Saturday, January 28, 2012

Flat Tire Blues?

Really, though, it wasn't so bad . . . or anyway it could have been worse.

Lately I have been commuting every day on my 30 year old Bridgestone. Two weeks ago, I got ready to go and when I put air in the rear tire, it started coming out faster than I could put it in! The edge of the hole in the wheel that the stem passes through had a rough edge that had made a hole in the rubber of the tire that extends a small way up the stem creating a leak. This was not a "puncture" flat of the usual sort but still, flat tires tend to come in "threes" so I guess I wasn't surprised when yesterday I had a flat tire on the way to work.

Side view
My nice 1982 Bridgestone Sirius, with air in the tires

Before 7 am these days, it is dark out. Plus the weather yesterday was strange - the temperature this early was close to 60 degrees - but rain was threatening so I was pretty sure that stopping to fix a tire was going to increase my chances of getting wet. As it turned out, I was just at where the Four Mile Run trail passes under Route 1 and the GW Parkway near the south end of the airport, so I pulled over between two lights and at least could see what I was doing.

I like to imagine I can fix a flat in ten minutes or less, but it is always more like 15. Off comes the tire and I pull out the tube and mark the tube with my Sharpie as to which side of the tube was which - if I don't do that, then when I find out where the hole is it is just that much more work figuring out if the sharp thing that came through the tire is still there or not. (I never like putting in a fresh tube not knowing what caused a whole in the previous one.) I put some air in the tube and easily found the hole, marked it, then matched it up with the tire and quickly found a very stiff bit of fine wire, say 3/8 inch long, going right through the tire that had punctured the tube. It was nice that there was no damage to the tire at least. Even with Kevlar belts this kind of thing is going to happen, although how this wire had been sitting there on the trail, standing on end waiting for a bike tire to poke into, is hard to imagine. Out comes the wire from the tire, take new tube from tool bag, put wheel back together, fill with air and off I go.

Dirty Hand After Fixing Flat
I guess I should have put on some rubber gloves

Nine riders went by while I worked on my tire - none of the fair weather bike commuters out on a day like this! I was a little disappointed that of the nine, five rode by in silence (like I wasn't there) and only four offered to help with the usual "got what you need?" or similar. Of course, to stop on a day like this would be to increase the chances of getting caught in the rain. Not that we are going to melt . . .

Having fixed my flat about three miles into my ten mile ride, I then took off - I found that the wind was from the south (which is unusual at this time of day) and I made good time, although I didn't make up for the 15 minute "break" in my ride! Still, it was exhilarating. As I crossed the 14th St Bridge, I could see rain off to the north, but I got to work without getting caught in the rain. On the way to my office, after parking my bike in the garage, I looked out a window and was surprised to see water sluicing down the windows from a downpour. I don't mind riding in the rain, but not so much downpours, so even with my stop I managed to avoid that. Good!

Almost immediately after broad adoption of pneumatic tires for bicycles in the late 1880s, people began trying to figure out a way to avoid flat tires and yet have the obvious benefits of that kind of tire (as compared to solid rubber or other sold tires).

Patent 573920 (part a)
An example of an 1896 proposed alternative to the pneumatic tire

So far, however, nothing like to replace the pneumatic tire (and inevitable flat tires) has been developed that is widely used.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bicycling Magazine's Confused View of the 1890s

A recent blog post, titled "19th Century Ride Etiquette for Women" on the Bicycling Magazine site looks at a list of Don'ts for Women Riders published in a Newark newspaper in 1895. Most peculiarly, the blog post leads with a photo of a group of young men with "ordinary" bicycles, otherwise known as "penny farthings". The photo is captioned in this way - "Were the early years of organized cycling a boys club?" (No credit is given for where the photo was found, which is kind of rude but oh well.)

