Saturday, February 23, 2013

Finding Lucien Lesna, French Cyclist

I browse bicycle-related items in the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) from time to time. Sometimes it is not that easy, given the descriptive metadata provided, to understand what or who some photographs are.

Lucien Lesna, French Cyclist (1898)
Identified in this Copyright deposit simply as "Lesna"

I happened upon this photo that came to the Library originally as a copyright deposit, presumably from the photographer's studio ("Van Norman Studio" that is applied to the photo). The only description that the Prints & Photographers had was his name, Lesna, which they did work out was his name.

Here is the minimalistic but better-than-nothing descriptive portion of record in PPOC:
Title: Lesna / Van Norman.
Creator(s): Van Norman, George H., photographer
Date Created/Published: c1898.
Medium: 1 photographic print.
Summary: Lesna on bicycle.

Now before I move on to what else I learned about Mr. Lesna (and how I learned it), a comment about this image. In the record, it says: Reproduction Number : LC-USZ62-99752 (b&w film copy neg.) What this means is that this image was not produced from the original photograph that was deposited at the Library of Congress but that at some point (decades ago, most likely) someone paid to have a copy made of that photograph for which there is a "b&w film copy neg."[ative] and that negative was digitized. This is a reproduction of a copy, not the original.

Also, the only JPEG provided on the Library of Congress site is a not-terribly-good 37 kb version - if you look at it closely, there are haloing artifacts and general mushiness. This was done years ago when smaller JPEGs seemed like a good idea for speedy delivery. If you look at the JPEG I produced with IrfanView from the TIFF that is also available on the LC site, it also has some mushiness issues (likely reflecting the copy negative and not the original) but you can certainly make out more detail. The smaller version embedded in this page looks nicely sharp compared to the slightly larger (in height/width in pixels) 37 kb LC version. So . . . it may be worthwhile if you want to look at details to use the TIFF (or create your own derivative) and not rely on the LC JPEG. But with a digital reproduction of a photographic reproduction you are only going to get so much detail in any event.

Lesna JPEG image detail
Haloing in LC JPEG visible around writing and spokes

So, knowing only that this was someone named Lesna who was in one of many towns named Springfield in the U.S. around 1898, how did I learn more? Like any sensible person, I started with Wikipedia. Simply searching "Lesna" brings up various towns - "Lesna" means "spring" (the season) in several Slavic languages and apparently is used for a town name. Searching "lesna cyclist" locates articles about several French bicycle races from the right time period where someone named "Lucien Lesna" won, for example Bordeaux-Paris in 1901. Alas Lucien Lesna has no article in Wikipedia - or rather, in the English Wikipedia. But in the French version there is a short article listing some of his victories (but no biographic info). And it has the same photo from LC. (The person who put it into Wikicommons also decided the LC JPEG was crummy and he or she produced a JPEG about the same size as the one I ended up with. Ha.)

With this knowledge that Lesna was a French cyclist, how did he come to be photographed in one of the many Springfields? Presumably he was on a racing tour of America. And in fact, a search of Chronicling America brings up this page with this headline: "MORE RECORDS SMASHED Michael Defeats Lesna in the Great Twenty-Mile Race. The Frenchman Makes a Gallant Fight" that is datelined "Springfield, Mass." September 16, 1897. (So apparently the photographer only deposited at LC the following year.)
Fifteen thousand people howled Jimmie Michael, the Welsh wonder, around the track at the bicycle races this afternoon for twenty miles until he finished over an eighth of a mile ahead of his rival, Lucian Lesna, and established a world's record for sixteen miles and upwards. The contest was a beautiful exhibition of bicycle riding and Michael's superior pacing and fine head work contributed to his victory.

