Showing posts with label bicycles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bicycles. Show all posts

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Bicycle Girl (1895)

The Bicycle Girl (sheet music cover, 1895)
Sheet music from 1895 with cover photograph of woman riding bike
Title-The bicycle girl
Contributor Names
Meacham, F. W., composer.
Oddfellow, Avery, lyricist.
Schwalbach, Alex, dedicatee.
Created / Published-Brooklyn, N.Y. : Published by Hedenberg and Oakin, [1895] ©1897
Subject Headings
- Popular music--United States--To 1901
- Feminist music--United States
- Bicycles--Songs and music
Genre-Songs, Scores
- For voice and piano.
- Includes a photograph of a woman riding a bicycle.
- "Respectfully dedicated to Alex Schwalbach, Manager, Wilson Myers Company."
Medium-1 score (5 pages) : photograph ; 36 cm
Call Number/Physical Location-M1622 .M
Digital Id
Library of Congress Control Number-2017562127
Online Format-image
Description- For voice and piano. Includes a photograph of a woman riding a bicycle. "Respectfully dedicated to Alex Schwalbach, Manager, Wilson Myers Company."
LCCN Permalink

The Bicycle Girl (sheet music cover detail, 1895)
Detail - just the photograph (click through to Flickr to see more detail)

The suffragette connection to cycling is made in this sheet music collection:

In 1896 Susan B. Anthony declared, "Let me tell what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." The Music Division's sheet music collections feature countless titles referencing and depicting the "new woman" or the "coming woman," frequently wearing bloomers and/or riding a bicycle. And Anthony was not the only suffragist to sing the bicycle's praises; in Elizabeth Cady Stanton's own words: "The bicycle will inspire women with more courage, self-respect, and self-reliance and will make the next generation more vigorous of mind and body; for feeble mothers do not produce great statesmen, scientists and scholars." To read more about the significance of the bicycle to the suffrage movement, see Sue Macy's book, Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom.

As with much photography of this period, this was shot in a studio, posed. One presumes (or at least hopes) that this young woman was in fact a cyclist and further that her pins are some kinds of awards for cycling, but it isn't certain (to me, at least).

Friday, July 27, 2012

Vertically Compliant in 1896 . . .

I'm just kidding - while bicycle advertising from the 1890s can seem surprisingly familiar more than 100 years later, they didn't talk about "vertically compliant" bike frames. Not that I understand what bicycle reviews mean with some of their phrasing, but vertically compliant seems to be the opposite of rigid - that a bike frame flexes vertically.

Rigid Bike
What they mean is, buy this bike!!

"A bicycle with the strongest, most rigid frame built." An 1896 ad from
"The Referee and Cycle Trade Journal: a Weekly Record and Review of Cycling and the Cycle Trade." Volume 17, Number 1 - May 7, 1896.
Full volume of issues

Here are some modern discussions of this sort of thing:

* Bicycle frame compliance

* Frame design

* Carbon fiber frames and compliance

I tend to give a lot of credit to developments in bicycle design of the 1890s but it seems intuitively obvious that this is one of those "there can be too much of a good thing" situations. I am reminded of the infamous SNL skit where Ed Asner, leaving for vacation from his job running a nuclear reactor, says, "Remember, if something goes wrong, you can never put too much water into a nuclear reactor." In the bike frame ad the meeting is clear - the more rigidity the better! Well, maybe . . .

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Belling the Bike (Not the Cat)

With the trails busier, some use bells to indicate they are passing but most don't (where I ride, anyway). I saw someone the other day with "jingle bells" on his handlebars, ringing more or less continuously, although not very noticeably.

I then happened upon this ad from 1898 - for the the Saks [chain] stores, in Washington DC. "Looking towards spring season sales of bicycles and bicycle 'sundries.'"

1898 Bike Bell ad
Full ad is here, with many bike accessory prices from 1898 (not just bells)

The "continuously ringing bicycle bell" is apparently not a new idea.
Bicycle Bells. Easily the best, pronounced by all the most expert riders, is the Saks' Continuous Ringing Bell. It "winds like a watch," is simple of mechanism, nothing to get out of order, and will ring from 10 to 20 minutes with one winding .... $1.

