Friday, December 31, 2010

Would You Like a Revolver? Or a Bike? (1896 ad)

At least it gives some context for the prices of bicycles at the time . . .

Revolver With Bike Purchase

From the September 17, 1896 issue of Cycling Life.

This ad is a bit puzzling - the magazine Cycling Life was intended for "the bicycle trade" and not bicycle consumers, so the marketing strategy of telling (reminding?) this audience that the very same Iver Johnson that made quality bikes would sell them a reasonably priced high-quality revolver is not clear 100-plus years later.

If nothing else, this gives some sense of the relatively high cost of a bicycle in those days - Iver Johnson bicycles were many times more expensive than a revolver.
The price of the Iver Johnson bicycle for men and women in standard finish for 1897 will be $100; the price of the Fitchburg bicycle for men and women in standard finish will be $75.
Fitchburg was the name of the town where the Iver Johnson factory was and was used as the brand name for the lower cost cycles.

In fact, a revolver was less expensive than a pair of tires (with tire pump) ~
Possesses all the advantages of the highest priced tires on the market, and yet it can be fitted to any bicycle at the moderate price of $7.00 per pair; with pump and repair outfit.
(Ad from the same issue for Web Tread tires.)

Below, from Flickr, a handsome example of a Iver Johnson truss frame bike (and Iver Johnson rifle, apparently).

Iver Johnson Bicycle-Truss Frame

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Bicycling for Ladies" (Book - 1896)

Bicycling for Ladies available online from Another version (with the cover) from Harvard.

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.

Bicycling For Ladies - Cover

Includes many illustrations showing how to (and how not to) ride and repair a bike. The illustrations were made from photographs from Alice Austen and are quite interesting themselves, aside from the text.

How to make a turn.

Correct Position

And how not to make one.

Incorrect Position

How to coast.


This bike is like a modern "fixie" and the pedals keep spinning as you coast - there is no freewheel feature. Although not clearly visible, the bike she is riding does have a hand brake that will apply pressure to the front tire to slow the bike down, since putting one's feet back on the pedals during this coasting activity could be difficult.

Under "Women and Tools" the author states:
I hold that any woman who is able to use a needle or scissors can use other tools equally well. It is a very important matter for a bicyclist to be acquainted with all parts of the bicycle, their uses and adjustment.
The author then provides a fairly detailed set of basic mechanical advice, although she starts with care of the rider, who is the "engine" after all.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Yet Another Alternative Drive System for Bikes (1896)

While the drive system was a bust, he did have a good idea with his spring-suspension.

"McIntire's Bicycle"

From Cycling Life, September 10, 1896. Another invention announced that the inventor hopes will supplement the reliable basic chain system.
The bicycle shown herewith is the invention of John W. Mclntire, of Chicago. The principal object of the inventor is to provide a driving mechanism by which greatly increased speed may be obtained. The rear wheel is constructed with an open center and in reality constitutes a circular track upon which the driving friction-wheel of the machine rests and runs. The track-wheel comprises an outer rim of crescent shape, in which is arranged either a solid, cushion or pneumatic tire, and also an inner rim concentric to the outer rim and connected thereto by spokes. The inner rim of the track-wheel is U-shaped in cross section, comprising a flat horizontal bearing surface and a pair of flanges. These flanges receive the ends of the spokes. The rim of the driving-wheel is composed of two metal rings. Each ring is formed with a flange, by means of which the rings are united to form a rim, the flanges being perforated to receive the spokes. The two rims slide and adjust themselves relatively to each other, thus compensating for inequalities in the surface traveled over and keeping the driving-wheel in constant engagement with the track-wheel. In order to guide the track-wheel and hold it against wabbling [sic] a triangular frame is connected to the main frame of the machine. In this frame are two guide-wheels, each provided with oppositely disposed flanges. These wheels run freely against the inner surface of the wheel-rim and support the track wheel against lateral movement. A brace is interposed between the rear end of the upper main horizontal bar of the frame and the rear corner of the supplemental frame. This brace is made in two sections and permits of-contraction [sic] and expansion by means of a spring. The spring serves to cushion the weight of the rider and prevents his weight tuning transferred to the supplemental frame in such manner as to cause the latter to bind against the inner rim.
The complexity of the drive system description suggests immediately the unlikeliness that this is a better solution than a simple chain connected to wheels with teeth to transfer power. On the other hand, Cycling Life had an oligation to the cycle trade to do this sort of publicity.

On the other hand, the spring "to cushion the weight of the rider" was not the main point of this invention (and perhaps not as unusual as it seems to me 100-plus years later) but is a feature in modern bikes.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"The Dancing Chain" (Book for Christmas)

The Dancing Chain (third edition) is the "history and development of the derailleur bicycle" and a wonderful book. Just got it for Christmas - previously I had looked at the second edition but the third is updated/added to quite a bit.

Dancing Chain Cover

Reall, though - the subtitle is a bit off. What this is is a history of the 20th century (and now into the 21st century) bicycle as influenced by the development and imnprovement of derailleurs.

Dancing Chain Sample Page

Chapter 15 is a helpful explanation of "how derailleurs work" that is good to look at early rather than at the end - but then this isn't exactly the kind of book that one reads from start to finish but rather dips into here and there.

This is one sort of book that's not going to be replaced by an e-book reader soon!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bicycles Out of Favor in Beijing

Article in the People's Daily describes efforts in Beijing to get people back on bicycles, rather soon after they just got off. Including rental bikes.

"Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing"

Some people gave up commuting by bike because it became too dangerous on roads packed with cars, Zhang Zhuting, a member of the Ministry of Transport's legal consulting committee, said.

Concrete measures are needed to ensure the effective operation of the public bicycling system, and the bike rental industry needs more policy support to survive, he said.