Illustration for article in San Francisco Call about Lesna

Another article in the The San Francisco Call from June 4, 1897 describes his arrival in America from Australia.
LUCIEN LESNA, CHAMPION CYCLER - He Is the Greatest Long Distance Rider in the World. Arrived Here Yesterday From a Successful Pilgrimage to Australia. Can Ride Twenty Miles at a Two Minute Gait,and Now Holds All Australian Records - Lucien Lesna, the champion cyclist of France and also the champion long-distance rider of the world, arrived here yesterday morning on the steamer Mariposa from Australia and is stopping at the Palace.
Thanks in part to Mr. Lesna's uncommon name and in part to the large amount of newspaper content digitized and searchable, it is possible to find out rather a lot!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Contented Woman Cyclist (1896 Poster)

Ride a Stearns [bicycle] and be content (1896)
Ride a Stearns [bicycle] and be content

From the Library of Congress' poster collections.

Title : Ride a Stearns and be content / J. Ottmann Lith. Co., Puck Bld'g, N.Y.
Creator(s): Penfield, Edward, 1866-1925, artist
Date Created/Published : [1896]
Medium : 1 print (poster) : chromolithograph ; 152 x 116 cm.
Summary : Poster advertising Stearns bicycles, showing a woman cyclist.
Reproduction Number : LC-USZC4-6645 (color film copy transparency)

This is a scan of a color transparency copy of the original and not a direct scan of the original item. I have cropped and rotated the image that is on the LoC site, which is here.

what is not so clear to us today from the poster is that the rider is coasting - since this is a "fixed gear" where is no coasting with feet on the pedals. In order to coast, you put your feet up on small posts on either side of the fork (that are not visible, but are there) while the pedals continue to go around.

A clearer image of coasting from 1896

In the example above, you can see that this bike does have a single brake for the front wheel, which is a "spoon brake" that is activated by a rod that presses down against the front tire. Trying to stop a coasting bike that didn't have a brake would involve somehow getting your feet back on the spinning pedals - not so easy.

Bicycling For Ladies - Cover
Another woman rider coasting - she looks happier than just "content"

Monday, February 18, 2013

Argyle Armada: Behind the Scenes of the Pro Cycling Life (Book Review)

Argyle Armada: Behind the Scenes of the Pro Cycling LifeArgyle Armada: Behind the Scenes of the Pro Cycling Life by Mark Johnson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mark Johnson is a journalist and photographer for VeloNews, part of the same company that published this book. He is certainly well qualified to write something like this. The short description is that Johnson was "embedded" with the Garmin-Cervelo team for the 2011 pro cycling race season, taking photographs and interviewing riders, coaches, and others as the season progressed, then publishing the results as this coffee table book. Johnson says nothing controversial (at least from the team's point of view) and in the preface Johnson notes, "Neither Slipstream [the team's parent company] nor Garmin commissioned this book, but it is nevertheless an outgrowth of my long relationship with the team as a freelance writer and photographer." So this is not anything like Wide Eyed and Legless (from 1988) where an "embedded" journalist had much to say about a British team's Tour de France campaign that the team was probably unhappy about.

Most of the book's chapters are a chronological presentation of the season, starting with training and ending with the Vuelta and races in Quebec and Montreal. A final chapter, in some ways more interesting than the rest of it, is called "the business of pro cycling" that lays out in more detail than one might expect the economics of Garmin-Cervelo operations. The book runs about 200 pages with somewhat over half the space devoted to photographs rather than text. There is a good index, which is helpful in something like this.

This team is known for its unusual approach to fighting doping and that it started its anti-doping more aggressively and openly earlier than most teams. The team director, Jonathan Vaughters, talks about this generally and the topic comes up in different parts of the book. Even though things have changed with fallout from Lance Armstrong's confession, those parts of the book seem relevant.

While I was happy to get this book from the library and to page through it looking at the photos, it took me a long time to get through all of the text (which I eventually decided I should read from start to finish). Johnson's writing seems a bit stiff in this extended book-length presentation compared to his usual much shorter news items in VeloNews. Also Johnson of course had no control over the flow of the season and much of team's greatest successes came early - the narrative doesn't build to some particular success (or for that matter, failure). I also have some quibbles with the photographs - many are action shots using very wide angle lenses which I (personally) don't like all that much and because there are so many photos in what is a small-ish coffee table format book many group shots are reduced to small sizes that make me wonder if it wouldn't have been better to have fewer larger photos.

