Saturday, March 31, 2012

Searching for "Queen of the Wheel"

Even though I'm a librarian, I am often surprised by how difficult it is to find images from cycling history that have been digitized and put on the Internet - particularly when you are pretty sure they are out there!

Looking at David Herlihy's book, Bicycle: the History, one can find many interesting photos from cycling history - if one searches for really interesting ones in the book online and finds them, perhaps nearby will be other interesting cycling history photos - well, it's a theory. Which brings us to "Queen of the Wheel," a photo taking up all of page 413 of Herlihy's book with a caption that says, "'Queen of the Wheel,' copyrighted in 1897 by the Rose Studio of Princeton, New Jersey."

Aha - "copyrighted" - so I thought to myself, perhaps he got this from the Library of Congress, since photos deposited for copyright that are now in the public domain are sometimes digitized and put into PPOC, the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

Queen of the Wheel
Queen of the Wheel from the Library of Congress

Title: Queen of the wheel
Creator(s): Rose Studio, photographer
Date Created/Published: c1897.
Medium: 1 photographic print.
Summary: Photograph shows studio portrait of a partially nude young woman, dressed in white flowing material, sitting on a bicycle, holding a glass of wine.
Library of Congress

So, as it turns out, this was correct - sort of. The Library of Congress has digitized "Queen of the Wheel" but when I looked in the "Illustration Credits" in Herlihy's book, this item is credited not to the Library of Congress but to "The Granger Collection, New York." So, what is that? Their slogan is, "The people, places, things, and events of the past . . . in pictures!" (R) but "Registration at this site is open to professional buyers of pictures only, not the general public." and "At this time we are unable to furnish any illustrations for personal or school use." So for most of us - this is not for us.

What likely happened here is that Granger (or someone) had the item duplicated at the Library of Congress in film and then digitized that reproduction. (I can't be sure that the Granger copy is from the LC item, but it seems most likely - as with all such images-for-sale outfits they aren't going to tell you such things.) In fact, the Library of Congress image is not from the original either, but digitized (as it says in the record) from "b&w film copy neg." One also notes that the record does not include the dimensions of the original item, a cue that the original wasn't even looked at in order to create the digital version. (So, to be clear - LC has the original, but digitized a surrogate to save wear-and-tear on the original.) To sum up - Granger (or someone) at some point in the past bought a film copy for their own use, the Library kept a copy of the negative for itself, and only relatively recently digitized that negative and made it publicly available.

What is amazing to me is that one can go to Granger and purchase digital copies of many such photographs and other visual materials that are in the public domain or you can go to places like PPOC and find high resolution copies that are free. (But remember, as PPOC says in every record, "Rights assessment is your responsibility.") Granger's view is they have a copyrighted interest in these reproductions that they can defend (their image of the image) while the government view is that the government agency (the Library of Congress) does not have any copyright in the reproduction - all rights are associated with the underlying source material (in this case, in the public domain) and not in the government funded reproduction. (Note that I am speaking for LC officially . . . )

For example, Granger will sell you a high resolution copy of the cowboy with a bike that I blogged about recently. Or you can purchase copies of Lewis Hine images of bicycle messengers from the early 20th century, such as the one below, that are freely available in PPOC. (Here are 158 photos of messengers by Lewis Hine, mostly with bicycles - a very compelling, if sad in some cases, set of photographs.) Granger's version of the Shreveport messenger, by the way, is from the color version below that they then converted to grayscale. PPOC has both the color version from a print and a grayscale version from the glass plate negative. The two are cropped somewhat different.

Shreveport Bicycle Messenger (1913)
A Lewis Hine photograph in the public domain at the Library of Congress

Title: Fourteen year old messenger #2 Western Union, Shreveport. Says he goes to the Red Light district all the time. See Hine report on Messengers. Location: Shreveport, Louisiana.
Creator(s): Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Date Created/Published: 1913 November.
Medium: 1 photographic print.
1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in.
Library of Congress

A final mystery - Granger's title for the photograph "Queen of the Wheel" is "One for the Road" and they give the publication date as 1900, both clearly wrong. So even though Herlihy got the image from Granger, he then corrected their citation information. Strange.

