Monday, January 31, 2011

Cold Ride Blues

Washington DC is south of the Mason-Dixon line and is supposed to be warmer than this in winter, or so it seems to me. Even last year when it snowed quite a bit, there was more up-and-down variation in the winter temps than this year when it seems as though it has been more consistently below freezing at night (and during the morning bike commute). I am tired of it. (Poor poor me . . . )

Winter Biking Primer from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Anyway, then I found this video (above) on another local bike blog and I'm afraid it had the opposite of the intended effect for me - instead of seeing how easy riding in winter is, I was reminded of various aspects of winter riding that I have been finding annoying, like how long it takes to get all the winter stuff on and off. The "model" in the video has her clothes put on in double time yet it still takes her a while to get on all the layers. Oh for summer and a pair of shorts, a shirt, socks and shoes . . . And not to mention dealing with ice hither and yon on the bike trails.

Of course, it could be much worse for clothing, like this getup my daughter wore when we lived in Russia more than ten years ago ~

Russian winter gear for kids (1997/8)

Is there a child in those clothes??

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Soviet Time Trial Bike (Unusual Design)

Found in Flickr - a Soviet bicycle design from the 1980s. The "Takhion," (Tachyon in English) - used by Soviet Olympic teams among others.

(I had a different photo from Flickr, but it disappeared, so I have substituted this one from user Anders.)

An article translated (by Google) from, a Russian site devoted to cycling (in Russian). The translation is a little wonky, but you can get the basic idea and see more photos. Since only 400 Takhion cycles were made of various types, they are pretty rare!

As noted in several sources, it isn't a Russian bike design but from Kharkov, in the Ukraine. The designer's name was Vorontsov and his signature is on this card in the upper left.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Bicycle Messenger 1896

Nice photo of a bike messenger in New York in 1896 from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

Alice Austen - Messenger Bike

Item's record with details. This was taken by Alice Austen, a photographer who did the photographs of a woman rider for Bicycling for Ladies also published in 1896.

More about her photography is available at the "Friends of Alice Austen House" site.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wheels of Change - Women Cycling 1890s

Wheels of Change is a brand new book about the liberating influence of bicycles on the lives of American (mostly) women in the 1880s and 1890s.
The bicycle craze swept the nation and allowed women to ride into a new world full of all sorts of freedoms.
Dust jacket blurbs often resort to hyberbole, but this volume really does include "an astonishing number of primary source research gems" that I have been enjoying.

Woman Learning to Ride a Bike, 1890s

The author, Sue Macy, has her own author site where she uses as part of her web design the picture I have above, so I know we have been looking at some of the same stuff that is out there!

I suppose this is intended for a teenage audience, but I find it excellent.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

To be a Russian Wheelwoman . . .

(Scroll down the above image if you wish to see text in original - lower right of page). Under "Wheelwomen in Europe" in the February 1901 issue of L.A.W. Magazine we read ~
In Russia everything is managed "by order of the czar," and cycling is no exception to the rule. Before a woman can possess a wheel she must obtain royal consent, and as this is granted quite sparingly there are but few wheelwomen in Russia.
Can this have really been true???

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Self Defense for the Cyclist (1901 article)

Self-Protection on a Cycle is an article in a 1901 issue of Pearson's Magazine, a British magazine. I found reference to it (albeit a bit obscure) in a Russian web site (where some of the illustrations have been posted).

Self Defense for Cyclists

The article covers the following~
How you may Best Defend Yourself when Attacked by Modern Highwaymen, Showing how you should Act when Menaced by Foot-pads, when Chased by another Cyclist, and when Attacked under various other Circumstances ; Showing, also, how the Cycle may be used as a Weapon.
explaining that
Self-protection awheel is an art full of possibilities. The cyclist who is a skilful rider, who possesses pluck and dash, who has mastered the elementary rules of defence on a bicycle, and who is armed with a knowledge of how to use a machine to the best advantage as a weapon, may rest content that he is able to defend himself perfectly when attacked under the majority of likely conditions.
The article then goes into considerable detail, with photographs of the "tactics," on how to achieve the best defensive results.

