Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Schrader Valve Patent - 1892

Schrader Valve Patent (1892)
A patent for a product used widely to this day

The Schrader valve had a patent application in 1892 and the patent was issued in 1893 - and they are used on bicycle and car tires even now. (Racing bikes usually use Presta valves, however.) Every once in a while, looking at these old patents, one sees something like this.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kickstarter Reflective Sticker = Success

This project, creating stickers for bicycle wheels, succeeded quickly

I find it interesting that this project was successfully funded through Kickstarter reasonably quickly. My observation is that Kickstarter bicycle projects that look for funding for bicycle lighting (which is what this is, more or less) that focus on "fun" are more likely to be funded that ones that focus on safety. This seems all about safety, although the video makes it look modestly fun (I guess) to have your wheels light up as complete circles with reflectors that run around the entire rim. The video is remarkably focused on the guy's technical process - perhaps that has an appeal to a certain Kickstarter audience? I have never seen so little video of the product in action.

It's possible that this was funded easily because of the low price point - compared to many Kickstarter projects you don't have to contribute too much to get the actual items when produced, if that's what you want (and apparently it is what people want).

The idea of having more visibility from the side for bicycles is harmless enough, but as usual with such Kickstarter projects, the video shows the bicycle with the product with no other lighting, front or rear, to emphasize the wonderfulness of this product. In reality, of course, this product does not replace good front and rear lighting for a bicycle. The Kickstarter come-on admits this, stating "Even though Fiks:Reflective Rim Stripes offer a huge increase in side visibility, you should always ride with front and rear lights at night" although it kind of suggests otherwise with the statement that "the special retroreflective material offers a [sic] increase in night visibility of bicycles from any angle."

An obvious question, not addressed, is whether the absence of a high level of side visibility for cyclists contributes to bike accidents - the answer would appear to be no. In urban areas, bike accidents fall into a number of categories - this bike safety page, How to Not Get Hit by Cars-important lessons in Bicycle Safety describes the most common. The right hook, which many cyclists do not much worry about, is the most common and side reflectors would address this not at all. In fact, of the ten listed, the only one where side reflectors might help would be the "left hook" where an oncoming car makes a left turn into a cyclist - and as someone who was involved in a major left hook bike-car accident years ago, the usual scenario involves a motorist waiting at a light for traffic to clear, the slower moving bike is screened from the motorist's view and he/she jackrabbits when the car traffic clear and hits the bike - having reflectors on the side would likely not help much for this.

One can also review statistical analysis done in reports such as this one from Colorado that is not necessarily easy to parse but which does suggest a little more utility for side reflectors (looking at the "broadside accident" category) than the Bike Safety page.

Of course one could simply make do with the simple side bike reflectors provided with many bikes.

Wheel, Tire, and Reflector
A more traditional side-facing wheel reflector - not sexy enough, apparently

Other than my questioning how much this contributes to real improvement for operating a bike at night, I tend to question this statement, "Since the profile of rims vary from model to model, there will be a few sizes available to accommodate most modern rims." Rims of course vary endlessly and I can't imagine how a small operation will make clear which version will fit a particular wheelset so that the stickers fit well to create a good looking round reflective circle with the stickers laying nicely flat. One good idea is to have a black reflective version for black rims - then if it doesn't match up quite right it won't be so noticable.

It's not mentioned, but of course this product can't be used on older style box type rims since the only flat side surface available is the braking surface - no stickers on the braking surface.

araya himiko rb-j1 rim
Nowhere to put rim stickers on this classic

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A "Better" Drive System? 1893 Illustration

Lovely Bike illustration from Cycling Monthly (1892)

This illustration from a bound volume of issues of Cycling Monthly is the colophon at the end of the book, advertising the services of the publisher. Cycling Monthly was a publication containing patent applications related to bicycles published in the 1890s.

The publisher provided this nice line drawing of a bike - note the unusual drive system for the bike with levers as part of the pedal system combined with the usual chain drive.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Bike in a Horse (Patent, 1892)

VeloHorse Patent, 1892
A "VeloHorse" patent from 1892

The oddest claim is that this is a "useful improvement" to bicycle design.
My invention relates to certain new and useful improvements in velocipedes. The object of the invention is mainly, to conceal the motive power gearing of a velocipede having its body constracted in imitation of an animal, preferably a horse or pony, and further to provide a simple, cheap and durable carrying frame of the character named, and to the accomplishment of the above the invention consists of certain novel parts and in certain novel combinations of parts as will be fully set forth and claimed . . .