Eight young men with Penny-Farthing bicycles
Eight young men with Penny-Farthing bicycles, from the State Library and Archives of Florida

As a number of the comments with the blog post note, these sorts of bicycles weren't much in use by the time of the 1895 article that is the subject of the blog post - the "safety" or "diamond" [frame] bicycle had displaced it completely in sales and almost completely in use. Certainly women did not start cycling in any significant numbers until the safety became popular. So apparently the Bicycling blogger searched Google images for "penny farthing" as a way to find a suitable "old" image, because a search on "group bicycles penny farthing" will include this image in the first page of hits. Now, it may have been confusing that the Florida librarian who cataloged this indicated, "Photographed in Tallahassee, Florida between 1885 and 1910" but the cataloger wasn't a specialist in bicycle history and presumably based that date range on the known period of time when the particular photographer was active - without better information than that, there isn't much choice. One would think, however, that someone working for Bicycling magazine might know (or be able to find out) what bicycles were common in 1895 and find a corresponding image.

To me even worse than using an image of the wrong sort of bikes is that it would have been easy enough to find an image of women with bikes from the 1890s - a Google image search on women bicycles 1890s brings up images of groups of just women and groups of men and women (and with the right sort of bikes).

Ladies Cycling Club San Jose CA 1895
This is an image (although not a photograph) found by searching Google - women and bicycles in 1895

I also think that casting the newspaper article as "etiquette" isn't particularly accurate - it is far more all encompassing than that, covering virtually every aspect of cycling. One comment suggests that this over-the-top approach surely must have been intended as a joke, but there were plenty of similarly detailed instructional articles and even books written for cyclists in those days. Based on what I have seen, it wasn't even odd to cast an entire body of advice as "don'ts."

The list is pretty long, and for today's reader, many are amusing:

Don't be a fright.
Don't faint on the road.
Don't wear a man's cap.
Don't wear tight garters.
Don't forget your toolbag
Don't attempt a "century."
Don't coast. It is dangerous.
Don't boast of your long rides.
Don't criticize people's "legs."
Don't wear loud hued leggings.
Don't cultivate a "bicycle face."
Don't refuse assistance up a hill.
Don't wear clothes that don't fit.
Don't neglect a "light's out" cry.
Don't wear jewelry while on a tour.
Don't race. Leave that to the scorchers.
Don't wear laced boots. They are tiresome.
Don't imagine everybody is looking at you.
Don't go to church in your bicycle costume.
Don't wear a garden party hat with bloomers.
Don't contest the right of way with cable cars.
Don't chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private.
Don't wear white kid gloves. Silk is the thing.
Don't ask, "What do you think of my bloomers?"
Don't use bicycle slang. Leave that to the boys.
Don't go out after dark without a male escort.
Don't without a needle, thread and thimble.
Don't try to have every article of your attire "match."
Don't let your golden hair be hanging down your back.
Don't allow dear little Fido to accompany you
Don't scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers.
Don't discuss bloomers with every man you know.
Don't appear in public until you have learned to ride well.
Don't overdo things. Let cycling be a recreation, not a labor.
Don't ignore the laws of the road because you are a woman.
Don't try to ride in your brother's clothes "to see how it feels."
Don't scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run.
Don't cultivate everything that is up to date because you ride a wheel.
Don't emulate your brother's attitude if he rides parallel with the ground.
Don't undertake a long ride if you are not confident of performing it easily.
Don't appear to be up on "records" and "record smashing." That is sporty.
Of course this was doubtlessly a list prepared by some man, who was obviously far more concerned with what a woman should not do (in his view) than what a woman should do. Bicycling for Ladies, written by Maria Ward and published in 1896, has a much more positive tone.

Bicycling For Ladies - Cover
She is probably breaking at least ten "don'ts"

Winter Cycling 2012 - Moscow & Seattle

A fellow living on Phinney Ridge in Seattle has posted the video above showing a ride in their recent heavy snow. It is in real time and his camera is bolted to his handlebars; the video is pretty bumpy. It demonstrates that as long as you don't have ice but just slush or snow that isn't too deep, a person can get around by bike. However I know from experience it's pretty tiring and ideally you maintain some speed/momentum in order to push through the stuff.