A dollar for a bicycle bell is pretty pricey for those times. The ad lists a "single stroke, large size" bell for only 12 cents. More exotic "bell grips, a handy combination of grip and bell" were 25 cents (each - unfortunately no illustration of what these looked like). In general, by 1898 the prices for bicycles had collapsed to a considerable degree - the Spalding price was only $50 for their best bicycle, down from more like 100 dollars a few years earlier.

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.

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 . . .

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kickstarter Bike Light Opportunitie$

Kickstarter provides endless entertainment as one reviews funding proposals related to bicycles (among other things . . . ) and tries to understand why some are funded while others, alas, are not.

When you think about it, improving a bike's light or reflector system to enhance visibility and safety is an ideal Kickstarter direction - the costs to "kickstart" a new commercial product can be within Kickstarter's audience and if presented correctly, such products seem more about "fun" and being hip than simply about being safer (which is boring - and with Kickstarter, boring = no funding).

Today there are two "live" Kickstarter projects related to lighting products that I will look at . . .

As of today, this theft-resistant front light is already 225 percent funded - wow! What makes this proposal so darn attractive for Kickstarter funders?

* The video is clever, fun to watch, yet seems authoritative and the proposal's logic sensible - even unassailable.

* It addresses a real problem - theft of stuff off parked bikes. And we wouldn't want to end up like their friend, whose light was stolen and then was hit by a car.

* Even though designers and builders of a theft resistant bike light wouldn't need to be MIT engineers, these guys' bring those credentials (and wear the T-shirts to prove it).

* For $50 bucks support, they promise to send you one of the things to own, even though the "expected retail price" is $70 - so it's a deal! And note that the overwhelming support for this project is at this level. People are supporting this because they want one, and perhaps because they think they will get one cheap.

Electric lighting for bikes is this old - but even then they understood theft, as it notes the "principal object of the invention is to provide a bicycle with a detachable lamp, including a dynamo . . . "

Let me make a few critical comments . . .

* In the video, they show the critical bolt that makes this thing theft resistant. The video has been updated to state that they have, thanks to comments, changed the bolt design to make it more theft resistant. This, however, gets to the main drawback with this thing - which is that in the places where people steal lights off bikes a lot, you are operating on faith when you walk away from the bike and don't take attractive crap bolted to the bike with you, fancy bolt or no fancy bolt.

* Uh, this light just makes itself even more attractive for theft with it's "sexiness" (hipsterishness). Isn't that obvious?

* Well, I suppose other people are more organized and actually of late my bike tools are pretty well organized (sort of - in the sense that I can usually eventually find things) but really, do I want not one but two special allen key like things to have to keep track of?

* The design, which maximizes theft resistance, is otherwise not so great, MIT or no MIT. In particular, this is a "weight forward" design which means every time you hit a bump, the light is inclined to move down. Or up. So you then grab it and shift it back to point in the right place - but with the "tighten the metal clamp" approach used here, this isn't as easy as with the usual rubber ring holding light in place approach. I guess they figure you just tighten the clamp so tight it won't move. Maybe that will work. Make sure you have the special wrench with you.

The main issue I guess I have is that these characters say they see cycling in cities as a "battle" which is made clear in the first part of their video (which is in daylight and has nothing to do with lighting) that shows typical urban carefree youth riding in traffic illegally and idiotically. Motorists care about one thing - getting there faster. When you ride like a fool, they worry you might cause an accident that will delay their arrival wherever it is they are going and it makes them suspicious of all cyclists. Is this really helpful for the cycling community? Because like it or not, the motorists aren't going to perceive two cycling communities - the fool one and the other one. (/end of rant) Anyway, I don't think a mildly theft resistant light really helps with the urban bicycle "battle."

These urban warriors are learning as they go. Not only have the updated their anti-theft bolt design, someone pointed out that their understanding of guns wasn't very accurate. In their FAQ, they originally had this:

4. Why does it look like the
barrel of a revolver?

As you know, city biking can be a battle. We captured the struggle of the urban cyclist in our design.

Someone must have written in that the thing doesn't look like a gun barrel, but the revolving chamber where the bullets go. So now it reads:

4. Why does it look like the
cylinder of a revolver?

As you know, city biking can be a battle. We captured the struggle of the urban cyclist in our design.