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Commuting and Bike Lighting

Alas, Daylight Savings Time is over, and it is the season for commuting home in darkness. While there are certain entertaining challenges to this, mostly I find myself having to resist being super annoyed with an ever-increasing number of fellow bike riders.

My approach is perfect, of course. Well, not really, but I think it is OK.

Part one is a good headlight that doesn't blink. I bought a NiteRider Sol 115 lumen headlight three years ago (almost exactly) for $99. In areas where it is truly dark on moonless, cloudless nights (the clouds can reflect a lot of city light back down, it seems) you can see the details of the trail reasonably well. On the other hand, it isn't so bright that it blinds oncoming cyclists.

Part two is to have a couple of those blinking red things on the back. At the moment I have only one because although I bought three; two are broken. The idea was to have the same bracket on several bikes so I could move them from bike to bike easily, but I wasn't expecting them to fail quite so readily. I do not recommend the "ViewPoint Flashback 5 LED Mini Tail Light" - the circuit boards are too fragile.

Part three is to add a yellow reflective belt for enhanced visibility from the rear. I particularly like this one - "3M Scotchlite (TM) Reflective Material Waist Belt" - Home Depot sells them for 11 dollars. When I ride with a messenger bag, I wrap it around the bag and it helps with visibility from the rear. When I ride a bag with panniers, I make the belt as long as it can be and wear it like a sash, which enhances visibility front and rear.

NiteRider 100 Lumen +
The NiteRider "Sol" 115 lumen + headlight I use

The "the more the better" approach is getting more popular all the time, thanks I suppose to the falling price of good (as in bright) lighting. For the same $99 you can buy 250 lumens worth of NiteRider bike light at Performance. (For only another 50, you can have 600!) While I have no doubt it is wonderful to light up the trail ahead with all that light, most cyclists are pretty poor at aiming their lights so as to avoid blinding oncoming riders and I don't think the manufacturors have spent enough time focusing the light output particularly well, either.

The "headlight on head" approach is also more popular since you can now bolt 250 lumens to your helmet with a self-contained battery (no cord to a battery in your back pocket etc.). This generally is worse for the oncoming cyclists than 250 lumens bolted to a handlebar. The headlight on helmet makes a lot of sense for bombing through forests at night on a mountain bike, but that isn't what we are talking about here.

The blinky light approach has evolved to include the super-bright blinky option. 100s of lumens, flashing! Right in your face! Well, obviously I find this annoying. Am I the only one? Anyway, I don't see how this would "scale" - let's say instead of the relatively small number of people riding home in the dark on bikes we have now that we had four times as many. It would be miserable if half of them had these lights. It's bad enough now as far as I'm concerned.

The retrograde approach of little or no light has yet to disappear - perhaps they are protesting the people with too much light by having none at all? I don't know, but they're still out there, sometimes in pretty dark circumstances.

A couple of nights ago I was entertained by a fellow who was in this last group meeting up with someone in the "power light on head" category in front of me on the trail. The underpowered fellow had an anemic headlight using a CVS brand C battery or two purchased several years ago, I would guess - completely useless for seeing the way ahead (and not much for "being seen" either). He was charging along in the dark going south under the many bridges on the GW Parkway (Mount Vernon) trail near the 14th Street bridge. Apparently he forgot that the trail takes a dogleg left and an oncoming bike with both 100s of lumens on the handlebars and on the rider's head blinded him - he rode right off the trail into the grass, but surprisingly didn't lose control. Apparently embarrassed, he tried to power back onto the trail but then the wet leaves kicked in and he almost crashed as he spun out.

No doubt to solve this he went to Performance (or the equivalent) and bought 1,000 lumens of help so as to join the "more is better" club.

Oh well.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

When to Put on New Tires??

Maxxis Re-Fuse Tire - worn out?
Maxxis Re-Fuse 25 mm tires on Traitor Ruben - not as bad as it looks

These tires came with my "urban/cyclocross/whatever" class Traitor Ruben bike, purchased a little over two years ago. Maxxis puts the Re-Fuse in its "road-training" category with an emphasis on "traction, durability and plenty of road miles in any condition." The main emphasis seems to be on anti-flat protection - a "Kevlar® belt and silkworm cap ply combine to provide a tire that Re-Fuses to puncture." (Maxxis, a company in Taiwan, learned their English from the British.) I think the idea is to compete with better known tires like the Continental Ultra Gatorskin and the like.