I used to live in this part of Seattle - at about 1 minute 20 seconds an apartment building appears on the right that we lived in. Beyond the stop light that can be seen at that point is the Woodlawn Park Zoo.

This video is more fun to watch than the Seattle snow video - it is not in real time but sped up four times, also he says he used some feature of YouTube to "stabilize" the images (so not so bumpy). He rides from Krasnye Vorota, somewhat northeast of the Kremlin, to Novokuznetskaia, which looks to be somewhere between four and five kilometers. Unlike Seattle, there are plenty of cars and pedestrians that he shares the road (and the sidewalks) with. Of course part of it is that it is not in real time, but he's got more courage than I have. At about 2 minutes 30 seconds he crosses a bridge over the Moscow river - he rides (as he does most, but not all the time) in road and not on the bridge pedestrian area, which seems pretty risky.

Even with fenders (and the bike isn't shown, so who knows) you would get filthy riding in these conditions - Moscow is famous for the chemical mix used on the streets in winter which contributes a dirty brown "oatmeal" consistency slush. People must be astonished to see someone riding in Moscow in winter.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kickstarter Bicycle Trailer Example

I have to wonder who decides and on what basis to accept the Kickstarter projects that are trying to get some bicycle-related product "kickstarted." Because a lot of them don't seem to be very compelling . . .

The BOB trailer hitch used for this project is part of a bike trailer product line - I assume that our Kickstarter proposal submitter is getting that part of his product from the BOB people and didn't just borrow the design.

Our b.o.b. bicycle trailer
A real BOB trailer, waiting patiently to be needed

The innovative aspect of this Kickstarter proposal is that the cargo area for this particular trailer is in a lockable aluminum box that fits onto the trailer frame. The box can be removed from the frame and the frame can be disassembled and the pieces can travel in the box, which is clever. In Seattle and such places a nice sealed box would be good to protect whatever you want to carry from the weather, but of course one could easily attach a box like this to a standard BOB trailer if one wants.

The proposal is a little disingenuous - you can get a basic BOB trailer for $300 (not the 380 he compares it to), or half the cost of this trailer. So he wants an additional $300 for the box, more or less. It's a nicely made German box, but $300 is kind of steep for what is, after all, an aluminum box.

However the pricing of his product isn't as much of an issue for me as the typical "I need $x,xxx to make this a reality" line with no further explanation of what the funds are needed for. The absurd Bicycle Contrail project proposal that I looked at least had a sorta budget:
Here's where the money will go:
$5,700 A down payment on the tooling to make the housing and the gears.
$2,800 To pay for the first 2000 pieces, half of which will be donated to non-profits.
$1,000 To visit the factory in order to ensure that everything is built to our standards.
$1,500 To help coordinate and promote our first non-profit partnership event.
Here though the statement that $9,000 is needed to built his first 15 copies and get the business started is to be taken as sufficient. (Yeah, I get that $9,000 divided by 15 units is the $600 he quotes for each unit, but for one thing, he doesn't get the entire $9,000 raised.)

I guess I'm being too picky, but I don't see how building 15 of these gets him any further down the road than having built the one prototype as far as having a sustainable manufacturing system on the one hand and someone to sell them for him or a way for him to sell them himself on the other.

The video is curious - it is over nine minutes long, which is pretty long for such a simple product. Turns out to be one-third product explanation and then six minutes of ground-level footage of the trailer bouncing around Seattle streets.

There is also a peculiar factual error in one statement - he says the trailer tracks directly behind the bike. Of course I may not correctly understand what he meant by that, but I take that statement to mean that the trailer tire would be on the same track as the rear tire of the bike, and that isn't possible - if you make a turn, the trailer wheel will track somewhat inside the line followed by the rear bicycle tire. Because the distance between the two wheels is slight, the amount we are talking about here is pretty small, but still, why say that when it isn't correct?