Hopefully that isn't supposed to suggest we carry while riding. And forgive me if I somehow doubt the urban battle credentials of someone who doesn't know the difference between a gun barrel and a revolver bullet chamber.

But wait - there is another Kickstarter bike light project underway, and unfortunately I actually have a twitchy impulse to back this one. Ack!

Oh, I hate to admit it, but for me unlike the gun-based project first discussed, this is sexy sexy sexy. Up to a point . . .

For someone who rides back and forth to work every day, particular during the season just ending (when it is dark either in one direction or for a while, both) an annoyance is the need to rely on batteries for lighting. It doesn't feel very green. (Yes, there are hub dynamos and so-called bottle dynamos but no thank you.) I have rechargable batteries but still, it isn't great.

This thing is like free power! A single unit that magically (actually it uses "eddy currents") pulls power from the rim of a spinning wheel without making contact, then drives LED lights facing either front or back that are in the same compact unit. Couldn't be simpler! (It does take away some of the power you would otherwise be using to propel the bike, but much less than a dynamo hub, apparently.)

And people like this idea - although as of this minute he has yet to reach half the $50,000 he is seeking, three more backers have joined just while I was composing this blog post. So I think he'll get to his $ target.

Again, this is a project where most of the backers are planning on acquiring the device (or devices - separate price if you want a front version and a back one). The pitch is that the price here is a good one (or at I think that is what is meant by "We will never produce it again in this form, so you get a unique fascinating high tech product much sooner than anybody else at a price considerably lower than the normal market price (if we succeed to jump on the market).")

So, where do I see problems with this? Well, like most simple generator set-ups that provide direct power to the light, when you stop, the light goes out. In order to have continuous light you have complicate things with chargers and batteries, which in this case would eliminate the elegance of the "all in one small unit" design here.

For myself, I'm doubtful that having a light that hangs off the side of the brake boss (as he describes it) would be a very durable location. For whatever reason, I would expect to break the one off the rear brake in about a day (by accident). And it wouldn't work with a bike with any sort of rack on the back, which for commuters is fairly common.

For some people, the less elegant approach of a generator unit that would have to be connected by wires to the lights would probably be better. The developer suggests that might be part of a future version. As clever and elegant as this is, I don't think I'll be signing away $199 today.

Alvey Adee of Dept of State & Bicycle
This Assistant Secretary of State didn't have to worry about theft or power for his lighting system in 1914, I suspect

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cyclopedia: It's All About the Bike (Book Review)

Cyclopedia: It's All About the BikeCyclopedia: It's All About the Bike by William Fotheringham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fotheringham is a British author who has written books about British and and Italian cycling plus several books of "sporting trivia." This one-volume cycling "encyclopedia" (in name, anyway) was first published in the U.K. but has (it says) been "substantially revised" for this U.S. version. The preface makes clear that notwithstanding the title and the alphabetized article arrangement that it is intended more as an introduction to cycling with the encyclopedic arrangement as a means, not an end.

While the apparent intent is to provide a fairly global introduction to all aspects of cycling, the focus is more heavily on racing and on the U.K. and Europe than on other cycling topics. Articles range from 4-5 pages (for "gears") to short paragraph entries for a few topics - most are at least a page or more. There are occasional sidebars with amusing facts, timelines, and maps. One major weakness (that presumably kept the production cost down) is that there are no photos at all. There are some silhouette drawings but that's it.

Some of the people and subjects not given entries are surprising. No entry for Andy Hampsten, for example, but he is mentioned in an article. Yet there is an entry for Jonathan Boyer - they seem of equal interest to me. No entry for "randonneuring" but it is mentioned in the article about the Paris-Brest-Paris race. Apparently rather than having more entries, most of the entries are longer - but then this isn't really intended as a reference work, so that's probably OK. And entries are written in an appealing light style - it's a fun book to read.

One of the most useful (for me) sections is a seven page annotated list of books about cycling, including fiction, memoirs, and travel books. Very good!

This can be had for about $17 on, so despite the lack of photos and notwithstanding the somewhat Euro/Anglo-centric coverage, it seems worth having.

Roll on a Murray
There is no photo of Bob Roll in this book, but then there are no photos period - but no "Roll, Bob" entry, either

View my reviews and list of cycling books in Goodreads

Sunday, February 12, 2012

To the Gold Rush! Chilkoot Pass Bike Track (1897)

An article from the St. Paul Globe, "Wheelman's Route to Klondike" included the fanciful illustration, below, of a bicycle track following the Chilkoot trail to the Yukon.