I ride this particular bike in crummy wet weather and when it is cold enough that it seems simpler to use a bike with panniers to carry all my stuff than a messenger bag. I have a cyclocomputer on it but I don't know where the instructions are, so other than the current speed display, it doesn't provide useful information (like how many miles traveled). Oops! My impression is that I have riden it somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 miles, which is also how far these tires have gone. (I "rotated" them once, putting the front tire on the back and the back tire on the front, since the rear tire wears faster.)

I chose to photograph (above) a section of the tire that is mostly typically, other than that three-pointed ding that looks like something is stuck in it (but other than grit, there isn't). When that first appeared, I took the tire off to see that it didn't go all the way through and otherwise investigate just how far in it went - I eventually decided it looked worse than it was and to see how things went with it. I have no idea what caused it - if it was something sharp, why didn't it hole the tire? Anyway, I think I rode another 1,000 miles after it appeared.

The generally crappy appearance of the tire surface only got this bad recently. Originally the tire had a nice "bumpy" appearance on the entire riding surface, but that smoothed out on the center portion fairly quickly, but this worn appearance with small open ridges into the rubber took a while to develop - as one can see, this gathers grit into the tire surface, but since it is all pretty small stuff, there doesn't seem to be much point in trying to pick it all out. Still, not a good sign.

Anyway, since it is fall and I am going to be riding this thing more, I decided it was time to change to a new set of tires because it seemed likely I would start having problems with these this winter. I try not to spend too much money on tires, so I wait for sales from online vendors like Bike Tires Direct and at some point long before I needed new tires I was able to buy a pair for $65, which seemed pretty good for a folding road tire. (A folding tire has a Kevlar bead rather than pieces of wire - trying to mount a tire with a wire bead at home is bad enough but if I have a flat on the road it's hopeless, so I only buy folding road tires, but of course they cost more.) If I had waited to buy the tires until I needed them (ie, when they look like they do now) I might have considered switching to some other tire, but given the kind of riding I have done and the cost (and since I already own them!), I guess I'm satisfied with putting on another pair of these.

I believe people like Jan Heine write about waiting until they get several flats that they attribute to tire wear before putting on new tires, but I don't want to manage them that way. Perhaps it is using road bike (23-25 mm wide) tires - often something besides overall wear of the tire surface causes some problem that necessitates changing to a new tire. Looking at this Maxxis tire, which hasn't flatted in some time, I'm not really thinking it is worth seeing how much more wear it can take before I spend large parts of my commute on the side of the trail (in winter . . . ).

New Maxxis Re-Fuse tires
New Maxxis Re-Fuse 25 mm replacement tires, mounted on Traitor Ruben

So here are a couple of shots of the same tires when new. The bumpy pattern is a little surprising for a tire classed as a road tire, but there it is. I take the Sheldon Brown point of view on tires that for road use, a smooth tire is ideal and that a tread pattern (particularly one this minimalistic) contributes nothing for traction - on the other hand, it is so minimal that I don't think it slows the ride down, either (and anyway, the bumps wear flat on the center line pretty quickly).

New Maxxis Re-Fuse tires
New Maxxis Re-Fuse tire, close-up view

The assumption that some tread pattern was better than smooth for traction was a selling point for one tire in the 1890s - the "VIM" tires. If only the woman in the ad below had her bike fitted with VIM tires with their "pebble" pattern, she would not have crashed.

Vim tire ad emphasizing "pebble tread"
1896 tire with "pebble" tread - magazine ad pushes advantages

The pattern for the VIM tire is quite like the Maxxis Re-Fuse. Perhaps while riding on dirt roads and the like then (and of course this tire would have been much wider) it was helpful.

The "pebble tread" explained (1896 bike tire ad)
Ad shows the tire pattern (rather than no pattern at all)

1890s Bike Patents, Sensible and Not So

I have posted about drive systems other than chains before - even though the typical bicycle's chain drive approach was the development that made the "diamond [frame-shaped] safety" bike possible in the 1880s and is amazingly efficient, inventors then and after keep trying to come up with better alternatives.