Woman Cyclist Defends Self

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rocket Scientists Think Cycling is Safe (Enough)

NASA pulls injured shuttle astronaut off flight (Associated Press item)
An astronaut who crashed his bicycle last weekend won't be taking part in space shuttle Discovery's final voyage next month.

. . . . .

To cut down on preflight injuries, NASA has a whole list of prohibited activities for astronauts assigned to space missions. Among the banned high-risk sports: motorcycle riding, skiing, parachuting and acrobatic flying. Bicycling is not on the list.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More Ice on Bike Trails

Ice, trail, bike
Taken this morning, on the way to work - looking south although I was heading north - I just liked the sign (note icicles) and it was a place to prop the bike for the photo. Near Route 1 around the south end of Nation Airport. Entire trail covered in ice.

Trails were covered in bumpy ice with temp hovering around freezing. As far as I am concerned, impossible conditions if you don't have studded tires (which this bike does). However I did ride along briefly with a guy who was managing without studded tires - but I was able to go quite a bit faster so I left him behind.

At the overpasses I simply walked the bike for 100 yards or so - the ice was too much on the downhill sides even with the studs.

The trick (with the studded tires) is to ride at a measured pace - no sudden braking, no quick acceleration. Gentle . . . . . easy does it. Where there is trail with grass on both sides, one can get up to 10-12 mph and ride off onto the grass if problems arise. Some of the way I simply road on the icy grass, since then falling is no longer an issue - but it is more exertion but requires less focused attention.

Wouldn't want to ride like this all the time!!

It has certain fun aspects - near Shirlington several people walking their dogs simply gawped - "if I'm falling down with my boots, how can he ride . . . a bike?" is clearly what they are thinking. Well - it's (stud) magic! Ya just gotta be careful not to push the boundaries.

Monday, January 17, 2011

1982 Sirius Bridgestone

As I mentioned in my preceding post I have bought a frame (+ headset + fork + bottom bracket) on Ebay.

1982 Bridgestone Sirius
The 1982 Bridgestone Sirius as shown in the 1982 Bridgestone bicycle catalog

I am apparently a terrible librarian - I should have done various research before I bought the thing, but instead am doing most of it after. So far, no particularly surprising (unpleasant or otherwise) discoveries.

The bike is double-butted 4130 Chromoly (CrMo) with Tange lugs and Tange headset. The 23 inch (or 56 cm using today's usual metric) size was listed at 23 pounds, which is fairly good. Made in Japan. . . it is the same "Bridgestone" that makes tires for Toyota etc. It was the top of the line for Bridgestone at that time, but that doesn't really mean too much - they were not yet a very serious builder.

Apparently some time not long after Bridgestone made the Sirius (and other spacey-named bike models) a fellow named Grant Petersen started running the Bridgestone bike division and the Bridgestone road bikes produced under his leadership are considered rather special - "Bridgestone bicycles are something of a cult item now" per Sheldon Brown. However he means ones made after the one I just bought. Still, this is a classic Japanese-built steel road frame and should be very nice to ride.

Research on such things is interesting. Sheldon Brown has an entire separate page on the subject of Bridgestone bikes (again, focusing on 1985 forward) as well as digitized Bridgestone bicycle catalogs from 1985 through the 1990s. These digitized catalogs are quite interesting (well, it depends on what turns you on) to look at, but of course the selection generally via the Internet is completely random depending on someone having them and then decided to digitize them. (Many such catalogs, particularly from 1989 on, are in violation of copyright, but one can assume the relevant company wouldn't care, up to a point. The catalogs before 1989 for the US market that aren't marked with (c) or the word "copyright" with a date are probably in the public domain. Maybe.)

At any rate, a simple Google search on "1982 Bridgestone bicycle catalog" brought up a site where someone has the full 1982 catalog in PDF - I'm not going to link to it since it is slow to load; it is over three megs. Very nice to have that, if only to confirm that what I bought in fact is an '82. There is another article about Bridgestone bikes that gives some further background.