Chilkoot Pass "Bicycle Track"
A depiction of a proposed "bicycle track" to ease access to Yukon gold

The article's text is sufficiently amusing to reproduce fully, below. Note that the developer expects both wheelmen and wheelwomen to use the track, as shown in the illustration.
"Charles H. Brinkerhoff Jr. Will Build a Bicycle Track to the Yukon."

Since the yellow serpent of the Klondike reared his head and fascinated the people of two hemispheres by the golden glitter of its eyes, there have been many plans devised for getting safely past the barrier of frozen mountains that guard the coveted prize. Some have had the earmarks of lunacy, and some have been of the variety that impels people to say, "Why didn't we think of that before?" A plan that has provoked more criticism and caused more comment than any was born in the brain of Charles H. Brinkerhoff Jr., of this city, after severe travail of soul and many sleepless nights. Mr. Brinkerhoff proposes to build a bicycle track to the Klondike, provided he can secure the necessary capital to carry out the scheme.

"There is nothing visionary about the plan," said Mr. Brinkerhoff, when asked to give publicity to his ideas on the subject of a Klondike bicycle track. "On the contrary, it is the only correct solution of the problem of how to bring the gold of the Yukon within the reach of all. It isn't every one who can afford to pay the price of a passage to the Klondike by the expensive routes at present in use, but nearly everyone owns a bicycle nowadays, and when my track is completed the trip to the gold district will be brought down to two or three weeks from the nearest American city.

"To go into details, I may say that the plan provides for a roadway, lightly constructed of steel, clamped to the sides of the mountains where it is not possible to arrange for a roadbed on a flat surface, and put together in the strongest manner known to modern builders. The roadway will be fashioned according to mathematical principles, so as to make tha journey as easy for the bicyclists as is compatible with such a rough mountain trip. When it is possible, steep up-grades will be avoided, and tbe entire road so arranged that the mountain climbing will be done almost without the bicyclist being aware of any uphill work. When the nature of the ground renders it impossible to avoid a steep ascent, I shall compensate the climber for his toil by providing a down-grade run, so that he can recover his strength by coasting. The structure will be absolutely safe, for it will rest on steel supports cemented into the solid rock and capable of bearing a strain of ten times as great as that it will be subject to as a bicycle track. The erection of the track will be an easy matter, for I hope to have the route carefully surveyed, and the girders, supports, etc., made to fit, so that the only thing necessary when the work ls ready to begin will be for the workmen to fit the sections together, bolt the girders and supports firmly and attach them securely to the rocky foundation.

"So much for the general construction of the roadway. Now as to the various novel features that I hope to introduce to render safe the trip to the Klondike by way of my bicycle track, and to brighten the burden of the journey so that it will be as enjoyable as a pleasure trip. I assume that my bicycle track will be utilized by women, for where the wheel takes men nowadays it usually takes women also. Even athletic women are grateful for the comforts of life, and, so far as a trip to the Klondike can be made comfortable, my bicycle track will insure it. Every twenty-five miles of the journey there will be a station, lighted and heated by electricity and provided with seats and tables and a restaurant so that pilgrims to the gold district can rest and refresh themselves. I propose to place the stations as near together as twenty-five miles because I realize that in the inhospitable Klondike region storms are of occasional occurrence, and I wish to have a place of refuge whither the wheelmen, and especially the wheelwomen, can flee for safety when the elements behave badly. I want to take every precaution to guard against a tragedy. There has been enough of that already in the senseless rush for the Yukon.

"I take it that fifty miles a day on a smooth roadway, such as that I propose to construct, will be fairly good going. At the end of a fifty-mile run, cumbered with baggage, pick and shovel, the bicyclists will welcome a place where they can camp for the night. To provide this, I shall arrange to have houses erected at fifty-mile intervals along the route. The houses will be built of the same material as the roadway, and will contain every requisite for making the travelers comfortable.

They will be in reality cozy hotels where food and shelter can be obtained at moderate prices, and the wheelmen will be sure of a welcome and a warm room after their fifty-mile ride. If fifty miles a day is too much for some of the women, they can find a comfortable halting place in the twenty-five-mile stations, where an attendant will minister to their wants, and good meals will be served at low rates.

