Sunday, July 29, 2012

Paris-Roubaix, 1896

The "crack rider" Fischer, the winner

"The Referee and Cycle Trade Journal: a Weekly Record and Review of Cycling and the Cycle Trade." Volume 17, Number 1 - May 7, 1896.
Full article in "The Referee".

Much to my surprise, detailed coverage of the Paris-Roubaix "tourist riding" race of 1896 in France in a publication from Chicago. (The article various spells the German winner's name "Fischer" and "Fisher.") The article starts as follows:


Averages Over Eighteen and a Half Miles an Hour on the Journey—
Linton Holds Him Even for a Part of the Distance.—
Eck and Johnson's Plans
Paris, April 21.—[Special correspondence.]

Favored by glorious weather, the opening road event of the season, Paris to Roubaix, 280 kilometres, or 174 miles, duly took place last Sunday, forty-eight riders out of an entry of a hundred facing the starter at the Porte Maillot at 5:30 a. m. The value of the prizes was as under: first, £40, second, £20, third, £12, fourth, £8, the following five £4 each, and the tenth was a case of champagne. A prize of £6 was awarded the leading man at Amiens. A. V. Linton managed to secure this sum, winning by half a wheel from Fisher. All along the line road records were smothered, the winner Fisher, riding throughout the race at an average speed of over 18.2 miles an hour, which pace in itself constitutes a record for tourist riding.
". . . Tenth [place prize] was a case of champagne . . . "

The top finishers, their nationalities and times
In the presence of over 10,000 people at the Roubaix track, Fischer, the German, wheeled six laps, having secured the first prize, and covered the full journey in the wonderful time of 9 hrs. 17 min.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Vertically Compliant in 1896 . . .

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

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

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

Here are some modern discussions of this sort of thing:

* Bicycle frame compliance

* Frame design

* Carbon fiber frames and compliance

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chain Lube . . . Russia?? 1896 Product

Getting advice on what to use to lubricate a chain on a bicycle is interesting - people usually have pretty strong views and they are typically all over the place. This guy's review is fairly low-key although he builds a fairly typical level of enthusiasm for his particular favorite, but at least he runs through an analysis that makes sense.

The ad below, from 1896, is interesting since the product claims to be "the only chain lube on the market - by which they mean the only "dedicated chain lube" product, not used otherwise for something else.

Russia Chain Lub
Ad for Russia chain lube

from "The Referee and Cycle Trade Journal: a Weekly Record and Review of Cycling and the Cycle Trade." Volume 17, Number 1 - May 7, 1896.
Full volume of issues
Russia Chain Lubricant Use the Best - It is the Cheapest
Improvement is the order of the day
The only chain lubricrant on the market. Will not soil the hands or clothes, keeps the chain bright and clean. As a lubricant it is superior to any Graphite on the market. Can be handled with a kid glove. It positively will not gather dust, and will save wear on the chain and sprocket wheel.

"Ha ha, you're a sight! Why don't you use Russia Chain Lube, same as I do?"

"I will hereafter. No more graphite for me!"
So the main advantage of this product is that it goes on clean, unlike graphite. And then a bit of comparative advantage in lubrication is claimed too, why not.

I can't imagine why it was called "Russia" chain lube . . .

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bicycles Built for Two (1896)

"Safety" bicycles that could have two (or more) riders were developed quickly after their introduction in the late 1880s. In addition to tandem two seaters bicycles much like we see today, there were multi-rider bikes for as many as ten. The Orient Quad is an example from the Orient Bicycle Company - they specialized in such novelty bikes. And there was the Punnett side-by-side tandem in 1896 - I have often wondered what it must have been like to try to stay upright on a such a bike.

Recently I found issues of The Referee and Cycle Trade Journal: a Weekly Record and Review of Cycling and the Cycle Trade available online

Perusing the first issue in a vast 1,400 page plus bound volume of issues (the weekly issue for May 7, 1896 to be exact - Volume 17, Number 1) I found several more exotic examples of tandem (or tandem like?) bicycles whose designs do not come down to us today.

Odd Tandem (1896)
What's wrong with this design?