Tsinghua University law professor Yu Lingyun said many European cities, such as Paris and Amsterdam, have long run effective public bike systems.

"They have developed detailed rules and management mechanisms to maintain the system, and their residents obey the rules," Yu said. "Beijing should learn from their experiences."
Somehow to me this seems like a coals-to-Newcastle kind of thing, but I suppose it is different. Anyway, I think the problem in Beijing is economic and not about getting peoiple to obey rules.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bicycle Patents (for Entertainment/Historical Value)

In addition to searching the texts (old books) at the Internet Archive or old books at the Hathitrust (that are in the public domain) one can look at old patent applications with Google's patent search tool.

This is a odd undersized bike with gun for military use - in theory.
The full application is here. Oddly it is a "shaft drive" rather than using a chain. The handle bars pivot behind rather than in front of the rider, much like the triangle bike I wrote about earlier.

Some patents border on simple-minded, such as this parasol attachment/system.

Parasol Bike
(The full application is here.)

Searching for "bicycle pedals" reveals that toe clips were already developed in the 1890s. Perhaps most entertaining is searching for "bicycle brake" which reveals many less than optimal approaches that nonetheless had proponents. Some attempt to improve the simple and widely employed "press something against the rubber front tire from above" model (such as this example) others tried to act to slow the chain (such as this one).

Monday, December 20, 2010

This Bike Commuter's Favorite Day - 12/20

From here on the days get longer, until late June at any rate.

Morning Commute Four Mile Run
Bike trail along Four Mile Run approaching the south end of National (Reagan) Airport. The snow and ice from last week has cleared nicely.

These days I ride in as the sun is just coming up and then home in the dark. Even if there is plenty of cold weather ahead, more light and less dark is good.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Slow Bike as Fast as Fast Bike for Commuting (says MD)

This article in the UK's online Telegraph refers to a medical journal's study that demonstrates that commuting on a cheap steel bike is every bit as fast as commuting on an expensive carbon fiber (or fibre, since he's British) one. The author is a medical doctor, which apparently is considered enough to make up for the many methodological problems with his "study."

As is often the case, the comments are more entertaining than the article itself. Some completely miss the point and a few quibble that the author's "expensive bike" wasn't expensive enough to properly compare to the cheap steel bike.

The best comment includes this:
But the best bike is better, although the difference is marginal. Carbon fibre means the bike is lighter and stiffer and more efficient to ride at any given speed. I would suspect the doctor's heart rate and power output will be slightly higher on his steel bike compared to his carbon bike. If you are very fit and taking part in events at a reasonably accomplished level, spending more on a bike is worthwhile.
I particularly found the article interested since the good doctor's equipment (two bikes being compared) is similar to mine - a steel bike around 30 pounds and a carbon fiber around 20 pounds. (One difference is that I spent about the same amount on each, where he spent very little on his steel bike that he bought used and also less than I spent on either on his expensive carbon "fibre" bike - he's more fiscally sensible than I am, I guess.) And the commuting distance, around 40-45 minutes in good weather - is also similar.

My impression is that the increase in the average speed when riding the lighter bike (and using messenger bag rather than panniers) may not even be two miles per hour - say, from 15 to 16 mph average (for the whole ride, including sitting at lights and various slowing down for this and that). But the enjoyment of riding a faster bike and being able to accelerate much faster if I want to is more than enough that I choose to ride carbon fiber whenever that bike fits with the weather.

The suggestion that the cyclist losing weight is simpler and cheaper than paying big bucks to buy a lighter bike is something one sees in print often enough, but it doesn't work for me. By the same logic, I can argue that a particular tool (say a wrench)is just as good as a more expensive one that applies more force if the purchaser went to gym and worked out more and was stronger. Besides, if most people could lose five pounds or ten that easily, presumably they would.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Google Tool and Cycling

A new tool for analyzing frequency of words in the texts that Google Books has digitized (and has in its publisher program, too, I assume) allows some analysis (or conjecture, anyway) about cycling history.

An easy example that demonstrates this is to look at the frequency of the word "wheelmen" in American English - the results are fairly dramatic. With "ordinary" bicycles after the Civil War, there is some mention, but it is only with the introduction of modern safety bicycles in the 1880s that the term is much used - reaching a peak in 1885. The falloff seems earlier than I would have expected. Hmmm.

The tool also allows closer examination of a narrower time range, such as 1875 to 1925.

Other languages are available, including Russian. What was the usage of велосипед (bicycle in Russian) for example?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Commuting in the Snow

Snowed yesterday here in Washington DC during the day; took me about 75 minutes I would guess to get home in Arlington (about ten miles). I was riding my Traitor Ruben bike that is a steel road bike with disk brakes. Riding in the dark is slow, even with a headlight.

This morning I rode in, having reduced the tire pressure to around 60 psi and swapping in regular pedals instead of clipless, and it went pretty good although I guess it took me around an hour - so, ten miles per hour avg. Actually, not so bad.

Snow and Bike on Gravelly Pt

Usually here the ground isn't frozen solid and I need to stay on the bike trails, which get to be a mess with snow, ice and ruts. Today the ground is frozen solid so I went across the field for fun - a little more pedal energy required but easy to steer in a straight line.

Me and bike in snow

Much of the rest of the way I road on the streets, which are nicely cleared. I try to stay out of heavy traffic - only one angry beep from a motorist.

Someone in Shirlington runs a small snow plow down the bike trail along Arlington Mill Road as far as Walter Reed, clearing about four-tenths of a mile of bike trail. What a nice thing to do!

Return home addendum - the ride home started around sunset but was mostly in the dark. It was a good ride, although tiring. I managed to maintain a pretty good pace. The trails were clearer of snow than in the morning so I skipped riding on the streets - also, in the dark at night the local commuters have much less interest in sharing "their" roads and I don't want to get clonked.