"This is, of course, the plan in embryo. I have to work out many difficult problems, but capitalists to whom I have submitted the idea are so much impressed with its feasibility that this much is certain — the road will be built. When finished, it will be the greatest bicycle roadway in the world, and I claim that it will not only bring the Yukon within the reach of all who own a wheel, but will be the means of lowering the death rate in Alaska by providing a route to the gold district that will be safe from the terrible hardships under which so many have succumbed in the past."

Mr. Brinkerhoff is a young man of considerable mechanical genius, brimful of energy and plugk, and there is no doubt that he has the greatest confidence in his plan for reaching Alaska by wheel. Practical engineers to whom the idea has been submitted declare that it is by no means an idle dream, but has all the elements of a thoroughly feasible proposition.
Perhaps telling is that the "dateline" for this article, published in Minnesota, was Newark, New Jersey, where Mr. Brinkerhoff was attempting to "secure the necessary capital to carry out the scheme" (as the article puts it) - and not a bit closer to the action, in Alaska.

Chilkoot Pass Camp
From a book of advice on going to the Klondike

A chapter towards the end of "Klondike : the Chicago record's book for gold seekers." published in 1897 offers some insights into some of the more outlandish schemes to support nascent gold miners, including a suggestion to use a large hot air balloon and another bicycle proposal:
The bicycle man is not going to permit the balloon man to get ahead of him on any proposition. So that old stand-by, "a syndicate of wealthy New Yorkers," proposes to establish trading posts and stations along the route from somewhere to the Klondike. This route is to be a bicycle path, and the bicycle, of course, is one of the specially designed kind, made only for this particular purpose. A picture of the bicycle indicates that it has a kind of an out-rigger attachment at the end of which is another bicycle wheel, but whether that wheel is intended to hold up the bicycle on a mountain side or to get over an air-hole on an ice-patch is not disclosed.

The bicycle syndicate also announces that it will "purchase all promising' claims on the market," and will have nothing whatever to do with the "common methods of transportation, such as railroads, boats, pack horses, dogsleds and Indians."
As it turns out, the most significant technological development at the Chilkoot Pass did not involve bicycles, but rather the use of aerial tramways to haul the large amount of freight required by the Canadians to allow entry from the United States to the gold fields. The use of these aerial trams for freight was superseded by a narrow gauge railway across the longer, but less difficult, White Pass route, shown in this short movie clip by Edison's production company from 1901.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Starting a Search for Bikes in a Trove

A week or so ago I posted some information about some places I go to in order to find information about the history of cycling, including photographs, newspaper articles, and books in the public domain (that is, not under copyright).

Another good starting point for bicycle history research is "Trove", a search system from the National Library of Australia. Trove has several positive aspects for beginning research - one is that their search includes many types of collection materials, including photographs and manuscripts as well as books (and others). Also, for some of the materials, in particular photographs, they have "ingested" metadata for collections outside of the National Library of Australia and even outside of Australia. The metadata has to be available to them in an appropriate format so they can do this but as a "one-stop" starting place it's great.

Walthour, Motor Pace Racing
Bobby Walthour racing in France, a 1908 photograph found in "Trove" - Walthour is below on the track, just being passed

I recently read (and enjoyed) a biography about the famous American cycle racer Bobby Walthour (that I also reviewed). I wasn't terribly happy with the one photograph of Walthour I found at the Library of Congress. Searching for "Walthour" in Trove turns up photographs, newspaper articles, and books (and some stuff that isn't the right Walthour, but it isn't very much and I can ignore that). The newspaper search in Trove is one area where the search is limited to Australian "content" but unlike the U.S. Chronicling America, it extends to 1954 rather than 1923. It says something about Walthour's international racing reputation that there were articles in Australian newspapers about his racing achievements, mostly winning races in Europe in the early 1900s. His retirement from racing was also reported in Australia. (Arguably Walthour and Major Taylor set the stage for Lance Armstrong's achievements, but the gap of ninety or so years erased any popular awareness of them.)

There are 23 photos (now) in Trove with "my" Walthour, including several that are far more interesting than any I had found earlier. As it turns out, almost all the photos in Trove are from Gallica at the Bibliotheque nationale de France (BnF), part of a collection of press agency photographs, Agence Rol. Agence photographique.