We'll see if he gets funding - the most similar previous Kickstarter project was looking for $35,000 for what was a rather larger scale bike trailer and did get commitments for more than $5,000 but fell quite short of its target.

As compelling as a heavy-lift bike trailer might be, it wasn't funded

Bicycle Trailer Patent (1903)
Bicycle trailers are hardly a new idea, with or without a German box

Monday, January 9, 2012

Peddling Bicycles to America - Book Review

Peddling Bicycles to America: The Rise of an IndustryPeddling Bicycles to America: The Rise of an Industry by Bruce D. Epperson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This seems to be one of those rare cases where the author's eagerness to include much of what he learned in his book diminishes the result. The author obviously knows an incredible amount about the subject - he documents this both in the preface and in the notes and bibliography, but what story is he trying to tell? Based on very last sentence, apparently his main point was to fit bicycle manufacturing history into its proper place between arms manufacturing and automobile mass production. If that's the case, then why did we need so many details about all the members of Albert Pope's extended family?

My review is just as bad as the book in this regard - it assumes you know who Albert Pope is. This in fact is probably the greatest weakness of this book, which is that it is really intended for a specialist audience which seems too bad, since there is so little written on this topic for a more general audience. I think it would have been possible to have the book serve both audiences reasonably well, but that isn't this book.

Epperson debunks various commonly held (in small circles) assumptions or understandings about bicycle production from the 1890s, such as the number of bicycles built and sold by the big companies - it wasn't so many, basically. This seems to be one of his big goals, to correct the record. The book is put forth as a technical and economic history, but I don't quite see how an economic history can spend so little time describing the customers' interests and the market for bicycles generally during this period. Again, it is the "book for specialists" problem. (If this is a problem.)

This is a very interesting book for someone who has already read about this period and knows some of the history but it isn't a very good book for anyone else. Alas.

View my GoodReads list of cycling books and review.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Unprecedented Kickstarter Bicycle Project?

Yeah, this isn't a current Kickstarter proposal but something from a bit over a year ago - but for some reason, I am only noticing it in my search results now. I love perusing Kickstarter projects involving bikes and trying to figure if or why they will or did get funded.

Here's what the project is about ~
We want to encourage people to ride bicycles in their everyday lives, so we invented Contrail.

Contrail turns your bicycle into a paintbrush leaving a temporary mark of your bicycle's path.

You attach it to your bike and as you ride, it leaves a colorful line behind you. When many people ride with Contrail, the result is a colorful path which illustrates where bicycles are riding. We envision artists, non-profits and community organizations using our product to create art, promote their events and celebrate shared spaces.

Contrail uses washable, non-toxic chalking fluid made from eco-friendly pigments. Like a jet's contrail, the lines on the road will fade with time and rain.

So, what they meant wasn't really "community tool" but rather a "community building tool" - by seeing that other bicycles have been out there with their contrails, we would feel community. The benefits are listed (in order or priority, presumably) as "create public art; make biking safer; and, encourage more bicyclists." I don't see how it does anything about the second one and as to the third, it seems more like it encourages existing cyclists, not new ones.

My impression from looking at Kickstarter proposals for bike-related projects is that the video has to make a compelling case and usually "fun" bike projects do better than ones heavily focused on safety. This is certainly a fun project but I am surprised that as many people found the video persuasive - the little chalk lines are hardly noticeable unless you have had 20+ bikes ride by with these units, and is that really going to happen? But the young presenters seem very likable and earnest.

Anyway, how did this work out once they got their money? Apparently it didn't. With Kickstarter, if your proposal is funded, Kickstarter gets the money from the supporters and then takes their cut and the proposal originators get the rest (something over 90 percent). The accountability to do whatever they proposed is apparently pretty minimal. In the comments a year after the funding was achieved, several people write wondering what ever happened, as one put it, "Wow no updates since November 2010?!!!! Did you enjoy the holiday we funded or what?"