My search for Queen of the Wheel was kind of a dead end - the only digitized photograph from this "Rose Studio" in PPOC is this one. And I still don't know if it was created as some sort of 1890s erotica or if it was to serve as the inspiration for one of the many stylish bicycle company posters of the time, such as this one below (with a man, for a change).

Orient Bicycles Poster
Orient cycles lead the leaders

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Bicycles (Book Review)

On Bicycles: 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your LifeOn Bicycles: 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life by Amy Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of fifty four-to-eight page essays on various aspects of bicycling, organized in four sections. The essays in the first section, "All the right reasons," are the part of the boom intended for those who may be new(er) to subject of "bike culture" (which I take to mean urban cycling as a significant part of one's lifestyle). Otherwise I think the intended audience would be people who have some knowledge and interest but want to know more - a blurb states, "the 'Whole Earth Catalog' of bicycle culture for the current era."

The editor, Amy Walker, is a co-founder of a cycling "lifestyle magazine," Momentum Magazine, that advocates "smart living by bike." Momentum is a little too youthful for my taste but this book is broader than that. Walker also wrote several of the essays.

The essays are good, and reasonably thoughtful. I came away with some new information and some new things to think about, which I like. The essay "Cycling for all abilities and needs" makes good points about problems with the so-called vehicular cycling approach for many folks, for example.

I had heard of some of the authors - Jeff Mapes, author of Pedaling Revolution, has several essays here.

Even though the book was published in 2011, some of it is already somewhat out of date. A chapter on bike sharing is probably the most glaring example, but an essay about bikes with internal hubs (that remove potentially messy and complicated derailleurs from the bicycling equation) describes a lack of popularity for these hubs that is not nearly so true now.

Perhaps the only complaint I have is that the underlying feeling is almost like this bicycle culture lifestyle is a religion that will require conversion and a significant commitment, when I know from personal experience that you can move in this direction more slowly if that is more appealing - and economical. On the other hand, nothing in any of the essays seemed completely outlandish or annoying and much was interesting or entertaining.

View my list of cycling books and reviews

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Americans & Narrow Tires in the 1890s

It is not so easy to come up with certain kinds of historical information about cycling, but mass digitization of many out-of-copyright books has certainly offered up material to plow through looking.

Single Tube Cycle Tire (example)
The basic (really basic) view of the single-tube tire, popular in America

In reading Peddling Bicycles to America recently I came to understand that most Americans in the 1890s and into the 20th century used "single tube tires" but I really didn't understand much about them - But I then found Pneumatic tires, automobile, truck, airplane, motorcycle, bicycle: an encyclopedia of tire manufacture, history, processes, machinery, modern repair and rebuilding, patents, etc., etc. ... in Google books, by Henry Clemens Pearson, published by the India Rubber Publishing Co. in 1922. While it talks a great deal about car, truck, and other tires, it also has a section about bicycle tires.

It starts with this introduction:
History Of The Bicycle Tire

The history of bicycle tires has not been studied as carefully as it deserves, because the majority is not so much interested in historical development as in actual results. Inventors and a few who are students by nature may be interested, but they generally prefer to read their history at first hand, which is in the patent office reports.
Ah yes, actual results. After some discussion of this and that, it continues:
The Single-tube Tire In America

