on the streets, which are nicely cleared. I try to stay out of heavy traffic - only one angry beep from a motorist.

Someone in Shirlington runs a small snow plow down the bike trail along Arlington Mill Road as far as Walter Reed, clearing about four-tenths of a mile of bike trail. What a nice thing to do!

Return home addendum - the ride home started around sunset but was mostly in the dark. It was a good ride, although tiring. I managed to maintain a pretty good pace. The trails were clearer of snow than in the morning so I skipped riding on the streets - also, in the dark at night the local commuters have much less interest in sharing "their" roads and I don't want to get clonked.

Most of the people riding in the snow were using mountain bikes - while intuitively it would seem like a big mountain bike tire would give better traction in the snow, you are also pushing the big front tire through the snow, which on balance seems like more work. The 25 mm tires I am using have almost no tread; it's the lowered inflation pressure that gives traction (I think). Anyway, it isn't tread!

The worst part this time is that the road salt used ends up all over the bike if any riding is done on the roads (which I did) and the stuff is just annoying to get off, but clearly should come off since it can't do any of the parts or the finish any good (aside from looking bad).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The "Skate Cycle" for Winter (1896)

Skate Cycle (1896)

A small ad from the December 24 1896 issue of Cycling Life - directed at the cycle business and not end consumers, this company is hoping dealers will sell this innovative approach to getting around in the snow and ice.

I don't think this would work well on snow - the "skate" would sink down and scrape whatever was below. Perhaps more importantly the front wheel spinning must contribute something to keeping the bike upright. And what would the steering be like? Today I rode home after about two inches of snow fell in Washington, about eight miles of snow covered bike trails. It's tiring because of the need to stay balanced as the wheels encounter hardened snow. This looks like it would be much worse.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Russian Blogger Explains Cycling in Paris

"Live Streets" blog entry about the cycling infrastructure in Paris (in Russian). Google's language tool does an acceptable job of providing a English translation.

Автобусно-велосипедная полоса на улице Риволи / Bus-bike lane on Rue de Rivoli

Of course, it isn't perfect - a fair number of words related to cycling that the author uses don't appear in any dictionary so they are simply transliterated versions of the Russian Cyrillic ones. Most of these are understandable this way, however - the blog entry title is "Sketch of veloinfrastrukture Paris" - "veloinfrastruktura" would be "cycling infrastructure," a single word coined most likely recently in Russian. Or the word "sitibayki" - that is, "city bikes," a case (another case) where an English word/phrase has been incorporated into Russian wholesale.

This is a good, comprehensive overview of what Paris does to support cycling as an alternative means of transportation. Much of what is described is available in some (a few?) American cities, but I don't think any do all these things.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bicycle Christmas Ad (1896)

An ad in the December 24 1896 issue of Cycling Life.

I don't understand what this ad is trying to show specifically. Yes, this woman is pleased to have received a bicycle as a gift, but why is it hanging from the ceiling? Is that what it is hanging from? It seems a little odd.

You can see clearly the mesh added to the chain guard and rear fender to keep skirts out of the chain and the rear wheel.

Because Cycling Life is a magazine for "the trade" rather than consumers, it didn't feature too many themed ads of this sort. Below an image of Santa riding a bike taken from a larger ad for E.C. Stearns & Co. of Syracuse.

Santa On Bike (1896, Cycling Life)

Full page version of above ad from the December 24, 1896 issue of Cycling Life.

Bicycles Sales in the U.S. South (1896)

A letter to the editor in the December 24 1896 issue of Cycling Life.

The open racism reflected in this "communication" is appalling.

The special want in bicycles for southern states is the subject of the communication given below:

To The Editor— That there is still room at the top in bicycles is particularly true for us in the south, where the color line pevades [sic] everything. If some maker would only make a machine listing at $150 and held at that price so as to keep it strictly at that figure, we, for one firm in the south, would make it our ne plus ultra wheel. Just as the theaters are now empty so far as white people are concerned at all ordinary shows, and crowded even at $2 a seat on special occasions when there will be no people of color in the house, there is every chance that the best classes will soon stop riding bicycles because the negroes are taking to them in great numbers. We claim that the success of the machine which has been sold here considerably higher than a hundred dollars is due to the necessity of providing a mount which the negroes cannot reach financially, and to nothing else.
What we want, however, is a machine of superb finish, distinctive appearance and inflexible price.

Jos. Labadie, Jr., Sec'y,
The Galveston Cycle Co., Inc.
Galveston, Tex., Dec. 16.

