Sunday, March 30, 2014

World War I: German Bicycle Corps

Rotogravure of German Bicycle Corps soldiers WWI

An image from "The War of the Nations" published in 1919, made up of rotogravures taken during World War I from the New York Times. Rotogravures were photographs printed in newspapers using a higher quality process than was typical, producing better results - this comes from a volume published in 1919 after the war was over, a compilation of photographs taken by news photographers.

The photographs in books like this, with minimal (and fairly self-evident) captions, often raise all sorts of questions. Here the soldiers with bicycles are "marching with difficulty over the sand dunes" - one has to wonder, why are they bothering to do this? And why are they heading in one direction while behind them we see a column of soldiers (the same army) heading in the opposite direction? It is noticeable without much examination that the soldiers heading left-to-right seem to all have backpacks, while those heading right-to-left are (mostly) not doing so. And so on. One will likely never know. Not, of course, that it matters.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

World War I - Americans Race Bicycles in France

The Stars and Stripes (Paris, France), February 7, 1919, Vol. 2 No. 01, page 6 has the following short story about a bicycle race held by the American Expeditionary Force during World War I.

5th Army Corps to Hold Thirty Kilometer Pedal Speed Contest

On Saturday, February 15, the Fifth Army Corps will stage a bicycle road race from Bourbon les Baines to Nogent en Bassigny, a distance of about 30 kilometers. Three teams of 20 men each will start, representing the 29th and 82nd Divisions and the Fifth Army Corps troops.

There will be a trophy for the team having the greatest number of men to finish, as well as individual prizes. Bicycle road race rules will govern. There will be no pacing other than that done among the contestants themselves, and controls will be established where assistance may be given the contestants.

Colonel Foster, athletic officer of the Fifth Corps., is in charge of the details of the competition, which he claims will forever put a stop to the arguments about the speed of the couriers in the recent big offensive.

All along the course organizations are arranging to give the riders a big reception. The finish will be at the foot of a big hill in Nogent en Bassigny, near Major General Summerall's chateau.

Article as it appeared in the Stars & Stripes

This kind of activity, a recreational race, was possible since the war had ended in November 1918.

Image of scout (not messenger) cyclists in World War I

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Arlington County (VA) and Trail Plowing

March 9 I sent the following as an email to the Arlington Bike Coordinator; later I submitted a revised version to the County Board on their website.

It appears that over the winter the County decided to switch from salting trails to plowing. (I leave near Rt 7 and Walter Reed and ride down the trail along Walter Reed, then down the trail along Four Mile Run to the Mt Vernon trail and then in to DC that way.)

I am surprised by the timeliness of some of the plowing that happened - in particular, the that runs parallel to Walter Reed between Rt 7 and Arlington Mill Drive was plowed recently very quickly after the snow - this makes a lot of sense since if you are going to plow trails (and not salt), it should happen fast before the snow turns into ice from people walking on it.

The different this past week was very noticeable between the trails I use in Arlington and the Mt Vernon Trail, which was untreated and unplowed. The main thing was that the trails that were plowed become clear and useable by a regular bike quickly and the Mt Vernon trail was only rideable until Thursday either by riding very carefully or by having a bike with studded tires (which I have).

Plowing isn't a perfect solution - Tuesday in particular some trails had been plowed before my morning ride but the result was that the asphalt (with the 15 degree weather) was coated with a thin sheet of ice instead of a thicker layer of ice and snow so that a regular bike would not have traction - it would have been impossible to ride without studded tires. But by that afternoon the situation was already better, and Wednesday morning the Arlington trails were rideable (with care) while the Mt Vernon trail was not. Still, I think plowing is better than treating with salt etc.

The plowing is good. Thank you.
Plowed trail near my house - makes a big difference!

This kind of systematic effort to clear trails used by cyclists (and others, of course) following snow storms is new this year in Arlington, and there was enough snowy weather for some experimentation. The first round was to use salt/road treatment type applications on the trails, which isn't great if you want to walk a dog using the trail and also is hard on the bicycle and the surrounding environment since the salt/chemicals aren't confined to the trail (asphalt). Plowing is a lot better, and the County shifted to that, which is great.

Better still would be to have a little less snow.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Walking the 14th St Bridge (on the Way to Work)

14th St Bridge, March 19 2014
Doesn't look too bad . . .