At first glance this is much like a "trail-a-bike" of today, where the back end of a basic bicycle, missing the front wheel and any steering, is attached to the seat post of the "lead" bicycle as kind of trailer (with seat, non-steering handlebars, and pedals and drive train for the rear wheel). The big difference is that upon close examination of this photo it is clear that in this design the bike in the rear follows the front bike in a fixed straight line, not like a trailer. Crazy.

Bike Coupler
A slightly more practical design

Here we have a full page ad for a "do it yourself" version of the side-by-side tandem bicycle. Most of the full page ads in the publication are from larger companies, so they must have been trying to get people's attention.

"Coupled" Bike - detail
Closer view - that it is shown with youngsters is an interesting choice

This is not such a bad design if I understand correctly how it would work - it appears that there are connections for the steering so that the steering is "coordinated." The statement is that this "coupler" is "flexible" in some way, but it seems doubtful that one would lean into a turn, so where is the flexing? But as a way to get a new adult rider on a bike for a short ride, it seems OK. The weight seems a little daunting - presumably when they say "adds only five pounds to the weight of each machine" it means the various coupling bits and pieces total ten pounds - so two 25 pound bikes attached in this way would run up to 60 pounds. Hmm.

Again, not a design that we see today.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Paying for Infrastructure - Cycle Paths in 1896

The Referee and Cycle Trade Journal: a Weekly Record and Review of Cycling and the Cycle Trade. Volume 17, Number 1 - May 7, 1896, page 50. Available online

The more things stay the same . . . the more things stay the same. Really though this is quite different since such discussions today focus on proportionality and whether cyclists contribute to their infrastructure at the same rate as drivers contribute to the infrastructure for motor vehicles. But let's just look at the situation in 1896 for now . . .


The solution of the financial problems associated with cycle path programmes by the imposition of a tax on all owners of bicycles within the districts affected is an easy but by no means always desirable one. There is strong opposition being manifested just now against a bill providing for such a tax which has been introduced into the New York legislature and in many other localities the proposition has been duplicated.

Only when a thorough canvass of the riding community reveals a practical unanimity of sentiment in favor of such a measure does it enter the field of reasonable and proper legislation. Falling short of this measure of endorsement by those whom it chiefly affects, it takes rank with the most vicious examples of unwarranted and discriminating law making.
(What is meant by "Wheel Tax" would be a tax on bicycles - here, "wheel"="bicycle.")

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Punctured" - Love & Cycling, 1898


From the Library of Congress - full record
Title: Punctured
Date Created/Published: c1898.
Medium: 1 print : lithograph.
Summary: Man with arrow in chest, on a road holding a bicycle, facing a woman with a bicycle. Love.
* Lithograph copyrighted by Henry Graves & Company, Limited, London.
* This record contains unverified, old data from caption card.
* Caption card tracings: Bicycles; Love and courtship; Shelf.

Ah, librarianship - able to reduce anything to rather a musty discussion. Still, a nice lithograph, and amusing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Betsey Jane On Wheels - Fiction & the 1890s Cycling Craze

Betsey Jane on wheels; a tale of the bicycle craze. - I found this online recently, digitized for preservation (and access) reasons at the Library of Congress.

Title page for "Betsey Jane on wheels," published in 1895

Online record for this book
Personal name: Brown, Herbert E.
Main title: Betsey Jane on wheels; a tale of the bicycle craze. By H. E. Brown.
Published/Created: Chicago, W. B. Conkey company, 1895.
Description: 285 p. incl. front., plates. 19 1/2 cm.
Subjects: Cycling--Fiction.

PDF of the entire book

Set of many of the illustrations from the book

The heroine in her bloomers

This book was apparently part of a subscription series that readers would receive "issues" of as one subscribes to a magazine - but each would be a different book. (Oddly this title was deposited on copyright promptly after publication in 1895 but apparently not cataloged for ten years. Keep in mind that I'm also a librarian, so such things are of mild interest - if only to me.)