. . . Nevertheless, it was not the Morgan & Wright tire, built by tire specialists, but the Hartford tire [a single-tube tire], built by a bicycle manufacturing company, that ultimately triumphed in America. The reason for this lies partly in the love of Americans for fast riding and partly in their mechanical aptitude and ability to handle tools. While the Europeans were riding 2-inch double tubes, held on by wires in France, and by beaded edges in Germany, and by both methods in England, the tendency in the United States was wholly toward single tubes of even smaller diameters, it having been found that a small single tube, pumped hard, is the fastest of all for road use. The Tillinghast Tire Association, which controlled the manufacture of all single tubes, finally produced an article which represented the high-water mark in bicycle tire making, in resilience, cheapness, beauty and speed. For anybody with deft fingers, it was also the easiest of all to repair, and this fact appealed strongly to the American.
So, the theory that thinner tires inflated to a higher pressure will encourage going faster - lower rolling resistance - than fatter tires inflated less goes all the way back to the 1890s. (Of course this says nothing about the accuracy of the theory, just that it is of long standing.)

Fisk Single Tube
Above, a single-tube tire, mounted on a rim - no clinching!

Then there are more somewhat complex ruminations about the European use of something other than single-tube tires . . . mostly included here for the slightly amusing categorization of the mechanical aptitude of various nationalities.
Though American single tubes invaded Europe and found hosts of friends, on account of their many virtues, the question of their repair could never be mastered by either the British or the Continentals. Could the Tillinghast Association have set up repair shops at convenient places throughout Europe, single tubes might have swept the world as they did America. Even despite hostile tariffs, they were sold in Europe cheaper than the home made kind. There were only 200 single-tube tires made in United States in 1891, while 1,250,000 were sold in 1896. In England the single tube was cultivated during the early years, the Avon Rubber Company being most successful; then, too, the W. &. A. Bates Company was using plugs for its tires in 1892; so that the repair of single tubes by the regulation method has been known in England as long as in America. The British are tolerably quick with tools, and the reason that the double-tube tire survived in the United Kingdom is probably to be found in the prevalence of hedge thorns on the English roads. These hedge thorn pricks are easily stopped with the thick repair fluids which were later developed here in America; and had the English known of this method early in the day, the single tube might have had a different history there. There are no hedges in France, and the avowed reason of the failure of the single tube there was the inability of the French to repair it. Another reason was probably due to the great influence of the Dunlop company there, no less than to the great growth of the Michelins. Even to this day, the wired-on tire is the dominant type in France.

Dunlop Clincher
A British "clincher"

The book then includes, apparently for amusement, a photograph of the largest tricycle in the world (and its tires) described in an earlier post - this photo is different than the one I used that came from a magazine of 1897.

Vim Tired Bike (from a 1922 book)
Poor quality due to low quality original and Google book digitization processes - the immense Vim tire sales aid, a nine-man tricycle

It is of course difficult for the non-specialist (that is, me) to be sure I am understanding what is suggested by all this, but it is still entertaining on some level. The more things stay the same, the more things . . . stay the same. Or so it seems reading this.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Tire Change - Front & Rear Wear

Before the winter was "scheduled" to start (which never appeared here in Arlington VA) I switched my tires on my "bad weather" bike. Because of the mild not-very-winterish weather and because of some trouble with my steel road bike, I ended up riding my carbon fiber Scattante commuting more than I would have expected. I did spend a lot of time cringing, because there seemed to be considerable amounts of broken glass lately on the trails, but I think I only had one flat on this bike - actually, I don't think I had any on this bike at all, but that can't be possible, can it?

As spring has sprung, I was eyeballing the Scattante's tires after another week riding it every day and observed that the front tire, while having plenty of rubber, looked like a grit magnet - see below. Small bits of stuff that have stuck to the tire over time have opened up small holes but perhaps more worrisome, the tire surface has a grainy aspect (not so visible in the photo) that doesn't look the way one would want a bike tire to look.

