Friday, August 31, 2012

Another Shaft-Drive Bike Poster from BnF

In my previous post I wrote about the use of Pinterest to present bicycle posters from the French National Library on Gallica. My example was a poster for a chainless shaft-drive bicycle - I didn't notice that there was another poster in their Pinterest collection that is a shaft-drive bike, and one that shows the shaft-drive aspect better.

Did chains break all that often?

The BnF has posters not just from France but from other European countries on their Pinterest "Velo Board." It appears that the above chainless bicycle was made in Denmark by Nordisk Cyclefabrik - ah the things you can discover with Google. Small print on the poster indicates that while the bicycle was made in Denmark and the poster was likely intended for use in Denmark (since it advertises a Danish location for purchasing the bicycle) the printing was done in Paris - so presumably this is how it got into the BnF, through some sort of copyright-like deposit.

Someone in Denmark created a blog post (in English) describing this Danish chainless bike if one wants to know more.

This poster, as with the other, emphasizes the reliability of a shaft-drive bike over a bike with a chain - that chains break and you can avoid that with a shaft drive. It may have been that manufacturing practices at the time produced chains that were less reliable than today - other than bikes from box stores, I think most chains are pretty reliable nowadays (unless abused). Modern attempts to market chainless bikes have focused more on their being cleaner and easier to maintain, particularly for belt-drive systems combined with an internal hub gear system.

The one somewhat fanciful aspect to this poster is the effortless way the rider is proceeding up what looks to be a reasonably steep hill - this shaft-drive bike is still a single speed bicycle and riding up a hill while seated would generally require a fair application of effort. (While I have seen many photos and images of both men and women in the 1890s bent over their bicycles to ride quickly in so-called "scorcher" position, I have never seen a photo where the rider has stood out of the saddle to ride up a hill.)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chainless Bike Poster from BnF via Pinterest

The National Library of France Gallica digital library now has a Pinterest account that includes a set of bicycle posters.

One of the posters from Gallica's Pinterest selection

This poster for a chainless bike; that is, for a bike using a shaft drive rather than a chain, is less detailed than most bicycle posters that show the bicycle accurately. This appears to have the shaft drive on the left side of the bike, but typically it was put on the right side - the same side where a chain would run.

While there are still occasional efforts to revive shaft drive systems for bicycles today, they aren't very successful. More successful has been the effort to adapt disk brakes for road racing bikes - I was interested to see Leonard Zinn "throw some ice water" (as he put it) on this notion in his column today. My own experience with Avid cable-actuated disk brakes on a road bike (although not for racing) has been that they are more maintenance headache than they are worth.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Swedish Inflatable Helmet Won't Go Away

Several news sources, including Slate have given some coverage to further developments of a "invisible" (inflatable) Swedish bicycle "helmet". (I put "helmet" in quotes because as an American, I'm aware of the importance of tort law, and I suspect that what these folks have created doesn't amount to a helmet but is some sort of "inflatable cranial protection system" or the like.)

The instigation for this coverage would seem to be a new video depicting the work of the two Swedish women who came up with this idea and who have slogged away for seven years (at least; it isn't clear) on its development as a commercial product.

A brief description of how the "invisible" bike helmet has gotten to where it is today

Slate presumably covered this cycling news because of the "man bites dog" nature of it - most coverage in the general press of bicycling is like that (or else scandals with Lance Armstrong et al). The Slate author is highly skeptical, focusing in particular on the cost ($600) and that the thing is only usable once and then needs to be replaced (for another $600, apparently).

My thinking is (perhaps) a little more nuanced.

More or less instantly inflatable personal crash protection devices are not new, leaving aside car air bags (which are attached to the vehicle, not to the person). Riders in cross country equestrian events can use a vest that inflates when the rider is "separated" from the horse. (This development was a result, it seems, of Christopher Reeves' accident.) Here is one example. The cost is roughly comparable to the invisible helmet, but it is reusable. In short, the basic idea is not so radical as it might seem.

There is a difference, of course - the invisible bicycle helmet completely replaces the usual helmet a cyclist would wear while the inflatable equestrian vest augments a safety vest that was being worn otherwise to improve it. From the standpoint of improving safety (as the number one goal) it is easier to identify with the "augment" approach than with the "replace" approach. In fact, if one wanted to enhance safety of bicycle riders, the simplest way to do that is to wear a better helmet - a motorcycle helmet - and not an inflatable helmet (that has to work its way up around your head to do its work).

The main goal though is not so much safety as to have some safety while serving the all important desire not to muss one's hair or to be uncomfortable (which one of the inventors declares traditional bicycle helmets to be) and to have something that doesn't make your head look like a "mushroom" (which is a statement in the video . . . ).

Bicycle helmets are a relatively recent development - one can review the Wikipedia article on bicycle helmets to confirm this. Early helmets were not very good in various senses; but since the development of the polystyrene foam approach now used it feels like we are stuck with helmets that should and could be better in protecting a rider's head. Looking at how to improve today's helmets would seem more useful than switching to a $600 alternative exotic option.

But yes, anything that sits on your head may muss up one's hair - there is little to be done about that. Making a helmet that is comfortable seems more easily rectified. The "it isn't attractive" aspect has been addressed by a number of companies, including these options from a company called BandBox

The whole fashion statement aspect of cycling can be amusing - Nutcase makes helmets that are intended to be more appealing (I confess I'm not sure why) to a certain audience and I see them here in the D.C. area, but in the summer it seems a little crazy - a helmet with less ventilation? Little tiny holes? Talk about comfort ! (or lack of comfort . . . ) Quite reminiscent of early Pro-Tec bicycle helmets in appearance, but given the greater amount of foam, likely less comfortable.