Walthour Track Racing
Walthour riding (probably warming up) in France (1909) - note incredible size of front chain ring and "negative rake" of the fork

To display results from other institutions' collections, Trove transfers you to the other institution's website - so to see BnF materials you end up using Gallica. So having been led there by Trove, I turn my attention to Gallica. And as it turns out, when I search Gallica directly for "Walthour," I find some Walthour photographs that haven't reached Trove - six additional photos from Agence Meurisse.

Walthour Portrait
Walthour portrait from Gallica, Agence Meurisse, 1909

So while Trove is a good place to start a search, perhaps its greatest benefit is introducing you to other search systems that you can search further, such as Gallica. Each of these systems has its own pecularities - Gallica, for example, seems to offer only low resolution images as its "high res downloadable" versions, which while adequate for web display such as in this blog would be poor choices for any printed usage.

Sometimes one wants newer material. One good resource to keep in mind is the image search in Google for their Life magazine archive - a search for "bicycle" turns up a wide variety of items from the 20th century. I was surprised to find that six-day races were being run as late as 1948, as shown in this photograph. Apparently this image search retrieves using an exact match, so a search on "bicycle" doesn't find items where the description would have only included "bike" or "cycling" - but the related item information is smarter, and from previous six-day race photo, I found this rather astonishing six-day race photo of "Bicyclist William Anderson reading a letter while biking during a six day bike race." Is it really possible to ride this way?? And we worry about talking on a phone while riding! But then I suppose he isn't out in traffic with cars . . .

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fire Fighting Bikes in Germany (1910)

In an earlier post, I looked at an article in the Scientific American from 1896 about a four-seat bicycle that carried a pump to fight fires - a cycle-borne fire engine, in Germany.

Qaudricycle Fire Engine
Line-drawing illustration from Scientific American article

Looking for articles about six-day races at Madison Square Garden in the early 1900s, I bumped into an article in the New York "Sun" of 1910 titled, "Fire Fighters of Europe" that looked at the kind of equipment used and compared it to what was used in New York City. Five different photographs show unusual approaches, such as a boat-as-fire-engine in Venice, plus a photo showing the bicycle-fire engine in a small German town.

German Bicycle Fire "Apparatus" (1910)
A photograph of a similar unusual bicycle

It is a little difficult to see the details in this image (which was produced from microfilm of the newspaper) but it appears that this cycle is not the same as the 1896 model - the pump unit seems to be near the front, and it looks like there are three riders on each side and not two, so this looks like a six-seat bicycle.

The article's author suggest that, "It is a swift and effective method, but is not likely to be imitated in this country."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bicycles: Vintage People on Photo Postcards (Book Review)

Bicycles: Vintage People on Photo PostcardsBicycles: Vintage People on Photo Postcards by Tom Phillips

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book presents color 3/4 size copies of 200 selected black and white postcards taken of people with bicycles in the United Kingdom from the 1890s through 1950. (The color reproductions show the sepia tone better than a black and while reproduction.) The postcards are presented two to a page, organized so that several postcards with children are together, of women in groups, and so on.

There is a brief introduction and then about six pages by Tom Phillips who selected the post cards. He cites the numbers of different photos in the book as examples, so to see them a certain amount of paging back and forth is required. At first I found this a little annoying, but I got used to it. Some of the photos also have notes at the end, but most don't. Most do not have a year given for when they were taken - it's an interesting exercise to try to sort out when some were taken. As noted in the introduction, the style of dress changed more than the basic bicycles did.

View my list of cycling books and reviews

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Evolution of the Racing Bicycle in 1908

Evolution of the Racing Bike (1908)
From The Evening World, December 1908

Perspective from an article written before a six-day race in New York on the progress from high-wheel bicycles to the modern safety bicycle.
Old-timers on High Wheels were Endurance Champions

Modern Cycle Is an Airship Compared with the Pneumatic Vehicle of Other Days.