Michelin Pro-Race 3 23 x 700 road tire, mounted on front

Anyway - this is the front tire. When I last switched tires on this bike, I decided to have one manufacturer's tire on the front and a completely different tire on the back. Michelin road tires, when new, are very rounded, so that without a rider, the bike sits up on a very narrow strip of tire. Of course, with a rider, this flattens out - still, in my mind this seems good for lowering so-called "rolling resistance." However these Michelin tires, when mounted on the rear, wear out that raised area at a terrific rate, so that rotating front-to-back (and back-to-front) just means that much of the time you have at least one tire if not two with significant center-line wear.

So I was at Performance Bike and I saw these Vredestein Fortezza SE tires for thirty dollars. As a road tire, these were a but odd looking compared to the Michelins I have used - a very flat surface meets road, even new, even without a rider. In my idiosyncratic thinking, it seems reasonable for the rear tire to be flat(er) since it is providing the traction to push the bike (and rider) down the road. And after a not while, based on my experience, it will be flat anyway, so why not just start that way? So I bought a couple of these tires and put one on the back the same time as a new Michelin Pro-Race 3 on the front.

Vredestein Fortezza SE after a couple of thousand miles on rear

I guess Vredestein makes serious road tires, but this "Fortezza SE" model is something that is peculiar to Performance, near as I can tell. That isn't necessarily bad - and after all, my Scattante is a Performance Bike house brand bike, although none (zero) of the group are Performance house brand stuff, just the frame. But I thought I might get only so-so results. In fact, I figured I would end up replacing the Fortezza on the rear relatively quickly, but instead I have decided to replace both the front and the back tires at the same time. Mostly the Fortezza looks better than the Michelin on the front - it certainly doesn't have all those holes. Whatever it is made of sheds grit more consistently. But there is this one spot (visible in photo), and another smaller one (not in photo), where the rubber has worn through so you can see the material below. Uh-oh! And checking with a caliper, about 1/3 or more of the material in the center area of the tire is worn off generally. So it's time to change this tire, but I have gotten pretty good results from it, I think.

The new Vredestein Fortezza SE mounted on the rear

The Vredestein, for whatever reason, has a somewhat pebbly pattern when new down the middle and some fine angled tread-like lines in the blue area just next to the rubber in the center - this helps give some sense of tire wear but contributes nothing to traction (I assume) but isn't enough to slow things down, either.

1890s bike tires were mostly smooth, and in those days the early tires with any tread used that as a marketing feature.

The "pebble tread" explained (1896 bike tire ad)
Part of a VIM tire ad from 1897, praising the "pebbled tread"

Of course, the VIM tire people were very big on clever marketing - they were the ones who built the giant tricycle that required nine "riders" to operate it as a way to push their product.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Different Views of Women & Cycling, the 1890s in Stereographs

The Start
The rider's attire, typical for at least some women riders of this time, but still regarded by some as unorthodox

It's unclear where the above photo was taken.

Title: The start
Creator(s): American Stereoscopic Company.,
Date Created/Published: c1897.
Medium: 1 photographic print on stereo card : stereograph.
Summary: Woman standing with bicycle.
Library of Congress
Full record

Capitol and Fountain
Were the women with umbrellas connected with the women with bicycles?

The women in this photo who one assumes are cyclists, with the bicycles, are dressed more conventionally. Perhaps that is because they are in Washington, D.C.

Title: Capitol and Fountain, Washington, D.C.
Date Created/Published: c1896.
Medium: 1 photographic print on stereo card : stereograph.
Summary: Group of women, some with umbrellas or bicycles, by spraying fountain; Capitol in background.
Library of Congress
Full record

Sew Your Own Buttons
Presumably to be considered humor

Perhaps because this was a posed photograph, the bicycle depicted is not a "step-through" but a man's frame. And, although it is a little hard to be that sure, it seems too large for the woman holding it. Since she is wearing a conventional dress, she would have trouble riding a bike like this - not just because of the dress and tube but because her skirt would get caught in the rear wheel - bicycles for women wearing long dresses would include a "net" over the fender to the center of the rear wheel that would keep clothing out of the wheel, which is missing here.