They have their own separate web site that does not appear to have been touched since October 2010 when they got their funding.

At any rate, what I meant by "unprecedented" is that there aren't very many truly new ideas related to cycling - one can often find patent applications from over 100 years ago similar to what is supposed to be a new idea today. This does seem to have that going for it - it is a novel idea. Didn't seem to get done, however.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What is a Scorcher (of the 1890s)?

The question came up on another blog as to "what is a scorcher?" in reference to an 1896 pledge by a cyclist not to be one. A cyclist who was a scorcher was commonly understood to ride aggressively at high speeds outside of controlled races risking crashes with other riders, pedestrians, and others. The scorcher was also commonly criticized for his (or her) less than upright seat on the bicycle. (This posture, however, was perfectly OK during a race . . . ) Since the bicycles of the day either had no brakes at all or generally poor ones compared to what we are used to today, the potential for mayhem was that much greater.

A "Scorcher"
A "scorcher" in costume in an 1896 parade in Washington DC

The phrase "scorcher" was well enough known that someone dressed as a devil riding a bike would be understood to be spoofing the idea of being one. This scorcher, however, is sitting up nicely. From the Washington DC Morning Times of July 15, 1896.

Female "scorcher"
A woman could also be a scorcher

Note her aggressive position on the bicycle, not to mention her mannish attire, as portrayed in Dr. Neesen's Book on Wheeling.

And we have this poem from an 1896 issue of the L.A.W Bulletin and Good Roads.

I am the scorcher!
Please observe
The curve
That appertains unto my spine!
With head ducked low
I go
O'er man and beast, and woe
Unto the thing
That fails to scamper when I ting-a-ling!
Let people jaw
And go to law
To try to check my gate.
If that's their game!
I hate
To kill folks, but I'll do it just the same,
I guess,
They clear the track for me;
Because, you see,
I am the scorcher, full of zeal,
And just the thing I look like on the wheel!

The "incorrect" position for riding
The problem with this fellow is his less than upright posture

A rider's "incorrect position" as shown in The Bicycle: Its Selection, Riding and Care from 1892.

Yes, as much as anything, the problem with scorchers seems to have been their aggressive posture, although why it was OK for the race track but not OK on city streets is a mystery.

If You Ride the Wheel, You Have to Fix the Wheel

Fixing the Wheel (of His 1897 Wheel)
Title (apparently given to its by photographer) is "Paying for his fun"

Another photo (that seems to be the only other one digitized) by the mysterious 1890s photographer, F.T. Harmon, who took the two in yesterday's blog entry. I like his sleeve protectors keeping his shirt clean as he polishes up his spokes.

You can see the rear cog in on the wheel - chains were different at this time and there were only half as many teeth on a cog because the chain had a space for a tooth only between every other link.

From the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

1897 Photos Tell a Story

Something about these photos looks staged to me. Pretty surprising to have a fork stem break. Anyway, although probably posed, there he is with his broken bike.

Bike & Elbow (1897)
From the Library of Congress

Now comes along this other fellow, but how he is supposed to help repair a problem like this is difficult to say.

Two Men & Bike (1897)
From the Library of Congress

Taken by one F.T. Harmon in 1897.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Good Looking Classic

PerformanceBike has a nice looking all-weather traditional looking sort of steel frame road bike for only $999. The CroMo Tange steel frame is made in Taiwan and sold by the British company Charge Bikes. For $1,000 the component selection is excellent and it supposedly weights less (just) than 22 pounds with fenders. That's excellent.

Charge Juicer Hi (without mudguards)
A 2010 version of the same bike (with fenders removed)

Here's a typically laudatory review from the British cycling press.

Charge Juicer Hi - Shimano 105
Features good Shimano 105 and other components

About the only thing I don't find so attractive is that it isn't a lugged frame but that probably reduces the weight over my Bridgestone which in many respects is quite similar.

This is a more interesting bike than a lot of the stuff PerformanceBike carries.