Detroit Lake 300K August 2, 2008 002

The above beautiful randonneering bike was built up on the same frame I purchased (which is available in two color schemes - this is the less gaudy one). It is from a Flickr group devoted to Bridgestone bikes. The randonneering approach with fenders and so on is not the direction I am planning to go in but it is nice to see someone investing that kind of money into this frame.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Building Up a Bike - Getting Started

1980s Bridgestone Serius frame

Having completed the "Park Tool School" (for bike mechanic basics) a while ago I am interested in seeing if I can bring together all the (used) parts of a bicycle, assemble them, and have something ridable. Well, something even fun to ride, actually. I have started by buying a old-ish steel frame on eBay (above). I liked the looks of it, a lugged frame, that includes the bottom bracket and (the thing the pedals attach to) and a fork.

So now I have to acquire all the stuff that bolts to the bike - and make sure I get the right stuff for this frame (where it matters). Much of that is what is known as the "gruppo" or group - gear shifters, brake levers (or integrated brake levers/shifters), brakes, front and rear derailleurs, a bottom bracket, a crankset, a chain, a cogset and a freewheel (or cassette). One small problem is that I already have a bottom bracket but near as I can tell, people selling older groups on eBay often don't include that. It is an interesting puzzle to sort out what would work with this frame (and what won't).

My first puzzle is with crankarm length - that is, how long the arms that have the pedals on them are. (This iscertainly not the only or most important thing to figure out but the one I have bumped into first.) Various lengths are available, but most road bikes come with 170 or 172.5 mm. I believe my two road bikes have 172.5, but I realize I would have to measure - it isn't in the technical details supplied with one of them and the other was rather short on such info generally.

I have already found a detailed bicycle crank length discussion that suggests that the Shimano 105 group I have located with 170 mm cranks would be fine (assuming I can successfully purchase it).

Of course a more reasonable question is why Shimano 105? Hmm...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Winter Commuting & Studded Bike Tires (Again)

Near 14th St Bridge, looking south

So, Tuesday night it snowed again, setting up a slick commute (so to speak) for Wednesday morning, and a bit beyond as it turned out. In an earlier post I said I didn't see much point in studded bike tires, but I realize now I was thinking mostly of heavy snow conditions like we had last winter (where the problem was pushing through snow and not ice at all).

Tuesday's freezing rain followed by an inch or so of snow set up conditions where bike tires with studs are pretty good to have - and since I have a set, I used them (although I took the picture above of some other rider during my commute - the pictures below are of me + the bike).

Smithsonian Castle

This is an old Giant that belonged to one of my sons - I have an extra set of wheels that I equipped with some not-very-expensive Nashbar-branded Kenda tires that have studs. They work great in icy conditions. In the image below you can see, if you look closely, some of the studs.

In Parking Garage on Capitol Hill

It got up to 38 (F - say +2 C) during the day and it was windy, so much of the snow melted by the time I rode home, but there were enough icy patches that I didn't mind having the studs. Really, it is on icy spots (rather than on snow of any depth) that the studs are amazing - it is possible to proceed at a decent stable pace, say 12-14 mph, and not feel any slipping, although one needs to be sensible - the studs aren't so numerous as to be relied on for quick stops, for example. When traveling on dry clear pavement one can hear them clicking away and I assume getting slowly less pointy (flattened out). If you brake hard on dry pavement you can simply pull individual studs out of the tires.

So Thursday, having decided that mostly the trail was clear, I went back to my cyclocross bike (no studs). I reduced the tire pressure to 50 pounds per square inch but that does zero for grip on ice. Using the cross bike meant lots of speeding up, then slowing down when I had to go over icy areas plus making sure I was paying attention 100 percent of the time so as not to end up on ice at the wrong speed. On the way home on a overpass made of concrete (which thaws much more slowly since the jurisdictions where the bike trails are don't do anything to speed that up), I screwed up and fell, dinging my left shoulder pretty good but not breaking anything. My head hit the left concrete sidewall of the overpass but not too hard and anyway that's what helmets are for, to keep one from getting hurt (and it worked). Nonetheless, OW!

So I'm a little embarrassed, frankly. I could have and I guess should have ridden the "ice bike" with studs one more day in order to avoid this. It would have been 9.5 miles of studs and heavy mountain bike on clear pavement and some 100s of yards on snow and a little slippery, dangerous ice. And I'm pretty sure I would not have fallen ~ hmm. Have to think about this . . .