Title: Woman in a room with a bicycle saying to a man and child, "Sew on your own buttons, I'm going for a ride"
Date Created/Published: c1899.
Medium: 1 photographic print on stereo card : stereograph.
Library of Congress
Full record

Book Review: Wide-Eyed and Legless

Wide-Eyed and Legless: Inside the Tour de FranceWide-Eyed and Legless: Inside the Tour de France by Jeff Connor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb on the cover says, "The No. 1 Cycling Book of All Time" (according to Cycle Sport magazine). Well, that is a little extreme - it is certainly high up on the list for readable books about the Tour de France or professional bicycle racing, but it also has certain technical drawbacks . . .

Team ANC Halfords 1986
ANC-Halfords Race Team in 1986, the year before the book describes

This book was originally published in 1988 and described the Tour race of 1987 - the author was a journalist and the British race team, ANC-Halfords, agreed to let him be with the team full time to cover the race. This was ANC-Halfords first (and last) participation in the Tour de France and they weren't really ready for the race - they didn't have good enough riders and they didn't have good enough financial (and therefore technical) support. The team ended up letting Connor drive some of their vehicles because they ran out of people to do so - his perspective is more like that of a technical support person than a journalist.

And in fact, his being so much a part of an unsuccessful team is the main drawback of the book, if one is looking for a description of how a team works to win or compete in the Tour. ANC-Halfords lost three riders not too far into the race (and only four riders finished out of nine) so they rarely had anything like strategy or tactics - they didn't have the riders.

On the other hand, the writing if good and it can be amusing to read an account of a failed effort, too, if it is done right, and this mostly is.

Apparently since there is greater interest in the Tour de France, in particular British riders, a publisher in the UK decided to republish a new edition in 2011. There is a short new foreward but otherwise it is the same as the 1988 edition.

View my list of cycling books and reviews

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cowboys on Bikes? A View in 1897

The other day I was looking for this in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog and found something else. But after some more browsing of search results I eventually found (again) this rather fanciful depiction of a cowboy of the 1890s with a faithful bicycle rather than a utilitarian horse.

As far as I know, this has no connection with western reality at all

Title: Golden Gate, sunset in the Yellowstone Park
Creator(s): Knapp Co. Lith.,
Date Created/Published: c1897.
Medium: 1 print : chromolithograph.
Summary: Print shows a man, with a bicycle to which a rifle is fastened, standing on a mountain path, watching a stagecoach on a lower trail; waterfalls in background.
Full record

On the rock it says (somewhat obscured): The Recollection of Quality Remains Long After the Price Has Been Forgotten.
Update: A reader (another Mike) sent an email (since he couldn't get the comments to work) providing a possible explanation: I am wondering if the "cowboy" in the 1897 Yellowstone lithograph you posted on your blog might be associated with the Spaulding Company. In 1896, an Army lieutenant named Moss and eight soldiers, all part of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps rode their bicycles in the Park as part of an experiment for the Army. They rode donated Spaulding wheels and Moss wrote a booklet about the trip that was published by Spaulding. The inscription on the rock makes me think the lithograph was an ad. You might enjoy a blog I've created about Moss and the riders. It can be reached at
The one depiction of western cowboy-type characters of this period with a bicycle would be the "bicycle scene" with Paul Newman and Catherine Ross in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which depicts this time exactly, the late 1890s. However the bicycle in that scene is a diversion, for entertainment, and not part a means of serious transport. (Just the opposite, it is an opportunity for lighthearted amusement.)

Bicycle scene from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

The bicycle does look like a bicycle from this period would have (or could have) appeared - in fact, the basic bicycle is much the same as the one with the cowboy, above, except for the rifle and the sleeping roll. Well, and the cowboy's bike has a brake for the front wheel.