This work of fiction, over 200 pages, describes a family and then town's infatuation with bicycles and cycling. It precedes from one son taking it up, to the daughter (who wears risque bloomers), to the father and then finally the title character, the mother of the family, Betsey Jane. Issues such as whether women should ride bicycles (and if so, what they should wear) and the views of churches and government on cycling are dealt with directly (more or less - considering it is a work of fiction). Written in 1895, before the cycling craze hit its peak and was then overcome by the automobile, some of the suggestions about the future of cycling are optimistic or anyway didn't come to pass - are the suggestions about uses of bicycles on farms at all serious? I don't know.

The author steps out of his fictional role (as Betsey) and has the following conclusion, which is editorial in its tone.


As the most interesting part of a book is usually the conclusion I have concluded to finish this work by writing a conclusion, but will leave the reader to form his or her conclu­sion in regard to its merits.

I have attempted to give some idea of the bicycle craze which is now so prevalent, and although some cases may be slightly over­drawn, I think that I am justified in such overdrawing, as the bicycle craze will undoubtedly reach more alarming proportions another season.

The large manufacturers of buggies, wagons and street cars having noticed a decided fall­ing off in the demand for their goods, and, profiting by this experience, have concluded to meet the popular demand by converting their plants in bicycle factories. They have declared their intention to place wheels on the market at less than one-half the present prices, which will bring them within the reach of nearly every­one. When a good wheel can be purchased for twenty-five or thirty dollars, few people will be without one, for as a means of conveyance the cycle eclipses all four-footed beasts, as it is cheaper, safer and faster.

That cycling is a healthy and profitable recreation, none can deny, but, like all other good things, there will be plenty of people who will carry it to the extreme, and many others who will condemn the whole business on account of the injurious use which is made of it by a few.

Cycling is one of the few sports in which ladies can indulge with the same freedom and good results as the more fortunate masculine element of society. There has long been a want of something which will afford the ladies both sport and exercise, but so far nothing has been introduced which equals the cycle. Men can play base ball, run foot races, hunt, fish, box, wrestle and jump, but poor woman has so long been debarred from any active amusement, that, physically, she has been deteriorating, and now the cycle comes in as a good Samaritan. It affords an asylum, a refuge, a sort of fire escape, and gives the gentler sex an oppor­tunity to build up their well nigh lost physical powers.

What if some do abuse the sport and themselves also? It does not follow that cycling is wrong, any more than a great many other institutions which have suffered from the same cause, or that because a few church members do not live up to what they profess, that the church is entirely wrong, yet there are people who will argue on this basis, and tell you that cycling is not right, and that no intelligent or sensible person will ride a wheel. But the world would not be able to move in its accustomed orbit without some cranks, as the millenium would soon arrive and put an end to cycles, cranks and all.
The coming "car craze" had not yet tempered this fanciful view of the future

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Seasonal Cycling Attire (1895)

All these are taken from the August 11 1898 issue of the Washington Times. This newspaper later cultivated its cycling readership with stories on cyclist matters, but at this point apparently the paper was still unsure how seriously to take the topic, resulting in these somewhat less than flattering illustrations with the caption, "Experience with a garment."

Winter cycling attire

Rain cycling attire
Rainy weather

Summer cycling attire
Summer (in Washington)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Driving, Smartphoning, Biking

Driving My Smart Phone
OK, at this point we were both stopped

A bit east of 14th St, traveling west on Independence Avenue SE (in Washington DC), I found myself pacing alongside a new-ish Mercedes with a fellow driving and typing on his phone.

People in cars should keep in mind that for a cyclist, nothing can be worse than finding oneself "sharing" the road with a driver whose attention is diverted in this way. This guy is an accident waiting to happen - and if it's with a cyclist, the Mercedes wins (and the cyclist loses).

I'll confess - I didn't take this while we were still moving but only after he stopped and I stopped alongside. But it tells you something about his engagement with the outside world that he was oblivious to me alongside while driving and when I stopped and took his picture.

What I really don't get is when people like this guy, in order to (sort of) do two things at once do them both poorly - or at least the driving part. It's a dead giveaway that you don't have your mind on the task at hand when an old guy like me can keep up with your Mercedes.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Belling the Bike (Not the Cat)

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

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

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

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

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