Most of the people riding in the snow were using mountain bikes - while intuitively it would seem like a big mountain bike tire would give better traction in the snow, you are also pushing the big front tire through the snow, which on balance seems like more work. The 25 mm tires I am using have almost no tread; it's the lowered inflation pressure that gives traction (I think). Anyway, it isn't tread!

The worst part this time is that the road salt used ends up all over the bike if any riding is done on the roads (which I did) and the stuff is just annoying to get off, but clearly should come off since it can't do any of the parts or the finish any good (aside from looking bad).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The "Skate Cycle" for Winter (1896)

Skate Cycle (1896)

A small ad from the December 24 1896 issue of Cycling Life - directed at the cycle business and not end consumers, this company is hoping dealers will sell this innovative approach to getting around in the snow and ice.

I don't think this would work well on snow - the "skate" would sink down and scrape whatever was below. Perhaps more importantly the front wheel spinning must contribute something to keeping the bike upright. And what would the steering be like? Today I rode home after about two inches of snow fell in Washington, about eight miles of snow covered bike trails. It's tiring because of the need to stay balanced as the wheels encounter hardened snow. This looks like it would be much worse.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Russian Blogger Explains Cycling in Paris

"Live Streets" blog entry about the cycling infrastructure in Paris (in Russian). Google's language tool does an acceptable job of providing a English translation.

Автобусно-велосипедная полоса на улице Риволи / Bus-bike lane on Rue de Rivoli

Of course, it isn't perfect - a fair number of words related to cycling that the author uses don't appear in any dictionary so they are simply transliterated versions of the Russian Cyrillic ones. Most of these are understandable this way, however - the blog entry title is "Sketch of veloinfrastrukture Paris" - "veloinfrastruktura" would be "cycling infrastructure," a single word coined most likely recently in Russian. Or the word "sitibayki" - that is, "city bikes," a case (another case) where an English word/phrase has been incorporated into Russian wholesale.

This is a good, comprehensive overview of what Paris does to support cycling as an alternative means of transportation. Much of what is described is available in some (a few?) American cities, but I don't think any do all these things.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bicycle Christmas Ad (1896)

An ad in the December 24 1896 issue of Cycling Life.

I don't understand what this ad is trying to show specifically. Yes, this woman is pleased to have received a bicycle as a gift, but why is it hanging from the ceiling? Is that what it is hanging from? It seems a little odd.

You can see clearly the mesh added to the chain guard and rear fender to keep skirts out of the chain and the rear wheel.

Because Cycling Life is a magazine for "the trade" rather than consumers, it didn't feature too many themed ads of this sort. Below an image of Santa riding a bike taken from a larger ad for E.C. Stearns & Co. of Syracuse.

Santa On Bike (1896, Cycling Life)

Full page version of above ad from the December 24, 1896 issue of Cycling Life.

Bicycles Sales in the U.S. South (1896)

A letter to the editor in the December 24 1896 issue of Cycling Life.

The open racism reflected in this "communication" is appalling.

The special want in bicycles for southern states is the subject of the communication given below:

To The Editor— That there is still room at the top in bicycles is particularly true for us in the south, where the color line pevades [sic] everything. If some maker would only make a machine listing at $150 and held at that price so as to keep it strictly at that figure, we, for one firm in the south, would make it our ne plus ultra wheel. Just as the theaters are now empty so far as white people are concerned at all ordinary shows, and crowded even at $2 a seat on special occasions when there will be no people of color in the house, there is every chance that the best classes will soon stop riding bicycles because the negroes are taking to them in great numbers. We claim that the success of the machine which has been sold here considerably higher than a hundred dollars is due to the necessity of providing a mount which the negroes cannot reach financially, and to nothing else.
What we want, however, is a machine of superb finish, distinctive appearance and inflexible price.

Jos. Labadie, Jr., Sec'y,
The Galveston Cycle Co., Inc.
Galveston, Tex., Dec. 16.

$150 for a bicycle was a very high price in those days - the price range I have seen was from somewhere under 50 dollars for lower end models to 100 dollars for top models.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bike Lanes in Perm' (Russia, Siberia . . . )

If one is unhappy with progress for cycling where one lives, it is always possible to cheer oneself up by looking at someone else's situation - say in far-off Perm', in the Urals. (Think Dr. Zhivago.) (OK, I have remembered that Perm' is on the west side of the Urals and therefore not in Siberia, but close enough.)

This Russian-language site has photographs of the city of Perm' - the sixth one down is of a bike lane. In fact, if you click on it, it flips to a different photo of the same bike lane with sign overhead indicated it as such. (Yes, that space about 15 inches wide is supposed to be a bike lane. As I said, I thought I had problems . . . )

The text, in Russian, reads:
Велосипедные дорожки, обозначаемые в прошлом году робкой разметкой на одной улице, возмужали, окрепли и превратились в полноценных участниц дорожного движения. Теперь к разметке добавились дорожные знаки — важный шаг с правовой точки зрения.
and below the photo
Правда, ни одного велосипедиста на улице нет. И припаркованных велосипедов на улице нет.
In English, this would be:
Bike lanes, laid out last year by a faint line, have been strengthened [made more manly, is the word used!] and turned into a full-fledged participant in the road system. Now in addition to the lane line, signs indicating the bike lane have been added - an important step from the legal point of view.
but under the photo, it says
In truth, there is not one cyclist on the street. And no parked bicycles, either.
In other words, they have a way to go there in Perm' with this encouraging of cycling business.

