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

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Urban Bikers' Tricks & Tips (Book Review)

Urban Bikers' Tricks & TipsUrban Bikers' Tricks & Tips by Dave Glowacz

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I'm not going to pretend this is an unbiased book review - after I got annoyed by some of what the author said on certain subjects, I realized I could nitpick the thing here there and everywhere - in a box, with a fox, and so on. So, off we go!

My main complaint about this book is that it is chock full of really dumb so-called advice. Self-styled as "Mr Bike" the author says he is a certified instructor for the League of American Bicyclists - presumably for LAB courses he teaches he sticks to their instructional materials because I doubt they would support his more dubious and often outright illegal suggestions.

Mr Bike's view is that one can be a "sly biker" who "knows how to read traffic well" and therefore can "beat traffic without scaring peds or making motorists hit their brakes." That all sounds pretty good, but his specific strategies can be questionable - with yellow lights, he advocates "maintain your speed" when looking at an oncoming car waiting to turn left, but "be ready to go round the car, stop, or make an emergency turn." Slow down? No, that would "make yourself a target."

Much of the "sly biker" advice is situational and detailed and I think kind of absurd. There are six pages of left turn scenarios! This advice typically assumes that you, the reader, have little ability to think through such things on your own, that instead you will remember Mr Bike's book and that on page 86 he covered this very type of thing and you should . . . no, that ain't gonna happen. Of course since Mr Bike seems to have little of what I consider common sense there is no particular reason for him to think you have any, either.

The bike does have bike selection and mechanical troubleshooting sections, but they aren't as detailed as the left turn information. I don't know what to do with a book that says that for a rubbing derailleur, for example, that the solution is "have a mechanic clean and adjust the derailleur."

At various places Mr Bike admits some of his advice isn't legal, but I can't really see why a LAB instructor should be advocating under "what to do about conflicts [with motorists]: fight back" that you can "grab the antenna and bend it as you go by." A helpful sidebar does opine that "in most fights between cyclists and motorists, cyclists lose." But to try to even the odds, Mr Bike notes that a U-lock is potential weapon and there is a section on acquiring and using pepper spray.

Self Defense for Cyclists
This illustration of bicyclist self-defense from 111 years ago is better than what I observed in Mr Bike's book

Mr Bike contradicts himself. Much of his advice advocates the sort of cyclist behavior that motorists do in fact notice and that increaes the present motorist-cyclist friction - but in places he shows an awareness that it would be good if folks thought better of cyclists - "when biking in crosswalks or on sidewalks, slow down and always yield to people walking. That way peds will think well of bikers." Until the peds get back into their cars and meet you on the road, anyway, if you follow this book's advice.

Mr Bike's use of statistics to make some points is peculiar - for example, in a sidebar advocating cycling on roads, he notes "you've already taken bigger risks - more bike crashes happen on off-street paths than in traffic. Why? On paths, people bike next to walkers, runners, skaters." Well, yes - if by "bigger risk" he means risk of a crash, that's true, but the risk of a serious crash as far as consequences to the cyclist are higher when you are out with the cars.

Under "special techniques" he advocates drafting behind motor vehicles - vans are good if you can see through their windows, now there is a helpful hint - and "skitching" (grabbing onto a vehicle) and hitching a ride. One is just dumb and the other is both dumb and illegal.

My daughter commented, "maybe he is just kidding?" I wish.

In addition to all that, there is a "do it on the cheap" advice that I think isn't very good. For example, there is a complex explanation of how to build a "do it yourself" headlight system for less than 100 bucks, but even when the most recent edition of this book was published you could buy over 100 lumens of LED headlight for under $100 - now you can get 150 lumens for say $65. No urban biker needs more than that.

The title page lists 11 illustrators and two photographers whose efforts contribute to an extremely random and often busy graphic look for most pages. (Just thought I'd add that while I'm complaining.)

On the plus side, the photographs of how to load a bike onto a transit bus bike rack were taken in Seattle and are so old, the buses are ones that I drove when I lived there more than twenty years ago. (No, I don't recognize individual buses, just the series numbers.) Seattle no longer uses bus bike racks like the one shown in the book, but most cities do, I think. Mr Bike makes loading a bike into such a rack into an 11 step process that looks pretty complicated.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

I think there is more useful good advice in this 1896 Washington Times article I blogged about earlier that includes such common sense suggestions as "Many of the accidents we read of every day could be avoided if the riders would regulate their pace according to their skill in managing the wheel under difficulties" and "Do not ride in the middle of a path or driveway. You are liable to meet with an accident, and cannot recover for damages to your wheel unless you observe the rules or the road." Or my favorite - "Always preserve your dignity and pay no attention to small boys or dogs, both of which are perfectly harmless to the average wheelman."

I'm not sure "dignity" is in Mr Bike's vocabulary.

View my list of cycling books and reviews 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.