On National Mall

I should have spent one more day on the studded tire bike.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Advice to the Cyclist - "How to Behave" (in 1896)

Given recent discussions of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and its resolution that cyclists should "do better" I was amused to see that such advice has now been with us for over 100 years.

A small article in the June 28, 1896 issue of The Morning Times (of Washington DC - the article is at the lower left of this full newspaper page) has the following ~
HOW TO BEHAVE - Some Rules Which Wheelers Can Follow Most Implicitly.

The following rules or suggestions for rules have been approved by a number of experienced wheelmen, and will be found to cover the more important questions of conduct on the road.

In the first place, remember that too much care cannot be exercised for the safety of pedestrians as well as wheel people. The carriages, with the assistance of the new lamp ordinance, will be able to lookout for themselves. If you have the misfortune to run down a pedestrian do not hasten away, but stop to give what help you can.
This seems to cover the essential advice, at least comparing our practices today with the advice that follows ~
Never pass by an accident without dismounting and inquiring what the trouble is and whether you can be of any assistance, but remember that any service you may render to a wheelwoman does not entitle you to her aquaintance without the usual formal introduction. It is always proper to speak to a wheelwoman who may be in need or assistance. Humanity requires this.
If you go to the page itself and read the item further, much of the advice relates to how wheelmen should interact with wheelwomen (if they want to do so correctly) rather than avoiding accidents, although there is some further guidance in that department, including the protocol for ringing a bell (and ringing your bell in response, naturally).

Still, there is some good practical advice that hasn't changed ~
Many of the accidents we read of every day could be avoided if the riders would regulate their pace according to their skill in managing the wheel under difficulties.
Do not ride in the middle of a path or driveway. You are liable to meet with an accident, and cannot recover for damages to your wheel unless you observe the rules or the rood.
As a bonus, this newspaper page, despite being an image produced from microfilm, has this lovely representation of cyclists traveling from Washington to Baltimore~

Bikes ("Wheels") in DC - 1896

And this ~

DC to Baltimore - Bikes, 1896

A final quote ~
Always preserve your dignity and pay no attention to small boys or dogs, both of which are perfectly harmless to the average wheelman.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Metal Crud in Bike Brake Pads

Metal flecks in bicycle brake pads

One bike mystery for me is where these little bits of metal come from that regularly get embedded in my brake pads (see above) and cause an unpleasant noise when braking, not to mention less braking action and more rim wear. Are some of these metal flakes from the rim itself? It seems likely, somehow, but also puzzling and troubling - why would that happen?

The above pads are only the second set I have installed on this bike - they are stock Shimano DuraAce/Ultegra pads. (The first set lasted around 4,000 miles - I don't ride in the rain on this bike.) Many folks recommend Kool Stop brake pads rather than Shimano - one forum entry even specified that Kool Stop would reduce this metal-flakes-in-brake-pads problem! So I guess my next set of brake pads will be some of these.

The pocket knife is the device I use for removing the small bits of metal. It may be the easiest bike maintenance task there is, but I don't much care for it.

Studded Snow Tires for Bikes

On Thursday (January 6) the weather folks predicted snow possible overnight, continuing into the morning. I decided to wait and see before making a choice of bike to ride - "bad weather" or "good weather" bike.

Friday morning, I looked out - no snow, and I could see stars. Didn't look much like snow. The Washington Post site, however, said "light snow falling in Washington." I decided to ignore and ride in the good bike - the chance of show at that moment was like 20 percent according to and zero in the afternoon.

On the way in from Arlington to Washington I passed exactly one bike - I guess the weather forcast had put off some people, although Friday's have fewer commuters generally (since a lot of people telework or have compressed work schedules). I could hear the guy's tires as I came up on him from behind - he had studded bike tires! Well, that seemed like overkill to me, since we hadn't even seen a flake.

Studded Mountain Bike Bicycle Tire

I have a set of mountain bike studded snow tires but I haven't used them much in recent years - in my view, they aren't terribly useful here. I don't think the studs help one go through snow, they only contribute to staying upright on icy surfaces. There just hasn't been enough ice to get me interested in switching my approach from riding a cyclocross bike with 25 mm tires with the inflation dropped to ~50 pounds (the alternative being an old hardtail mountain bike with the much much wider studded tires).