Don't we all. But perhaps not as far as the пермяки (residents of Perm') have to go.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rider in Accident Near Park Tool School Dies

In a previous post I wrote about driving to a session of the Park Took School in Alexandria (VA) and observing where a car-bike accident had clearly taken place in the previous half hour or so - a beautiful randoneering bike was laying in the middle of the intersection with police everywhere. I now read that unfortunately he has died from his injuries.

The article notes that, According to FABB, this type of crash is very common for accidents involving vehicles and bicycles. Drivers making left turns at green light yields often do not see approaching riders or misjudge the bike's speed.

At age 16, I hit a car making a left turn in front of me on Connecticut Avenue in DC and rolled over the car, ending up sitting on the asphalt of the other side of the car wondering where my bike had gone (the bike stayed on the side where I hit the car - I had a concussion). Didn't ride again for years.

Certainly sad to read that this cyclist passed away.

Triangle Frame Bike from Seattle - 1896 Design

So, some Seattlites from the century before the last one had this clever (?) idea. But is it rideable? I do not think I have seen anything quite along these lines, although certain recumbents have the same business of the handlebars coming from the rear.

Triangle Frame Bike from Seattle (1896)

Really, can a bike with this extreme a head tube angle - it appears to be around 45 degrees - handle properly? One might also wonder about braking, but many bikes were supplied without brakes since this would not be a freehub, so you stop by slowing your peddling.
The construction enables the rider to propel the machine with safety, because no obstructions are presented in advance of the position of the rider and the machine can be readily mounted.
I wonder if the inventors supplied this mangled text or if writers at Cycling Life produced it. It borders on gibberish.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

1890s Women Riders Prefer Tires with Tread

Or anyway, a full page ad for VIM bicycle tires in an 1896 issue of Cycling Life suggests that this should be the case.


Cycling Life was a trade magazine and not read by likely purchasers of bicycles (or tires) so further research will be required to determine if this ad would have appeared in a publication read by cyclists (but I would expect it was). The message here is interesting, I think - rather than a concern that the risk of falling would put off potential women riders, the thinking seems to be that women want to ride bikes but they don't want to fall down, so the purchase of these tires can allay that concern. (Other VIM tire ads were directed at men, by the way.)


As tread patterns go, I'm not sure these would be all that much help - but better than nothing.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bicycle Marketing, 1896 Style


A full-page ad in the Cycling Life issue of August 13, 1896, has a standard description of the advantages of Columbia bicycles along with "extracts taken from letters to the Pope Manufacturing Company." Several of these "extracts" (quotes) surprise me.

Perhaps most of all is the quote, "I have had rare delight from my Columbia bicycle. It is matchless." - so says Sarah Bernhardt! Apparently she was not considered too bohemian to use in this capacity as celebrity endorser.

Sturdiness and low-cost maintenance are clear themes - two separate "extracts" combine the two in similar ways.
"I estimate I have ridden my Columbia bicycle 2,400 miles. It has given no trouble and has not cost me one cent for repairs. My weight is 200 to 205 pounds."— I. N. Knapp, Omaha, Neb.
"I have ridden a Columbia for two years with but twenty-five cents for repairs. I weigh 207 pounds." Allen H. Taylor, Cleveland, Ohio.
A bike able to withstand a rider of over 200 pounds was apparently regarded as exceptionally sturdy. One wonders what maintenance could be performed for 25 cents. . .

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tally-Ho Tandem Bike (1896)

An ad in Cycling Life for a tandem bike with a somewhat unusual design by today's standards, anyway.

Tally-Ho Tandem Bicycle (1896)

This rather simple design adds a new triangle with seat behind the seat post for the (now) front rider, with the rear rider somewhat aft of the rear wheel. The distribution of weight to the rear wheel would be severe - could this handle at all well? Presumably this would be unrideable without someone on the front seat. And the wear on the rear wheel's spokes and tire would seem likely to create problems. Particularly unusual is the chain that connects the rear rider's handlebars to the front rider's, so either (or both) can steer.

Another version of this cycle was a step through model for the front (woman) rider, a "courting tandem." The man in the rear could pedal and steer his sweetheart who rides in front. Thus having the rear seat slightly higher was a "feature" since the rear rider could then see over the front rider's head to do steering while seeing where they were going.

Another blog entry describing this type of tandem with more photos and includes a modern-day attempt at one - the modern version was intended to take advantage of possible advantages as a tandem track bike (I think). The rear wheel on the modern version looks like a lot of effort went into being it extremely strong.

Bicycle Built For Six (1896)

Above, a model with a similar approach to the back rider, from a different company. Not sure what the need for a six seater bike was in the 1890s - there were certainly three and four seat pace bikes that racers would draft behind to set records, but six seats?? Without riders the bike weighed 124 pounds . . .

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Durability & Bicycle Parts

For some years I used "traditional" Shimano SPD pedals and shoe cleats. I did not spend a lot of money on the pedals and had some "interesting" (unpleasant) failures - I never developed a good understanding of how to adjust or maintain them. When I bought a new road bike in 2007 I bought "road" Eggbeater pedals made by Crank Bros as well as a set of mountain bike Eggbeater pedals for my bad weather bike. The later set are now on my Traitor Ruben commuter bike (see below). Three years old and something like 6,000 or so miles on the pedals (not the bike) there was some play in one of them. I had used a small grease gun and lubed the pedals from time to time, but things do wear out.

Rebuilt Eggbeater Pedal

Each pedal has two "bearings" - one to the inside and one to the outside. For this not terribly expensive pedal, the inboard "bearing" isn't a bearing at all but a plastic bushing (sleeve) that is greased. The outboard bearing is a true cartridge bearing (ball bearings in two rings that keep them under easy control). Seems kind of amazing to me that they lasted this long, particularly since Crank Bros advised rebuilding every year!!!