The one likely inaccuracy is that Butch's bike would have likely either had a fixed gear (that is, when the rear wheel turns, the pedals turn and vice-versa) or if it had a freewheel hub of some kind and could coast, there would be a hand actuated brake such as is shown with the cowboy, who has a "spoon brake" that uses a rod to drive a "spoon" shaped bit of metal against the tire to brake. It would have been a bit much for Mr. Newman to ride a bike with a fixed gear system, and anyway when this movie was made it would have been difficult to find such a thing, other than a track bike. And this is pretty much a detail.

At any rate, Butch and Etta had fun with their bike, which seems to have been much of what they were used for in the 1890s . . . fun.

Cycles Clément, Paris, Poster (1898)

As presented in the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog this item was scanned in two parts and it presented as two images - it isn't so easy to appreciate.

I have stitched together images of the top and bottom half of the poster

Descriptive record ~
Title: Cycles Clément, Paris; Pneu Dunlop / / PAL.
Creator(s): Paleologue, Jean de, b. 1855, artist
Date Created/Published: Paris : Caby & Chardin, Imprimeurs, [1898]
Medium: 1 print (poster) : lithograph, color ; 152 x 107 cm.
Summary: Advertising poster for bicycles showing a woman wearing a Gallic rooster on her head and carrying a laurel wreath in one hand and a bicycle her other hand and wearing winged sandals on her feet.
Full record

There is a Wikipedia article about Clément-Bayard that describes his bicycle company briefly - over time he manufactured "bicycles, pneumatic tyres, motorcycles, automobiles, aeroplanes and airships." Apparently he had an agreement to make Dunlop pneumatic tires under license, which is included in the poster as "pneu Dunlop."

I understand that the "Gallic rooster" is a symbol of France, but it seems unusual to have him perched on the woman's head.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cyclist vs Man on Horse

As sometimes happens, while searching for something I saw in passing earlier in the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog I am unable to find what I had in mind but instead find something else.

From time to time one reads about "bike vs horse" races - this French poster advertises such a race between Samuel Franklin Cody (who took Wild Bill Cody's surname but was not related, it seems) and a French bicycle racer in 1893. This Cody was quite a character - at any rate, Wikipedia notes that, "While touring Europe in the mid-1890s, Cody capitalized on the bicycle craze by staging a series of horse vs. bicycle races against famous cyclists. Cycling organizations quickly frowned on this practice, which drew accusations of fixed results." So he moved on to other types of spectacles (that didn't involve bicycles).

Bike vs Horse, 1893 (bottom of poster)
Bottom of poster, scanned in two parts

Description from the Library of Congress:
Title: Hippodrome du Trotting Club Levallois - grand match en 12 heures: S. F. Cody Jr., le gd. tireur, célèbre cowboy du wild west, contre Meyer, le entraîneur terront, St. Petersbourg à Paris.
Date Created/Published: Paris : Émile Lévy & Cie., 1893.
Medium: 1 print (poster) : lithograph, color ; 194 x 93 cm.
Summary: Advertising poster for a race between S. F. Cody on horseback and French cycling champion, Meyer of Dieppe, on bicycle.
Full record

For some reason it was scanned in two parts. Also, the images were skewed so I straightened them (more or less) and cropped the targets out.

Bike vs Horse, 1893 (top of poster)
The top of the poster

Apparently this tradition continues - as recently as August of last year, Thomas Voeckler (who had placed fourth in the Tour de France) raced a trotter (a horse pulling a rider on a sulky) in three heats, losing two of them. According to a French source, "duels between professional cyclists and horses are not rare and generally turn to the advantage of the quadrupeds." Maybe in France . . .

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Urban Biking Handbook (Book Review)

The Urban Biking Handbook: The DIY Guide to Building, Rebuilding, Tinkering with, and Repairing Your Bicycle for City LivingThe Urban Biking Handbook: The DIY Guide to Building, Rebuilding, Tinkering with, and Repairing Your Bicycle for City Living by Charles Haine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Urban biker" can be considered to be like "cycling hipster," thus the intended audience for this book are younger urban types who would be interested in getting in this growing kind of cycling. (Perhaps it isn't growing - that's just my assumption.)