During the running of the six-day bicycle race in the Garden next week, the question more likely to be heard than any other is whether those among the fifteen teams who can stand the gruelling pace in the test of the final days when stamina counts are not greater endurance than those who first brought ths six-day record to America. The answer is furnished by a member of The Evening World's sporting staff who has witnessed nearly all the great six-day events in America from March 13 1886 when Albert Schock in Minneapolis hung up the worlds record of 1,008 miles for seventy-two hours-twelve hours a day-down to 1899 when Walter Miller and Dutch Waller set up a mark of 2,733 miles 4 laps in Madison Square Garden.

Conditions are vastly different to-day from those of 20 years ago. The modern bicycle, pneumatic tired and weighing only 22 pounds, is an air ship compared to the 50 pound high-wheeled boneshaker with Its hard rubber tires and 57-Inch wheel. Then there is the difference of the scientifically banked track and the unbanked turns of twenty years ago, when a "header" meant almost certain death. Training methods have also changed, the six-day rider of today training almost exclusively for speed and under the team arrangement being relieved on the track at any time, while the old record holders were trained for endurance.

Old Timers Had Endurance

Speed has a deteriorating effect similar to the long steady grind, but when I think that Schlock never once left the tract in the first three day except to change wheels, and that his entire resting time was 40 mlnutes in the 72 hours it seems to be the most marvelous test of endurance I have ever seen-unless it be that of Mlle. Louise Armaindo, who beat Jack Prince in a 24-hour race because she never quit riding in the whole time. In the match race between Prince and Schock in Minneapolis, March 1886, when Prince set up a new world's record of 1,040 miles, neither man was off his wheel more than ten minutes for the entire 72 hours. This race, by the way, was for $1,000 a side, the largest side bet ever made in a similar contest in America.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Where Does "Content" About Early Cycling History Come From?

I sometimes blog about cycling history, particularly from the 1890s and early 1900s.

Major Taylor & Six Day Race illustration
Montage image including Major Taylor (in the center) found in an online historic newspaper, an issue of The Daily World, from December 1908

How and where do I find photos and articles? As a librarian, I have some experience helping users find what they need, but I confess that with the amount of "content" that has been digitized in various formats, I can do most of my research sitting at home - although digging around can take some time.

Here are some of the places I look:

Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC): I have found many public domain photographs online in PPOC, such as the one below (that is one my favorites).

Lewis Hine - Bicycle Messenger
Bicycle messenger from 1913 Isaac Boyett, "I'm de whole show." The twelve year old proprietor, manager and messenger of the Club Messenger Service, 402 Austin Street, Waco. The photo shows him in the heart of the Red Light district where he was delivering messages as he does several times a day. Said he knows the houses and some of the inmates. Has been doing this for one year, working until 9:30 P.M. Saturdays. Not so late on other nights. Makes from six to ten dollars a week. Location: Waco, Texas

While most can be found searching simply on "bicycle" that is a subject term that has been assigned or appears in the item's title, alas this is not true for all. The record (that is the basis for searching) for the photograph below from the Library of Congress' Harris & Ewing collection does not have the word "bicycle" in it anywhere - I found it by looking at page after page of thumbnails of the collection to see if there were any bicycles hiding in the collection - and there were!

Alvey Adee of Dept of State riding Bicycle
Photo of a senior State Dept Official commuting by bike, 1914

Full text and images of books and magazines: Many books and magazines about cycling that are in the public domain have been digitized, although not nearly enough (in my view). Good places to search are Google books, "Texts" (mostly books) in the Internet Archive, and Hathitrust, either their online catalog or the full text (of the materials) search.

The Hathitrust materials have the fullest records associated with them - a simple search on "bicycle" for items that have a "full view" (that is, are available fully online) brings up more than 160 items. Most are books published before 1923 (for which copyright has expired) but others are government documents or otherwise in the public domain, such as a 1974 book, "Bicycling for Everyone" where I found a nugget about cycling in the 1890s:
"The discovery and progressive improvement of the bicycle," editorialized the New York Tribune in 1895, "is of more importance to mankind than all the victories and defeats of Napoleon, with the First and Second Punic Wars . . . thrown in."
Well - it's a point of view.

Most of the books that I have found I have then done screen captures of interesting illustrations and posted them in Flickr set that as of today has 172 "photos". (I put copies of PPOC photos here, too.) It is easy to embed images from Flickr in the blog.