I ordered a rebuild kit - basically, other than the pedal and the spindle, all the other parts get replaced - new bearings, new seal, new bolt to hold the pedal on to the spindle. The tedious part is cleaning off all the old grease and the plastic bushings didn't want to come out, but eventually all worked out.

Of course the outside of the pedals still look beat up, but then they are - but also pretty indestructable.

Separately I had the rear wheel of my Traitor Ruben rebuilt with DT Swiss spokes - the original spokes started popping after less than 2,000 miles, and when the third one went, I had the wheel rebuilt before the rim was ruined. No more black coated spokes on the rear wheel (which is how it came).

Since the bike has (mechanical) disk brakes front and back, one reason that the rear wheel was stressed was the extra load of braking near the hub with a disk brake that is transmitted out to the rim through the spokes. It would be great to have a disk brake on the front wheel and a cantilever brake on the rear wheel to reduce that stress - it would also be simpler than trying to adjust the rear desk if you have a rack attached to the bike since the rack complicates access to the desk brake.

Rebuilt Rear Wheel

Cycling is good for you (per 1896 article)

Short item in Cycling Life (journal) issue of August 6, 1896.
By turning the lights of physiology on cycling a Russian doctor has come to the conclusion that, next to lying abed, the cycling position is the most restful attitude the human body can assume, having five points of well-distributed support, on each of which the load may be varied at discretion. According to this opinion cycling is a scientific return to the quadruped motion of early man.

Articles in the cycling press (books as well) of this period often referenced the advice of doctors in favor of cycling, but whether this expert being a Russian was thought to add to his credibility or not is hard to know.

Washington Post story on growing popularity of cycling in D.C.

"Bicycle program makes District easier place to get around, residents say"

Article is about both the success of Capital Bikeshare and the unexpected (apparently) growth of cycling as a way to get around fashionably in the district.
. . . officials say they are stunned by the immediate popularity of Capital Bikeshare, a network of 1,100 communal red bicycles scattered around the District and Arlington County for residents and tourists.


I have certainly seen more and more people using these cycles, some in the morning in places that indicate they are using as part of their commute.

But generally there is room for improvement . . .

Andy D. Clarke, president of the Washington-based League of American Bicyclists, said the District still has a long way to go to catch up to Boulder, Colo., San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and other West Coast cities that promote bicycling.

But Clarke said the District and New York have moved into the "top tier" for short-term gains in launching cycling-related initiatives.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Very Pretty City Bike

Linus Roadster Sport - looks like a very nice bike for civilized city riding. (Perhaps not what I generally do, but still.)

Photo from Flickr showing a Linus Roadster Sport
Carol & Linus Roadster Sport

I'm a little puzzled by their frame options - either 51 cm or 58 and nothing in between. And at 30 pounds, the small is a tad heavy. Why is the model with a rack the "sport" model? Oh well. On the other hand, the prices most dealers list on the Internet seem quite reasonable for this kind of quality.

Good to see something like this with dual pivot brakes. Stopping is good!

"Giant Tricycle for Advertising Purposes" (1896)

Giant Tricycle for Advertising Purposes.
The Boston Woven Hose & Rubber Company exhibit at the L. A. W. meet at Louisville - a gigantic tricycle fitted with Vim tires.

1896 Vim TIre Co. Big Trike

It takes eight men to propel it, and was built complete at the company's factory in Cambridgeport, from plans by John Dewolfe, the mechanical expert of the company. Many attempts have been made in the past to build giant machines, either bicycles or tricycles, but none of them have ever been successful, faulty construction proving the obstacle to the success of all previous similar undertakings. This tricycle has already been used with success at meets near Boston, and has been ridden over the road seme few miles around that city. The extreme height of the machine is about eleven feet, which is the diameter of the larger wheels and tires when inflated; the cross section of the two tires is sixteen inches. These are the natural rubber color. The smaller or guiding wheel has a diameter of six feet with a cross section of nine inches. This tire is of the floxine color, which this company has used to characterize its product this year. The three tires are exactly the same in construction as the regular Vim tire put out by the firm, and has its pebble tread. The machine weighs 1,453 lbs. without the eight men, who weigh approximately 1,120 lbs. more. This makes the whole thing 2,573 lbs. In construction it is analogous to the locomotive, having in reality a double set of gears. The four men on one side are geared to the wheel of that side, and the four men on the other side are geared to the other wheel. It will be ridden through the streets every day during the meet at Louisville by a picked crew of men.

From Cycling Life, available online. August 6, 1896 - page n21 in the online version.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cycling Life, August 1896 - January 1897 issues

Cycling Life, August 1896 - January 1897 issues

Cycling Life is a weekly periodical intended for "the bicycle trade" published in the 1890s. The issues for a year and a quarter that the Library of Congress holds have been digitized. Published in Chicago, the subtitle was "A Cycle Trade Paper - the Only One."

From the Cycling Life, Dec 3 1896 issue - this is the only full color ad for a bike in these issues - very pretty.
Cycling Life, Dec 3 1896 issue

Link to the above page in Cycling Life.

The bound volume that was scanned, above and below.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Two Books from 1890s - Travel by Cycle in Europe

Cycling in Europe was published in 1899 and is available online here.

The title is reasonable:

But the sub-title is rather long:

Title Page, Cycling in Europe (book, 1899)

The book reminds me of Rick Steves of today - while he writes advice books on travel, he also organizes and leads tours himself.

Cover, Cycling in Europe (book, 1899)

68 pages of advice of various kinds - all for only forty cents.

Most of the photographs seem to be stock photos but there is one that does have bicycles in it, of France ~

Photo, Cycling in Europe (book, 1899)

Some of the advice is fairly general travel advice; for example, about passports:
Unless you are going to Russia or Turkey, you will not be obliged to show a passport on entering the country, and if you take one the chances are ten to one that you would not use it once, and yet I would advise that you take a passport, because you might need it, and if so you will be very thankful that you have it.