Perhaps these folks could get the price down to more like $300 (although who knows - part of their price has to be their insurance or whatever to fight law suits from those who decide the thing didn't protect them when they have a hurt skull notwithstanding use of the product) and make it so it is reusable - would it make more sense? I have trouble getting too excited about it even then, but who knows, someone might be pleased to pay six to eight times the cost of a regular helmet to avoid mussed hair. Here in heat-and-humidity land, I'm not sure I see that wearing a big fluffy scarf-collar thing around my neck is more appealing than a ventilated helmet. This isn't Sweden.

A particularly interesting question not addressed directly in the video (although sort of implied) would be whether this helmet is safer than a typical bicycle helmet for the user. I would assume that if it works correctly, your head is happier bouncing on a firm air pillow to absorb shock than polystyrene foam.

There is also the theory that has some support that motorists ride more carefully around cyclists who are not wearing helmets than those who are. So this "helmet" could be useful in encouraging motorists (who would not perceive the protection of a helmet) to be more careful around cyclists wearing this device.

There are apparently endless issues to consider here - but I'll stop now.

Hains Point loop
I don't know, I think the helmet adds some joie de vivre

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Nobby" Bicycle Suits (1896)

"Bicycle Suits" (1896)
Cycling attire ad, 1896

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.

Women cyclists of the 1890s often wore special clthing specifically created and intended for cycling, such as bloomers. I usually think of the tweedily attired male cyclists from the 1890s as riding in a version of their regular clothes, but this kind of ad suggests otherwise.

The slogan of this company, Rosenwald & Weil, seems a bit obscure - "Distinctive gentility in style - like brevity in composition - represents greatest merit."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

100 Years of Bicycle Component and Accessory Design (Book Review)

100 Years Of Bicycle Component And Accessory Design: The Data Book (Cycling Resources) (Cycling Resources)100 Years Of Bicycle Component And Accessory Design: The Data Book (Cycling Resources) by Van Der Plas Publications

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The sub-title on the book itself is "authentic reprint edition of the data book." The "data book" referred to is a 1983 Japanese publication that Is several hundred pages of line drawings of parts of bikes, apparently taken from a variety of publications. It is somewhat whimsically organized, grouping together particular components and then providing examples from the 1880s through the 1950s. (It isn't clear why it refers to 100 years of data; the book doesn't cover 100 years.) the book was compiled for Japanese cycling enthusiasts originally. The Japanese book translated is a compilation from four longer volumes of similar materials put together by the president of the Japanese Joto Ringyo bicycle company.

The book's description says it includes English translations of the Japanese text, but there is little text provided so this doesn't amount to much. Apparently this American edition sound some interest since the copy I have is a second printing. Still, it is Something for enthusiasts and the almost complete lack of information about what one is looking at is peculiar. This book is not to be confused with something like "the Dancing Chain."

I happened to find this at Half Price Books in Seattle for 20 dollars and at that price it has a certain entertainment value but at the original price of $39.95 it doesn't seem worth having.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Bucolic Cycling Image

Bucolic Cycling
Filler illustration from 1896 cycling magazine

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

An idealized view of cycling in the 1890s - perhaps. Hard to know if it is idealized or not, actually.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Nice 1891 Paris Poster

L'Etendard français, bicyclettes et tricycles
From the Library of Congress

Title: L'Etendard français, bicyclettes et tricycles / J. Chéret, 91.
Creator(s): Chéret, Jules, 1836-1932, artist
Date Created/Published: Paris : Imp. Chaix (Ateliers Chéret), 20, rue Bergére, 1891
Medium: 1 print (poster) : lithograph, color ; 123 x 88 cm.
Summary: Poster showing a woman riding a bicycle, carrying a tri-color pennant.
Library of Congress

Many such posters include a fair amount of accurate detail of the bicycle but this on is more impressionistic.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Schwinn Five Rider Pacing Bike (1896)

I discovered this article about an early Schwinn "Quint" - a bicycle that seats five riders who would be able to attain a very high speed and a single rider would then try to set speed records riding behind them, drafting.

The Referee and Cycle Trade Journal: a Weekly Record and Review of Cycling and the Cycle Trade. Volume 17, Number 2 - May 14, 1896.
The article in the online presentation of this magazine.

Quint Bicycle with Team
The Schwinn "World Quint" and the bike that would draft behind it

It is Exhibited on the Road and Track and Causes Astonishment.

The quint made by Arnold, Schwinn & Co., to be used in pacing Johnson, made its appearance last week and was given a trial at the Thirtyfifth street track. Kennedy made an attempt at Steele's state record of 1:55, but the track being in poor condition and the men not being used to the machine the best time made was 2:08. The chains on the machine were too tight to admit of its being ridden as fast as Kennedy was capable of going. The makers had figured on the chains stretching enough in riding the quint to the track to make them about right, but the chains didn't stretch. This fault was easily and quickly remedied, and the big affair was out on dress parade Sunday, the riders being clad in white suits. The boulevards were covered in the morning, a crowd of cyclists following at all times. The machine is a fine-looking affair, is substantial and ought to serve its purpose well. It has been shipped to the team in Paris.

Quint Bicycle Action Shot
An "action shot" of the quint on the track