I used my "ice & snow" bike and was reminded it is better with ice and less good with some snow conditions. Most of the ride the asphalt trails were much more clear than I expected and with my studded tires I chugged along steadily. But the 14th St Bridge pedestrian/bicycle area was 3-4 inches of mush (not slush, but mush) that was hard to maintain forward motion with given the 2 inch wide tires and a desire not to spin the wheels (which could pull out studs, maybe) and the sort of wild steering required.

Anyway I ended up walking more than half the way since it was a more consistent level of effort and probably about the same speed as the stop-and-go approach with riding in my lowest gear.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Elite Bicycle: A Portrait of the World's Greatest Bicycles (Book Review)

The Elite Bicycle: A Portrait of the World's Greatest BicyclesThe Elite Bicycle: A Portrait of the World's Greatest Bicycles by Gerard Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a coffee table book with lots of color photographs of bicycles and a fair amount of accompanying text to provide context, but I overall I was disappointed. (However since I checked this out of my public library, not terribly. I certainly wouldn't want to have spent money on this one.)

Published in the U.S. by VeloPress, this was originally published in the U.K. by another publisher. While there is some discussion of U.S. bike companies, the original audience was more European than American (or so it seems to me). And the change in the sub-title for the American edition somewhat confuses what the book is about, I think - originally it was "The Elite Bicycle: Portraits of great marques, makers and designers" and in the U.S. it is "The Elite Bicycle: A Portrait of the World's Greatest Bicycles." (Isn't the American version a tautology?)

I'm not sure the original British title is entirely consistent with the content of the book, but it is certainly more suggestive of the information in it the American one. As another person wrote, this isn't a book about bicycles so much as about bicycle parts, and there is something to that - but of course, a modern "elite bicycle" is in fact a collection of parts since there is no one company that creates both the frame+fork and then the group of parts that are bolted to that frame+fork. Also not clear from the (American) title and somewhat unexpected is the heavy emphasis on the manufacturing process rather than finished products.

I found it a little puzzling that the book doesn't present a particular kind of bicycle as this desirable "elite bicycle" clearly. This was not, as I was expecting from a book from VeloPress (not realizing that this was not their creation), oriented towards pure road racing bicycles but rather high end road bicycles for individuals who like really nice bikes but aren't going to be using them as professional cyclists. Most of the companies (those covered I have listed below) are frame builders that specialize in bespoke bicycles (i.e., built to the customer's specific requirements) but not all. And some high end bicycle parts-making companies are covered, such as Chris King and Sapim. A French family business that produces what are the world's best tubular racing tires is covered presumably because they are "the greatest" but very few of the bikes otherwise discussed would use such tires - and then, out of some sense of fairness perhaps, there is a description of Continental's tubular tire manufacturing process, too (which is in Europe, unlike most European company bicycle tires that are now made in Thailand or Taiwan, such as Michelin).

Probably the greatest shortcoming of the American title is that it suggests that the authors consider these particular bikes (and parts) to be the world's greatest. The British title is more clear that this is just about some examples of elite bicycles and not "the list." The book is very clearly (upon reading) intended as a sampling of the various ways such elite bikes are produced and not a collection of the very best.

The foreward by Sir Paul Smith sets a new standard in brevity. But they did get to put his name on cover. So there.

The Library of Congress catalog record for this book includes a list of the companies covered: Brooks -- Selle Italia -- Reynolds -- Columbus -- Cinelli -- Guru -- Chas Roberts -- Rourke -- Cyfac -- Alex Singer -- Fagg in -- Pegoretti -- Independent fabrication -- Richard Sachs -- Ben Serotta -- Condor/Paris -- Seven -- Dinucci -- Ira Ryan -- Tony Pereira -- Winter -- Spécialités TA -- Sapim -- Chris King -- Royce -- Mavic -- FMB -- Continental -- Time -- Contacts.

View all my reviews of cycling books.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

U.S. Diplomats & Bicycles

The Library of Congress just moved a set of materials that are the transcripts of oral histories of U.S. diplomats. The collection is describes as follows:
Frontline Diplomacy: The Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training at the Library of Congress makes available interview transcripts from the oral history archives of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST). These transcripts present a window into the lives of U.S. diplomats and the major diplomatic crisis and issues that the United States faced during the second half of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st.
Full text search of these items is part of using the simple "one box" search for the entire website. This leads to what seems to me to be an amusing result - a suggestion the there is a significant linkage between diplomacy and bicycling. If you search "bicycle" across the entire site, the search results indicate that of the "sites and collections" within, Frontline Diplomacy is in sixth place as a "site or collection" for this search term. What this actually indicates is that if you ask 1,700+ people to talk about their life story, it isn't uncommon that they will mention "bicycle in passing, often for these 20th century diplomats in the context of "I rode a bicycle to school" type statements. (The most that "bicycle" appeared in any interview was three times - much more typical was one mention.)