$150 for a bicycle was a very high price in those days - the price range I have seen was from somewhere under 50 dollars for lower end models to 100 dollars for top models.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bike Lanes in Perm' (Russia, Siberia . . . )

If one is unhappy with progress for cycling where one lives, it is always possible to cheer oneself up by looking at someone else's situation - say in far-off Perm', in the Urals. (Think Dr. Zhivago.) (OK, I have remembered that Perm' is on the west side of the Urals and therefore not in Siberia, but close enough.)

This Russian-language site has photographs of the city of Perm' - the sixth one down is of a bike lane. In fact, if you click on it, it flips to a different photo of the same bike lane with sign overhead indicated it as such. (Yes, that space about 15 inches wide is supposed to be a bike lane. As I said, I thought I had problems . . . )

The text, in Russian, reads:
Велосипедные дорожки, обозначаемые в прошлом году робкой разметкой на одной улице, возмужали, окрепли и превратились в полноценных участниц дорожного движения. Теперь к разметке добавились дорожные знаки — важный шаг с правовой точки зрения.
and below the photo
Правда, ни одного велосипедиста на улице нет. И припаркованных велосипедов на улице нет.
In English, this would be:
Bike lanes, laid out last year by a faint line, have been strengthened [made more manly, is the word used!] and turned into a full-fledged participant in the road system. Now in addition to the lane line, signs indicating the bike lane have been added - an important step from the legal point of view.
but under the photo, it says
In truth, there is not one cyclist on the street. And no parked bicycles, either.
In other words, they have a way to go there in Perm' with this encouraging of cycling business.

Don't we all. But perhaps not as far as the пермяки (residents of Perm') have to go.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rider in Accident Near Park Tool School Dies

In a previous post I wrote about driving to a session of the Park Took School in Alexandria (VA) and observing where a car-bike accident had clearly taken place in the previous half hour or so - a beautiful randoneering bike was laying in the middle of the intersection with police everywhere. I now read that unfortunately he has died from his injuries.

The article notes that, According to FABB, this type of crash is very common for accidents involving vehicles and bicycles. Drivers making left turns at green light yields often do not see approaching riders or misjudge the bike's speed.

At age 16, I hit a car making a left turn in front of me on Connecticut Avenue in DC and rolled over the car, ending up sitting on the asphalt of the other side of the car wondering where my bike had gone (the bike stayed on the side where I hit the car - I had a concussion). Didn't ride again for years.

Certainly sad to read that this cyclist passed away.

Triangle Frame Bike from Seattle - 1896 Design

So, some Seattlites from the century before the last one had this clever (?) idea. But is it rideable? I do not think I have seen anything quite along these lines, although certain recumbents have the same business of the handlebars coming from the rear.

Triangle Frame Bike from Seattle (1896)

Really, can a bike with this extreme a head tube angle - it appears to be around 45 degrees - handle properly? One might also wonder about braking, but many bikes were supplied without brakes since this would not be a freehub, so you stop by slowing your peddling.
The construction enables the rider to propel the machine with safety, because no obstructions are presented in advance of the position of the rider and the machine can be readily mounted.
I wonder if the inventors supplied this mangled text or if writers at Cycling Life produced it. It borders on gibberish.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

1890s Women Riders Prefer Tires with Tread

Or anyway, a full page ad for VIM bicycle tires in an 1896 issue of Cycling Life suggests that this should be the case.


Cycling Life was a trade magazine and not read by likely purchasers of bicycles (or tires) so further research will be required to determine if this ad would have appeared in a publication read by cyclists (but I would expect it was). The message here is interesting, I think - rather than a concern that the risk of falling would put off potential women riders, the thinking seems to be that women want to ride bikes but they don't want to fall down, so the purchase of these tires can allay that concern. (Other VIM tire ads were directed at men, by the way.)


As tread patterns go, I'm not sure these would be all that much help - but better than nothing.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bicycle Marketing, 1896 Style


A full-page ad in the Cycling Life issue of August 13, 1896, has a standard description of the advantages of Columbia bicycles along with "extracts taken from letters to the Pope Manufacturing Company." Several of these "extracts" (quotes) surprise me.

Perhaps most of all is the quote, "I have had rare delight from my Columbia bicycle. It is matchless." - so says Sarah Bernhardt! Apparently she was not considered too bohemian to use in this capacity as celebrity endorser.

Sturdiness and low-cost maintenance are clear themes - two separate "extracts" combine the two in similar ways.
"I estimate I have ridden my Columbia bicycle 2,400 miles. It has given no trouble and has not cost me one cent for repairs. My weight is 200 to 205 pounds."— I. N. Knapp, Omaha, Neb.
"I have ridden a Columbia for two years with but twenty-five cents for repairs. I weigh 207 pounds." Allen H. Taylor, Cleveland, Ohio.
A bike able to withstand a rider of over 200 pounds was apparently regarded as exceptionally sturdy. One wonders what maintenance could be performed for 25 cents. . .