From "Bicycling for ladies with hints as to the art of wheeling, advice to beginners, dress, care of the bicycle, mechanics, training, exercise, etc., etc." by Maria E. Ward, published in 1896 - the photographs are by by Alice Austen who tried to create real action shots but with the technology of the time, used a posed approach for this and other photos in the book

Some books are located in other places and I root them out. For example, below is an image from a book digitized by the Library of Congress that isn't available through the systems mentioned above,

The "incorrect" position for riding
"The bicycle: its selection, riding, and care" by L.F. Korns, published in 1892 - a full PDF is available and a page-by-page view - the images in the page viewer are better

Public domain newspapers: The Library of Congress Chronicling America program has searchable newspapers published before 1923 from many (but not all) states. The image at the top of this post was found by searching on the bicycle racer Bobby Walthour's last name - the text of the newspapers has been OCR'ed with OK accuracy, but a lot of browsing of search results is required to find interesting stuff.

When I post these screen captures of public domain published materials that are fully available on the Internet, I include links to the full presentation on the original system as well as a link to other sized versions in my Flickr set. That way anyone reading my blog post can follow up with further reading/examination of the original book, or article, or whatever it was.

Since these items are in the public domain, anyone can reuse what I present without my permission, of course - and one other blogger that I know of has. A fellow in England blogs about this same period using the same sorts of resources that I do, and when he wanted some Christmas-y images last December for a blogpost he made use of an image from an issue of "Cycling Life" of Santa Claus that I had blogged about a year earlier.

Santa On Bike (1896, Cycling Life)
This image, lost for more than 100 years, has now appeared in two blogs

In this post he reused material I had presented in a more recent post, including my corrected and properly formatted version of the (ironic) poem, "The Introspective Scorcher." Again, all in the public domain, so available for the taking. (In fact, in my Scorcher post I reused some material from some of my own earlier posts . . .)

Of course if someone makes use (re-use?) of some public domain "content" that they found with my help, like any librarian, I am glad to be acknowledged.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Life in the Slipstream: The Legend of Bobby Walthour Sr. (Book Review)

Life in the Slipstream: The Legend of Bobby Walthour Sr.Life in the Slipstream: The Legend of Bobby Walthour Sr. by Andrew M. Homan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this was a very well executed and readable biography of Bobby Walthour Sr., who was an amazingly successful bicycle racer in the early 1900s. Considering that the research seems to have come almost entirely from newspaper and magazine articles, the level of detail is remarkable. The focus is on his racing but there is a fair amount about his life otherwise - more than one might expect from someone who kept no diary and didn't have correspondence to mine.

Walthour at a 6 Day Race
Bobby Walthour riding in 1909, from the Library of Congress

Walthour did two kinds of racing for the most part, both extremely well. He participated in six day races (that were two member team events - the riders didn't ride 24 hours a day) on an annual basis at Madison Square Garden and then he did paced racing behind motorcycles. the paced cycle races were incredible dangerous, performed on banked tracks with little enough space for both the riders on the bikes and the motorcycles they were closely following. From 1900 to 1910 more than a dozen of the best riders from around the world or the drivers of the pacing motorcycles died in accidents - despite being one of the busiest and most successful riders, Walthour survived. He did, however, accumulate a long list of broken bones and other injuries.

Tandem Pace
An example of a cyclist racing behind a tandem motorpace motorcycle, from Australia - Walthour prefered riding behind smaller motorcycles with just a driver

Walthour earned for the time a phenomenal amount of money racing. The author supplies modern day equivalents for the dollar figures representing his income but it is more useful that he provides the context of what earnings were for different professions and various typical costs such as housing.

The sustained speeds achieved by cyclists who were being motor-paced could be quite incredible - more than fifty miles per hour for more than an hour. The description of the events in this book conveys the drama of the racing well.

Madison Square Garden Bicycle Racing
From "The World", December 1901, showing the Madison Square Garden for a six day race - click on photo to see details. In the Center is Walthour's wife, who famously attended such races with her children.

I gave this five stars but I'm a cycling enthusiast. I think this should appeal to a broader audience but probably not at the five-star level.

Walthour was from Atlanta, Georgia, and always returned home there, even after long stays in other areas (including several years in Germany) to be closer to lucrative racing opportunities. He is thought to be the first athlete to endorse Coca-Cola in an advertisement.

View all my cycling book references in Goodreads.