The last chapter and comments throughout the book make clear the importance of the business aspects of this team (and one assumes, to a greater or lesser degree, other teams). The mention in various places of efforts to provide special services and activities for sponsor representatives, for example. And the analysis by Vaughters of how valuable the team is for its sponsors relative to the absolute dollar cost of the team compared to other teams - Garmin was a low cost team compared to the highest spending teams but was in fourth place (out of 18) for "sporting value." Somewhat complex financial issues are laid out - for example, rider salaries are a huge part of the operational cost of cycling teams and Garmin relies on a balanced approach and avoids paying "star" salaries - this also means that if they lose a star rider who has "points" that count towards the team's WorldTour points total (that is vital to it keeping its team license) the team will not be endangered in staying part of the circuit, which is good for all the riders (and something they understand).

Johnson has a video about this on the VeloNews site.

View my reviews of cycling books.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

OK Why DId I Believe Lance ?

I was surprised to see an extensive story in the NYTimes about people who had different things related to Livestrong tattooed onto themselves and what these people think about having done that given that Lance is a cheat (to use the shortest possible summary of his situation). Apparently the "Lance story" (or Lance stories) is not going away any time soon. (The folks with Livestrong tattoos state that the tattoos are about cancer survival, not Lance. By the way.)


I started thinking about why back in the early 2000s, when I was paying some (although not that much) attention to Armstrong and the Tour de France annual victory that I believed he wasn't doping. Looking back today, this is what I remember thinking:

* It's a kind of cancer survivor justice - that a guy would come back from cancer and become the best cyclist in the world seemed cosmically right. This is just an emotional reaction, of course.

* After cancer, Lance was able to mold the "new Lance" perfectly for winning the Tour de France - I remember reading (probably in one of his books) that his pre-cancer physique was more suited to a triathlete than a general category stage race cyclist, but when he recovered from cancer he changed that. There is likely some truth to this but of course by itself it wouldn't make him better than anyone else for seven years.

* Huge VO2 max - I know I read more than once that Armstrong had unnaturally large oxygen capacity. Surely that's important? Of course since then I have read that it wasn't that much greater.

* High cadence - in addition to reading about his high oxygen capacity, one would see comments praising his unusually high cadence. More efficient, or something.

* American ingenuity - notwithstanding that his team sports director was Bruyneel (not American) I think I felt that Armstrong's success was a modern example of an American coming up with solutions that others had not seen in order to succeed. Armstrong talked about the importance of small advantages that cumulatively can mean success. Better equipment, better training, better diet - it all adds up to victory! Well, it sounds good.

* Focus on the Tour de France exclusively (or so it seemed) - of course Armstrong was in other races, but they were almost part of a training program for the Tour de France (in effect). He certainly didn't race as difficult a schedule as most riders - of course now it turns out (thanks to Tyler Hamilton for explaining this) that this was part of his blood bag management and otherwise to avoid too much exposure to doping tests. So it was part of his "focus on the TdF" strategy but not in the way I had hoped.

As I look back, the way conversations went, my summary feeling was that if you looked around for reasons (see above list, plus others I'm probably forgetting) it didn't seem impossible that Lance was clean. If anyone could do it, he could. That kind of thinking.

Eventually I became disillusioned because even though I thought it was possible that he was clean, it seemed like his team (Landis, Hamilton) wasn't and given Armstrong's personality it was hardly possible they were doping without his knowledge and even support and encouragement. So if Armstrong was winning with a team of dopers to support him (since bicycle stage racing is a team sport, really), that almost seemed worse than if he wasn't himself doping. To me, anyway.