Shaft Drive patent, 1894
Shaft drive patent in 1894 for a "chainless safety bicycle"

The text of the patent application makes it clear that this was just one "chainless" approach~
The invention relates to the driving mechanism of the class of chainless safety bicycles, and the object is to provide an easy running and noiseless driving mechanism for such machines which while simple and cheap will be strong, durable and readily adjustable. To this end the invention resides in details of the construction and arrangement of the parts making up the driving mechanism of such a machine, as more particularly hereinafter described and pointed out in the claims.
This was not the first patent for a shaft drive system for a safety bike. The typical (and easier) shaft drive approach is to have two regular chainstays and to replace the chain drive with the shaft drive - here the right chainstay is also replaced by the shaft drive, so that the shaft drive replaces to different parts of the bicycle, both its drive system and part of its frame. I suppose it seems more elegant to have a single straight piece of metal rather than two in that space.

Some manufacturers still are trying to come with shaft drive bikes that will sell, but I don't expect them to become common any time soon - as the Wikipedia entry notes, a properly lubricated chain is more efficient.

So while the 1894 patent was not a recipe for success, it was an idea that had a tenacious appeal (apparently, judging by its refusal to go away). The Columbia Bicycle folks tried to sell shaft drive bikes during the 1890s-1900s but they were always the most expensive option and never caught on.

Other patented ideas, however, were just goofy ~

The advantage of this patented idea was what, exactly?

I am quite surprised to read there was a whole "class of velocipedes" using a "continuous circular track" that the bike operates within, as stated in the patent application's text (see below) - I guess if I looked at more old bike patents I would probably find them.
The object of this invention is to improve the construction of that class of velocipedes embodying a continuous circular track or rim in which is mounted a wheeled frame for the rider, and which is pedal driven by the rider. The improvements relate to the construction of the inner machine with reference to its engagement within, and guidance by, the great wheel or endless track.
How do you steer? I confess in the end to be more intrigued by the triangularly shaped chain ring - how does that improve things? There was the famous Shimano "Biopace" chain ring that was oval, but triangular?? Hmm . . .

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

Riding a single speed
On Veterans Day I am reminded of this fellow, who I saw several times and talked to during the summer of 2010 on my commute.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

1895 Cycle Racing, Home Version

1895 Patent for a "Racing Index for Home Trainer Cycles"

From the patent application:
The idea of the invention is, to form a game or sport by which persons can contest against each other on home trainer cycles; a model on the track representing each contestant and the faster either person pedals his home trainer cycle the faster will the model representing him, travel on the model track.

In other words, you pedal your stationary bike and the little bike in front of you races your opponent (at the correct relative speed, hopefully).

Looks better from this angle . . .

Perhaps a modern version focusing on the exercise and "fun" aspects would be suitable for a Kickstarter funding proposal?

I think a proposal for funding a modern racing trainer duo cycle thing would do better than yet another Kickstarter LED cycle lighting proposal - enough, already.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cycling Patents Monthly (1890s) & Bike Child's Seat

Looking at Cycling Patents Monthly in the Hathitrust digital library is easier for browsing old bicycle-related patents than searching for them in Google.

The digitized issues of the journal, Cycling Patents Monthly, cover the years 1892-1895. Nothing but cycling related patents! Apparently the volume of patents connected with bicycles was unprecedented during the cycling craze of the 1890s. As usual, I found a patent for something that one sees today as "new."

1895 Child's bike seat patent
1895 patented version above includes a sunshade

Front Kiddie Seat
Today's version, but no shade

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bike + Umbrella, Then & Now

I have noted this before, but there are very very few new ideas for how to improve bicycles (that are good, anyway).

A "new" product first patented in 1896

Other bloggers have looked at this device, the "Überhood," and critiqued its likely performance, for example Mr. BikeSnob and the Wired Gadget Lab. (It turns out an Überhood isn't a neighborhood that is better than all the rest.)

And I had a blog post about a similar product - patented in 1896!

Patent Application for Parasol Attachment (to a Bicycle)
One assumes they weren't trying to get the 1896 equivalent of $79 like the Uberhood people, but it still failed

I wonder why they haven't looked for Kickstarter funding.

Long Freight Fuji Bike on National Mall

The National Mall is hardly a place to see many hipster bikes. While jogging at lunch I snapped a photo of this "longbike" with my cell phone camera. On the way back, we saw another one near the Supreme Court! Now I'm wondering if it wasn't the same bike. . .

Fuji frame, Xtracycle platform bike

At the moment Fuju does not have its own Xtracycle platform bike (like the Surly Big Dummy) so this is a custom modification of a standard frame - a mountain bike, in fact, with a disk brake and full suspension fork on the front, and the person has added a fender as well. With the Xtracycle add-on to the frame, the freight-carrying bags and the childseat, the thing probably weighs 50+ pounds. Not to mention that NYC-style chain.

Fortunately Washington has few steep hills