The studded mountain tires I have are Kendas, by the way, but not the model available now, it seems, the "Klondike." As I recall, I only paid like 25 bucks each for them about five years ago from Nashbar. Thought it was a pretty good purchase at the time. . .

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Early "Coaster Brake" (1900)

Early Coaster Brake - Detail (1900).

The full page of the 1900 Columbia Bicycle catalog is here.
COASTER BRAKE — This device enables the rider to stop pedaling on down grades, or at any time when a sufficient degree of speed has been attained, the wheel continuing to coast along while the feet are held stationary on the pedals at any convenient position. We have experimented for many months with coaster brakes of various types and designs, and now have the pleasure of announcing that we shall be able to supply a coaster brake which has stood the most exacting tests of hard usage on rough roads and which we know to combine effective operation with great durability. The clutch in the rear hub is simple, positive in action and designed to avoid all wedging of the parts and all hurtful shocks in their engagement. The brake is of the outside type, acting upon the rear tire.

A slight backward motion of the pedal from any position throws back the oscillator seen in the cut and draws the brake spoon against the tire with a force easily graduated and controlled according to the needs of the situation. Upon relieving the backward pressure, the wheel coasts on with entire freedom, or the forward pedaling may be resumed. All of the apparatus except the brake spoon and its connecting rod is contained in the rear hub. It will be furnished to order on any Columbia bicycle for 1900. Price, $5.00.
So, unlike a modern coaster brake, the braking action comes from an external "spoon" that is actuated by a rod that runs from the rear hub to the front of the rear tire. The major advantage here is that the bike coasts when you stop pedaling, such as descending a hill. Previously bikes had "direct drive" and when you stopped pedaling, you didn't coast, you stopped! (Like a modern fixed-gear bike.) But if a typical fixed-gear bike set-up is converted to being able to coast, there is no ability to stop! So a brake was suddenly essential.

A similar "spoon" type brake was also an additional option for the front tire, actuated by a hand lever.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Model Year Conundrum - 1896 and Today

With the new year, one is reminded of the "model year" aspect of bike sales, which isn't (as it turns out) a new thing.

From the September 17, 1896 issue of Cycling Life

Probably the bicycle trade has now outgrown the necessity for a sharp distinction between models of one year and models of the following year. As a stimulant for new business this distinction has played its part, and a considerable part, in creating and holding the public interest in mechanical improvements and in [bicycle] shows.
Perhaps more a plea from the retail sellers' point of view, it would seem, than anything else. Already in September they state that ~
The large surplus of finished and half finished stock which remains on the hands of our manufacturers labeled with the numeral of 1896 brings the question of the best disposal of the same to the forefront and with it the question of price and production for 1897.

My "good" bike

My own "good" (carbon fiber with Ultegra components - shown above) bicycle is a "2006 Scattante CFR" (carbon fiber race) that I bought on a "year end clearance sale" in February of 2007 at what seemed like a good price. While there were some (very slight) changes in the design of the 2007 models, I was really more interested in the Ultegra components that were unchanged (since 2005, I believe). I do confess to some level of awareness that my now (apparently) four year old style of road bike is woefully out of keeping with present road bike designs but these days I'm looking more back, at older steel frame designs, than forward.

The Cycling Life writer was vexed by the model year situation ~
To accentuate a new year's model as such, so as to rouse the public's curiosity by loud emphasis on the recent date of its design, was among the adequate means for booming the entire cycle industry in its infancy; it was a resource open to all makers alike and of no more benefit to one than another. . . . . . In order to arrive upon a safe and sound basis for the bicycle industry it seems necessary to surrender all fealty to this idea of a fashion-plate regularity in changes . . . . .
I suspect however that the writer was giving far more credit to the introduction of new models with new features in stimulating demand than was accurate - the bicycle boom of the 1890s was driven by a certain segment of society deciding that they wanted bicycles - and could also afford to buy them. The real problem in 1896-97 was that this market was becoming saturated. Unless the prices dropped considerably many who wanted to own a bicycle, or at least a new one, were probably unable to act on this desire. (The issue of the used bicycle market in those days is a topic for another day.)

As an aside, I am once again amused by the prose style of Cycling Life.