A second book on this topic published in 1898 is "Why Not Cycle Abroad Yourself?" is also available online.

The subtitle of this one is a little shorter - WHAT A BICYCLE TRIP IN EUROPE) COSTS, HOW TO TAKE IT, HOW TO ENJOY IT, WITH A NARRATIVE OF PERSONAL TOURS, ILLUSTRATIONS AND MAPS. It isn't clear from the title, but the book is intended specifically for women cyclists.

What would any sensible nineteenth century up-to-date young woman do nowadays if setting out on a journey beyond the night and across the day, to say nothing of going beyond the furthermost purple rim? Why, naturally she would get out her bicycle, read this little book which would tell her all she need to know, and start off throughout the world at an expense which would make her or anyone else think living in a Harlem flat dear by comparison, considering the returns achieved.

Title page of Why Not Cycle Abroad Yourself (book, 1898)

The tone is of helpful light amusement ~
As to the expense: Aside from the first cost of the ocean passage a European tour on a bicycle costs no more than, if as much as, an ordinary summer outing at home under the same conditions and of a like duration. The truth is that the cheapness of a wheeling tour in Europe is really remarkable — if one wishes to make it cheap and knows how. As to languages one has no need of an interpreter. Abroad, as elsewhere, money talks and is the best interpreter you can possibly have. However, this statement is made with limitation. I have no wish to disparage the worth of linguistic attainments, and no one is further from belittling the value of a knowledge of French, for instance, with a smattering of as many other languages thrown in as you can conveniently get into your hand bag. Still, one can go as far as to say that with a fair idea, in advance, of what things ought to cost, and with all the information which it is our object to have comprised in this little volume, one can travel throughout Europe on a bicycle without being subjected either to extortion or petty annoyances, and with perfect ease, comfort and safety. I make this statement, too, not from any theoretical point of view. It is based on actual experience in Italy, where, ordinarily, nothing is spoken except the language of the country. There I have often stopped at a cafe to enquire the way to the next town in my choicest Italian, and have been understood to say that I wanted a bottle of their best Chianti. Still, such an experience is so novel, and you and your friends get so much amusement out of it, that it becomes a pleasant incident of the trip. Besides, it really isn't a serious matter if you get to your destination perhaps a bit later than you expected. You may be sure that the extra time will not have been without pleasure and profit.

At back of Why Not Cycle Abroad Yourself (book, 1898)

While entertaining enough to read now, as a book of practical advice at the time it would have been somewhat tedious since it combines narrative description of actual trips and randomly placed advice - trying to find answers to specific questions would not be easy. Apparently one was expected to read the entire 210 or so page.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Inflatable Helmet? Swedish Nuttiness

Article in Huffington Post points to Reuters item about a Swedish-developed "inflatable helmet" that activates in the event of fall or accident - but at $450 each this seems unlikely to serve as a popular alternative for adults who choose to avoid traditional helmets, which is the intent.

I also learned that Huffington Post has a (minor) category for "bike culture." Good!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

1906 Book - Around the United States by Bicycle


This book describes the 1904-05 trip around the United States of two young fellows - nominally to win a wager. This sort of "sponsored" bicycle adventure began in the 1890s and I was surprised to find such a trip as late as 1904 - my reading (of other books about the period) suggests that the news media became skeptical about this sort of thing and it fell out of fashion before the end of the nineteenth century. (They did follow through and publish a book, which most of these travelers failed to do.)

The full book is available online here. (It is from the Library of Congress . . . )

The rather elaborate routing to minimize their travel but hit all the required states (and territories!).


From the introduction:
Clarence M. Darling and Claude C. Murphey, age 19 and 20 respectively, left Jackson, Michigan, on May 2, 1904, to make a trip by bicycle through every state and territory within the boundary lines of the United States proper, namely, forty-five states, four territories, and the District of Columbia. The trip was the result of a wager. Upon the success of the tour a purse of five thousand dollars would be won by the two contestants providing that they lived up to all the terms and stipulations of the wager. The conditions were that they were to start on this long journey penniless, while on the trip they were neither to beg, work, borrow, nor steal, all the expenses of the tour to be met by the profits resulting from the sale of an aluminum card-receiver or ashtray, a facsimile of which is given on one of the following pages.

Below, the "souvenir" they sold to raise money as they traveled.

One of the few illustrations to include one of their bikes, showing a location in Washington state.

The only photo of the authors and their bikes, at the finish. Or at least I assume the authors are in this photo - but which ones are they??

As is often the case in books reporting on trips taken by bicycle, little is said specifically bicycle-specific aspects of the travel, it is more a report of their encounters with people they met along the way and observations about places. They do not, for example, even report on their daily mileage achieved, which would seem closely connected to their winning the "wager" - but given the title of the book I suppose they figured readers would understood them to have won it, so no drama there.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

20 Percent of Bike Commuters in One Year . . .

Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) study that tracked bike commuters and monitored the types and severity of injuries, described in the BikePortland blog. (With a link the published study.) This text got the most interest:
Approximately 20% of bicycle commuters experienced a traumatic event and 5% required medical attention during 1 year of commuting. Traumatic events were not related to rider demographics, safety practices, or experience levels. These results imply that injury prevention should focus on improving the safety of the bicycle commuting environment.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bicycle Accident on Way to Park Tool School

This article has finally appeared describing the accident that must have taken place about a half hour before I passed by this location about three blocks from where I was going to take a session of the Park Tool School (at a bike shop). The bike was still laying in the middle of the intersection and there were half a dozen police cars, so I figured the cyclist had been killed but apparently he is still alive.