And now when we read Hamilton, we see that the advantages from EPO and blood doping were far greater than a single percent improvement in performance that Lance talked about - he describes races where Bjarne Riis moved back and forth in the peleton as if on a motorcyle, effortlessly, clearly enjoying a PED-fueled advantage more like ten percent than one percent. This turns out to be the kind of gain in advantage Armstrong was seeking, not just a little bump from more aerodynamic helmets and the like.

My "good" bike
Wearing my Astana jersey that arrived in the mail the day before Vinokourov was busted in the 2006 Tour de France

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Modern Snow Bike

K-Trak Snow Bike System

In my two previous posts, here and here I have looked at 100+ year old ideas for how to get around on a bicycle in the snow and ice. Aside from the simple approach of using studded tires on a bicycle (which works for most urban snow) there is also the above snow bike inspired by a snowmobile.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

1896 Ice Bike Demonstrated by Woman Rider

Short article about ice bike demonstration in The San Francisco Call, January 19, 1896.

An Ice Bicycle.

A bicycle has been invented for traveling on ice or snow, says a New York paper. The long runner or skate, which replaces the front wheel of the bicycle, in itself is made for ice alone, but when the machine is used on snow-clad roads a metal shoe is fitted over the skate, and it is claimed that the machine will carry a rider over the ground, or rather snow or ice, at a greater speed than the regulation wheel.

Ice Bike

Miss Davidson, who is young and enthusiastic, mounted the ice wheel at a rink last evening with but little difficulty, and, after a few "wobbles," started off around the rink gracefully. The half dozen spectators were astonished at the perfect work ing of the machine. After two or three turns about the rink Miss Davidson did a few fancy moves and then dismounted.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Converting Bikes to Snow/Ice Use - Patents

Snow Bike Patent - 1900
Snow Bike Patent, 1900

"The invention contemplates the employment of a bicycle of any preferred style, in combination with supporting sleds or runners and means for imparting motion thereto." and . . . "The rotary motion of said shaft is converted . . . to a reciprocating motion upon the part of the push-bars, which are alternately projected and retracted, engaging the snow or ice at each stroke, and so propelling the vehicle."

Apparently the idea was to propel the bicycle as though it was someone's crazy version of a cross country skier, in which the poles do all the work.

Snow Bike Tire Design Detail 1900
Snow Bike Patent, 1900 - augmented wheels

To make this work, rather elaborate changes are made to the tires, fixing a set of teeth to the outside edge of the tire. Uhm, wouldn't it have been easier to run the chain down directly to do this??

The "ice velocipede" below looks more sensible, although since it preceded the above by six years, apparently it hadn't caught on.

Ice Velocipede Patent 1894
Ice Velocipede 1894

The object of the invention is to provide a new and improved snow and ice velocipede, which is simple and durable in construction, and arranged to enable the rider to travel over the snow and ice at a high rate of speed. and The invention consists principally of single front and rear runners supporting the frame, and connected thereto by horizontal pivots and a propelling chain mounted to travel along the rear runner and driven from the crank or pedal shaft through the medium of a sprocket wheel mounted on the pivot connecting the said runner with the frame. (Crazy way to write.) and The propelling chain is provided with spikes or blades adapted to pass into the snow or ice, so as to propel the vehicle forward. Aha! Well, it might work. But again, we don't see these around . . .

Bike Snow Shoes Patent 1896
Snow Shoe Attachment for Bicycles

This is the simplest of the bunch, although it seems likely to have traction problems.

Traction "Vehicle" (Bicycle Patent, 1895)
Traction Vehicle

This isn't actually a patent for a snow bike (snow isn't mentioned in the patent) but rather a tracked bicycle that could, presumably, have been used on snow as well as on other difficult terrains. (Also it seems to be a purpose build device rather than a conversion.) Could this be used for cyclocross? Again, we don't see these around today, do we. Presumably the energy required to get this to move at all was a bit of a problem.