The book isn't about this kind of bike fashonista but more the grungy sort of cycling urban type o'person

The lengthy sub-title of this book is "the DIY guide to building, rebuilding, tinkering with, and repairing your bicycle for city living." As is often the case with comprehensive guides that are only several hundred pages (and which have lots of photos) this is more like "here are some issues to know about and some reading to start with" to give a flavor of all the what's what, then you can go to the Internet and search for more detailed information as may be needed (or talk to a cycling friend). A book that spends one quarter of its length simply introducing the basic parts of a bicycle obviously isn't going to have much detail on "building, rebuilding and tinkering with" a bike - only a few problems are presented fairly clearly and fully. Many bicycle owners would end up in a "but my bike isn't like that" situation. There is quite a bit of detail on fixie conversion, including a table for teeth in the cog and the ring to achieve a particular gear ratio, but this is the sort of thing where I'm doubtful anyone would be relying on this book alone - but it can't hurt.

Unlike Urban Bikers' Tricks & Tips that I read recently, this presents a much more sensible approach towards motorist-cyclist relations and doesn't advocate idiotic behavior - this book recommends, "know the law, and follow it" and says, "your first job as a cyclist is to keep yourself alive and do no harm to the image of cyclists." Good! (Bizarrely my local public library in Arlington Va has eight copies of the hideous "Urban Bikers' Tricks & Tips" and only three copies of this title. But at, you can get the first title for five bucks new and the good one costs three times as much, all of $15. You get what you pay for?)

The "Tricks & Tips" book reminds me of this video - at about 5:40 in the video there are examples labeled "never do this," some of which are recommended in the book!

Anyway - back to the book Urban Biking Handbook - it has a lot of color photography - some is to provide flavor (of urban cycling) but most of the photographs are to illustrate something in the text. Some of the examples aren't ones I would choose and somehow the photo of a caliper brake is labeled as center pull brake and on the previous page one finds a photo of a center pull brake that is labeled caliper brake - but both photos are too close in to properly show the differences well in any event. So while the photography is pretty, it isn't always as helpful as one might hope.

View my list of cycling books and reviews

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lawyer Lips, Cams & Skewers

rusty rear derailleur
For much of cycling history, a simple nut was fine for most bikes to keep the wheels on

One of the things I most appreciate about bicycles is that the basic design of the "safety bicycle" developed in the 1890s is highly efficient and has come down to today as what most people recognize as your basic bicycle. Of course, in 100-years there have been some nominal improvements, some good and some not so good. The ones that are often not so good are those that are the most significant departure from basic simplicity and elegance of design.

Which brings me to "lawyer lips," cams, and skewers. You need some kind of fastener to hold the wheel's axle to the bicycle in the "dropouts" that are a metal slot for the axle to fit into (and to "drop out" of when not tightened). For many years, as shown above, the simple design was a threaded end to the axle, a washer, and a nut that could be tightened.

Two kinds of bicycle skewers
The two types of skewers to hold your wheel on your bike

The problem with this, of course, is that it required carrying a tool to loosen the nut to take the wheel of to make repairs. So the "quick release" skewer was invented. Sheldon Brown has gone to the trouble to describe the two types of skewers in detail, so I will try not to duplicate his efforts, but suffice to say that the first version, the "enclosed cam" skewer (the upper one in the photo above), is considered to be superior in holding power to the "exposed cam" skewer, a later design believed to be cheaper to produce but marketed as being lighter in weight, thus ringing the bell of cyclists for whom lighter is always better.