One wishes for fewer car-bike accidents.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Winter Stuff - Gloves and Shoes (and other things)

It's all about layering. That, and keeping the fingers and toes warm. Keeping in mind that it doesn't get below 20 (F) here much.

Critical pieces

Warm riding gloves - solution: Pearl Izumi "lobster" gloves
These are relatively pricey at something over 50 bucks but if you want to ride in cold weather, essential. There is nothing worse than riding at a reasonable pace and feeling your fingers turning to ice.

Warm riding shoes - solution:

Shimano SH-RW80 Gore-Tex Cold Weather Road Shoes

Well, I didn't pay $229 for them!! But something like $150, yeah.
Shimano's cold and wet weather road shoe with Gore-Tex and Dual Thermal lining to provide warmth and dryness.

The good part: they are a road shoe that has the intent to keep your feet warm - typical road shoes are vented in many ways, often including holes in the soles. So yes, these are a cold weather road shoe. Also, the soles are just plastic but seem pretty stiff.

The not-so-good part. "wet weather shoe??" The shoes have GoreTex, apparently lining the inside. I don't see this does the slightest good - the shoes take in water just as fast as any other road shoe but since they are so built up, they dry out more slowly. So the wet weather role advertised is baloney, basically. But I eventually concluded that no shoes or shoes+waterproof shoe covers do this well, so I find their advertising puzzling but consider the shoes to do as good a job as is possible.

(As far as I can tell, riding in medium-to-heavy rain at a reasonable speed and avoiding getting your feet wet is impossible. I have some rubber shoe covers from Adidas and even though they have tight grippers at the ankles, water works its way down and into the shoes so that eventually my feet are completely soaked - upon arrival after a 40 minute ride I can wring out quite a bit of water from the socks. It's more like a diving wet suit - the water accumulates slowly enough in the shoe that my feet stay warm. This is not exactly how such rubber booties are advertised, however.)

I also use some neoprene half-length shoe covers over the winter shoes, particularly if it has been raining recently. These keep mud etc off the shoes.

Before I had these shoes, I used regular road shoes with zip-up in back neoprene shoe covers. Yeah, these are much less costly but they are not very durable over time and they don't do the job nearly as well.

Mostly I try not to spend lots of money on bike clothes, but for riding in winter I finally decided that having the right equipment is worth a few bucks. Low cost alternatives don't even exist for these products - but end of season sales do.

OK, one other ingredient is a good wind breaker to wear over layers. I bought one made by Cannondale ten years ago that I am still using - at the time it was like 50 bucks down from 80 because they were out of the sensible high visibility yellow - the one I have is blue (not very high visibility). It has a very high thread count, I guess, anyway it is light but wind doesn't go through it. It has side zip vents that are nice when it turns out to be more than is wanted but I don't feel like stopping and taking it off.

Yeah and I guess in addition to a pair of simple basic tights that work down to say freezing or a little below, I bought some true winter tights last summer (which worked well during "snowmagedon").
Performance Triflex Tights without Chamois worked really well - the front panels are windproof and apparently waterproof. The main drawback is that if it gets up to 40 degrees, say, these are really too warm.

(Before I had these, I would use polypropylene long underware under cycling tights - this feels odd and is neither windproof nor waterproof, so the winter tights are much better.)

Arrival at work in rain gear
Just arrived (heavy rain)
I'm mostly blocking the view of my bike, alas. It's the one with the white saddle.

The main features of my wet weather strategy are to have a baseball cap under my helmet to keep water from sluicing down my face, which is quite annoying so I'm happy to do without, plus a lightweight waterproof jacket that I can take with me easily (and not GoreTex).

Friday, November 12, 2010

Some Russian Bike Blogs/Sites

Let's Bike It проект по развитию велодвижения в России (Russian version) and Let's Bike It Russian cycling development project (English version). The English version is a completely different set of entries on the same topics in English. At the moment the two authors are traveling in Europe (France, the Netherlands) doing research on cycling (I suppose it is like research, anyway).

Live Streets or Живые улицы is not just about cycling but urban issues more generally, from Ekaterinburg. Russian only.

Iron Pony First is блог о велосипедной культуре в Петербурге, о которой пока что не так много можно сказать, поэтому приветы от других велосипедных культур здесь тоже будут. That is, a blog about bicycle culture in St. Petersburg (about which there isn't much to say for now . . . ). Russian only. is an online Russian biking magazine, of sorts. Only in Russian. Has section for videos and various types of bikes, such as fixed gear.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Alternatives to the "Traditional" Chain

Almost all bikes today have chains that are remarkably similar to each other and to chains of 100 years ago. All chains have pins that are 1/2 inch (and not some metric distance) apart - this means that it is fairly easy to check if a chain is "stretched" without special tools. (It isn't really that the chain stretches so much as that the pins bend, resulting in a longer chain.) Simply matching up a ruler to a straight length of the chain for 12 inches will show whether the chain is longer than it should be or not. If the chain is stretched more than a few percent longer than it won't match up with the teeth on the cogs and rings and can ruin them - and chains are cheaper than cogs and rings. If you let it go long enough, chains can break - I once saw a fellow break a chain while crossing 14th St on Independence in DC. Rather an abrupt stop.

I'm told that at some time in the 1990s Shimano introduced a chain with one centimeter between pins - the resulting links were closer together and of course the cogs and rings had to be with teeth that were also closer together. Like many "innovations" that represent a pointless departure from traditional approaches, it didn't catch on.

An idea that is presented as new but is actually from the 1890s is to replace the chain and rings with a drive shaft - in other words, before there were cars with drive shafts, there were bicycles with them. Wikipedia's article on bicycle chains notes that a bicycle chain is more than 98 percent efficient in transmitting power, so the big problem with other systems has been that they are usually less efficient.