Keep in mind these are 110+ year old patents - what is interesting is that there are plenty of patents from the last 20 years that aren't that different. Go to Google's patent search and simply search on "bicycle snow" and see what I mean.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Washington Post Doesn't Know What Bike I Want

Bike Ad
Recent ad on providing a crazy assortment of bikes

I have burst out laughing when I have spent ten minutes gazing thoughtfully at some bike wheels on and then a while later, a sidebar ad on tries to interest me in the very same bicycle wheels on Well, uhm - I haven't changed my mind, as a matter of fact. Still don't want them.

This assortment, however, was quite amazing. What algorithm is behind this sort of thing?

A road bike called the "Tour de France" for . . . $209.99. Well, sure if you want a bike that allows you to answer the question, "do you have a bike" in the affirmative but don't plan to ride it. Because that's what a bike like this is intended for - not being ridden.

Then next up, a Pinarello Dogma - only $13,200!! What ?!? I don't pay attention to this market, so I can't say if this is a "good" price or not but that I'm not buying any bikes that cost more than the last new car I bought, I'm pretty sure of that.

Logically what should be in the third position here after the total crap bike and the bike that was hand carved by the most experienced Italian carbon-fiber-carvers would be the "just right" bike priced somewhere in the real world at around $800 - $1,200. But no, the algorithm goes completely off the rails and offers an even crappier bike. Regardless of price and anything else, there can be no worse a bike than one that is named after a car - and not just any car, but a monster SUVs, the GMC Denali. Who buys bikes with names like that? (I am not denying

I guess I should give them credit for somehow detecting my interest in road bikes over mountain bikes, but other than that this seems pretty clueless.

Don't get me wrong, monster SUVs have their time and place. But I have trouble seeing the connection between one of them and a road bike, in a good sense anyway.

Arrival in Erbil - Suburbans arriving at left
On a visit to Iraq some years ago, GMC Suburban vehicles made sense for my travel plans - otherwise not so much

Friday, February 1, 2013

Holy Spokes! A Biking Bible for Everyone (Review)

Holy Spokes!: A Biking Bible for EveryoneHoly Spokes!: A Biking Bible for Everyone by Rob Coppolillo

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The WashCycle blogger gave me a review copy in return for which I wrote a review that is posted there

View all my reviews on Goodreads of cycling related books (including this one).

Latest In Bicycling Costumes for Women (1895)

From a long Los Angeles Herald article from August 4, 1895.

Bicycle Suits for Women 1895
Illustration that accompanies the article

SHE DESIGNS BICYCLE SUITS - That is How a Chicago Woman Is Coining Wealth - SHE IS AN ARTIST IN THIS - Tells Fair Bicycle Riders the Kind of Clothes They Ought to Wear. Says Bloomers Will Soon Be the Street Costume.
This article is quite long, so I will only reproduce some of the text here - the full text is available in the online digitized version.
A clever little woman on the West Side is proving herself a benefactress of womankind and, at the same time, earning a good living. Her name is Helen Waters. She designs bicycle costumes for women, says the Chicago Times-Herald, Mrs. Waters is a petite young woman with big brown eyes and a "wide, kind smile." She is extremely brisk and energetic, and possesses some original ideas as to the proper garb for women who ride. She is a member of the Illinois Cycling club, and is a skillful and rapid rider, although she does not aspire to record-breaking honors.

. . . . .

"Do you mean to say that bloomers will be worn us a street costume next summer?"

"I don't wish to be too hopeful, but things look that way to me. I, for one, will be glad if it is so. A woman who has once worn bloomers dislikes to put on skirts. I know it from my own experience and that of others. As you see, I wear them about the office all the time and have even ventured to wear them on the street cars to and from my home. However, occasions arise when 'discretion is the better part of valor,' and then off go bloomers and on goes the skirt. I hope you won't laugh at me when I say I find the skirt uncomfortable."
This kind of cycling human interest story was common during the high years of the cycling craze in the 1890s. The article is about a woman in Chicago but was published in Los Angeles, likely published in numerous cities through some then-publication network for these kinds of not-very-time-sensitive stories. This particular story had two different elements of interest - the subject's changing of women's attire and her financial success, earning a "good living."