Snow and Bike on Gravelly Pt
My experience with exposed cam skewers intersects with disk brakes on this
Traitor (yeah that's a company name) Ruben bike

A few years ago, while forgetting that simple design is generally better, I decided that this Traitor Ruben would be a wonderful replacement for my long-serving REI heavy steel commuter bike for riding in bad weather. And the Avid BB-7 disk brakes do provide excellent stopping mostly (except when they don't, but that's a separate blog post) in rainy weather, which is nice. So I bought the thing.

Rear fork - skewer removed
One could argue this does not look like "simple design" - anyway, as shown the skewer is removed showing the dropout more clearly

So now we get to "lawyer lips" - as it turns out, Wikipedia even has an article on "lawyer lips", explaining that they are "tabs fitted to the fork ends on the front fork of bicycles . . . to prevent a wheel from leaving the fork if the quick release skewer comes undone." Sheldon Brown also has an entry in his glossary about "lawyer lips" that is useful for background. The "lawyer" part is that if the fork has such lips, then you probably aren't going to be able to sue the manufacturer when you have an accident after a wheel falls off, because the manufacturer can show they did everything possible to prevent that happening even when the skewer is loose.

Front fork - single "lawyer lip"
The Traitor Ruben front fork has one "lawyer lip" - enough, I guess

Unfortunately however the disk brake on the back introduces another wrinkle. The disk brake, when applied, generates considerable torque that tries to stop the bike, but also given the way the dropout is oriented on this thing, to yank the wheel out of the dropouts. About a year ago I had this happen and I thought the problem was that a bike shop had not tightened the skewer properly. The other day it happened again and I did a little reading (thanks Internet!) and realized this is more likely a design problem. The dropout is oriented poorly, exacerbating the problem (I think), plus they could have lawyer lips for the back dropout (although that is apparently not much done, if at all) and finally they used the crummy skewers.

There isn't much I can do about the dropout orientation or the lack of lips, but I have replaced the skewer with an enclosed cam skewer. So, safe to ride?

Rear brakes
The brake should have been put on the lower chain stay, and not the seat stay, so the torque would automatically seat the axle in the dropouts, even with a loose skewer

I now think of this bike as my "purchase in haste, repair at leisure" bike. Live and learn. . .

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bicycle Sheet Music From the 1890s

The Music Division folks at the Library of Congress have a blog with a new blog post about an 1895 musical composition (sheet music) called "The Bloomer March."

Bloomer Bicycle Sheetmusic
"To the Cycling Women of America" from one M. Florence in 1895

As is often the case for someone who can't read music and hum the tune, the cover art is more interesting than the music. So while this two-step march may evoke the spirit of women riding in bloomers, it has no words. Trying to locate other songs in the collection that are cycling-related is difficult because the records do not have subject headings connected to what the songs are about, leaving only keyword searching of the titles. (The words of those with lyrics are also not searchable.)

But a simple search of "bicycle" did turn up another song, The Bicycle Race", from the same year - and it turns out to focus also on women in bloomers. This time there is no cover art, but there are lyrics.

Bicycle Race Sheetmusic
"The Bicycle Race" (1895) - a PDF of the full song with lyrics is here

Some of the lyrics:
The Bicycle girls, they had a great race.
They went out on Clannigan Street, They dressed in their blue and grey bloomer suits.
Oh my but where they a sight.
The people were saying, which one will win, the blue or the grey bloomer girls.
The blue or the grey, the blue or the grey, the blue or the grey bloomer girls.

The song does not have a happy outcome:
'Tis sad to relate, the end of the race.
Those jolly bicycle girls, they ran in the fence and things got dense.
The blue and the grey got mixed.
So they never could tell which one won the race, the blue or the grey bloomer girls.
The blue or the grey, the blue or the grey, the blue or the grey bloomer girls.

This is the only song online available from the woman who wrote the music and lyrics, Ella Herman (and who also published it).

Trying to think of a modern song related to cycling reveals mostly that I am not familiar with modern songs, because the song that eventually comes to mind is 35 years old.

OK, here is a song only a year old that is not only about bicycles, but bicycle commuting! Good . . .