This 1900 catalog has a shaft drive bike listed first:

The superiority of bevel gears for power transmission in the bicycle has become established beyond question.
Actually this is clearly not true, but the next statement about how well the shaft drive lasts (29,000 miles!) compared to a chain of those days was probably a strong favorable consideration.

At 65 dollars, the shaft drive bike is the most expensive model that this company was selling at the time. Presumably the big plus was that the shaft drive was cleaner than a chain, and for women didn't require netting over the rear wheel and chain guards to keep skirts out of the chain system. One suspects the absence of systems to demonstrate the lesser efficiency may have also contributed to a continuing interest in chain drives. Note that the drive shaft took on the role of the right side chain stay in the bike's structure.

For whatever reason, some early bicycle manufacturers pushed shaft drive bicycles for some time. They were even used by cycle racers - the African American rider Major Taylor rode shaft drive bikes in races, for example. But eventually they fell out of favor - for one thing, they were always more expensive than the comparable model with a chain. Also, removal of a rear wheel to work on a flat tire appears to be more complicated on a bike with a chain drive.

Notwithstanding all that, there have been attempts in recent years to introduce bikes with shaft drives, generally on bikes where the perceived lower maintenance and cleaner aspect of a shaft drive would be attractive, usually paired with an internal hub shift system.

Dynamic hybrids
In this modern example, there is a chain stay and the drive shift.

Another, probably more sensible approach is to use a drive belt to replace the chain. The belt is based on timing "chain" (or belt) technology developed for cars and these belts are incredibly strong - and require no grease or lubrication, so they stay clean. Ixi Bikes makes a small easy-to-disassemble (but not folding) bike with a belt. Trek makes several different full size bikes with belt drives, such as the District single speed, below. The belt drive seems to be pricey compared to a chain but is almost certainly just as efficient.

Trek District

The Bicycle Chain - 1896

The technological improvements in modern bikes over those of the 1890s are much less than the 120 years would suggest likely. One of the critical "ingredients" for the first "safety bicycles" was the use of a chain to connect the rear wheel to a drive shaft with pedals (rather than pedals at the center of a large front wheel). The basic structure of a bicycle chain has not changed in all that time, but I was surprised to see that there were variations - the 1896 Victor Bicycle catalog (from Overman Wheel Co.) shows a chain where the sprocket teeth are spaced further apart and engage the chain only between every other (rather than every) link.

1896 Victor bicycle chain

1896 Victor bicycle sprocket

Commercial catalogs collection. Overman Wheel Co. Victor bicycles. 1896, University of Michigan.
Available online:

Perhaps the perceived advantage was that each of the sprocket teeth could be much more substantial, but the trade-off of having half as many teeth makes this seem a wash and somehow the symmetry of the chains we use today seems more efficient (and in any event, that chain won out). Would this approach mean that the pins would bend less? (That may have been a problem in those days.) And maybe the relative cost of chains was more than today so a sturdier chain for the money seemed wise. Hard to know at this distance in time.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cheap Spokes = Bad Idea!

My impulse buy bike, a Traitor Ruben steel sort-of cyclocross sort-of urban something-or-other bike had pretty good components but the wheels were no-name (other than the name of the company, Traitor) and the spokes were these black-coated anonymous things, 32 per wheel.

Anyway, a few months ago they started popping at the nipple end on the rear wheel. First one - replace it, then another - replace it. Now after the third has blown I have given up on one-at-a-time and am having the black crap spokes cut off and having the wheel rebuilt with new DT Swiss spokes.

Traitor Ruben - new cycle

A drive (ok, rear) wheel of a road bike with disk brakes has to work really hard, so the spokes need to be something other than junk selected to make the bike look "cool." (Assuming someone is going to ride the bike and not just admire it.) 2,000 miles or so isn't that long for the wheel to go through, so it is poor performance for the spokes to fail already. (No, I don't wait 220 pounds or carry panniers full of bricks.)

Well, there you have it. When evaluating a bike to buy, the wheels and the spokes should meet the same quality assessment as the derailleur (let's say). A 105 or Ultegra derailleur doesn't make up for crummy spokes.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Steel Bike in Morning

On my commute I sometimes am lucky enough to chat with some interesting riders. Friday I came upon a young fellow riding a 1985 Fuji steel racing bike that he had "restored" and somewhat updated.

This is a similar looking Fuji from that year. (I should keep my camera in a more reachable location when riding, I guess.)

The bike was beautiful - it looked new (well, other than the design) although he had removed all the decals so I had to ask him what it was. Very nice lugged frame and fork. He had reused the original derailleurs, shifters, and even brake levers. The one concession to modern cycling was to replace the so-called 27 inch wheels with 700 size that he hand built and to put on modern Campy dual pivot brakes.

I interested to see he was riding on 32 mm tires rather than 23 or some more racing bike-typical size. Hmmm. And he reported that while he had started putting in 80 PSI he was now closer to 60 and it seemed fine, speedy enough. And he obviously finds people like me, die hards in the "tires can't be too thin and have too much PSI" camp amusing. (23 mm and 120 PSI in rear, 110 in the front is what I have. I am rethinking this.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

No Bike Parking, Please (Capitol Hill, LoC)

No Bike Parking

How not very friendly. At the Adams Building, Library of Congress, Washington DC (on Capitol Hill).

What they mean is that they don't want bicycles locked to the railing blocking the ramp for the disabled, but do they provide a bike rack close by? No. Do they indicate where the nearest LC bike rack is (about 100 yards away, out of sight, across the street)? No. And so on. So instead people have bikes locked to sign posts up and down the street. Could be done better.

And the sign itself actually takes up more of the relevant real estate than any bike ever did. Oh well!