Even my father, someone who I don't recall ever seeing ride a bike, mentioned "bicycle" twice in his interview! His interview is not about policy so much as anecdotes of life in the foreign service. One "bicycle" event was in Tunis:
For example, in the early summer of 1951, I bought a lovely 20 x 14 foot Kairouan carpet — all white. That fall, the U.S. Sixth Fleet paid a visit to Tunis — that is to say that Admiral Gardener and his carrier, the Coral Sea, anchored some miles off shore (Tunis is a shallow road stand). Anyway, at one point the Admiral and many of his colleagues ended up at my house — until about four A.M. — when the last was fished out of the pool and sent on his way. As you can imagine, many an hors d'oeuvre was ground into my Kairouan carpet. When I finally staggered out of bed the next morning, Ali, my cook, said that someone had stolen the carpet. He had not wished to disturb me, but he had washed the carpet and hung it out to dry, and someone had rolled it up and fled with it on a bicycle. So — that was the last I ever saw of the Kairouan carpet.
Another mention was of his work in Moscow in the 1950s as a General Services Officer:
As General Services Officer (or housekeeper), I had some sixty Russians working for me, only one of whom spoke any English. The rest were carpenters, mechanics, painters, plumbers, laborers, what have you. Two things happened immediately — I changed the sign on my door to read “Genial Services” and, secondly, I set out to work with my “team.” I won't say we were totally successful. We tried to keep people (including Mrs. Bohlen) happy by doing what we could. And, I think, by and large, we succeeded. There were, of course, some people who could not be kept happy. Like the Air Force Attache (departing) who called up in a rage one day because we had dismantled his daughter's bicycle to be shipped home. Did we realize it would cost him money to have it reassembled in the U.S.? We put it back together for him — forget the U.S. taxpayer.
So while there are some mentions of bicycles in these materials, arguably diplomatic history is not, as perhaps suggested by the search system, a rich source of information generally about bicycles.

I am reminded that while I don't recall my father riding a bicycle, I do remember his putting a bicycle together. While living in Bucharest in the 1960s, the U.S. Embassy community included (all things considered) a relatively large number of children roughly my age - I don't know how this was done, but a number of Raleigh Grand Prix bicycles were purchased and imported by the parents of many of these children one Christmas season. My father, being pragmatic in such things, had assembled the bicycle well in advance (he was also pretty good as a mechanic). But the night before Christmas I overheard him talking to someone in our house (my bedroom was at the top of the stairs above the diplomatic-reception-sized living room) and clearly assembling a bike. I learned years later that he was helping some American military attache by assembling the same sort of bike for the attache's child, the attache not having properly understood "some assembly required." This is somewhat ironic, I suppose.

As a tangential connection with cycling history, I have blogged before about the most famous U.S. diplomat-cyclist, Alvey Adee.

Alvey Adee of Dept of State Riding Bicycle to Work(1914)
Alvey Adee of the U.S. Department of State riding his bicycle to work in 1914

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cycle Chic by Mikael Colville-Andersen (Book Review)

Cycle ChicCycle Chic by Mikael Colville-Andersen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First - my five stars is because as I understand Goodreads, the idea for assigning stars is did I like the book and not is it a good book generally.

This a book of photographs with very little text, loosely organized thematically, from Mikael Colville-Andersen, the Copenhagen-based creator of the blog Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

The photographs are about the people in them and the bicycles they are with together, in support of the "Cycle Chic Manifesto". This manifesto declares things like, "I choose to cycle chic and, at every opportunity, I will choose Style over Speed" or "I will endeavour to ensure that the total value of my clothes always exceeds that of my bicycle" and "I will refrain from wearing and owning any form of 'cycle wear'."

The book includes hundreds of color photographs (and a very small number of B&W) taken all over the world, but predominately in Europe, in particular in Copenhagen. Most but not all were taken by Colville-Andersen and most appear unposed.

The role that such a (physical) book plays in our world today is an interesting (perhaps) question - one can see many of the kinds of photographs included in the book in the Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog (or many of the similar blogs that Cycle Chic provides links to). One can also see
Colville-Andersen's photos
in his Flickr account (although there are plenty of non-bicycle photos there, too). I don't have an answer to this question - in this particular case, the book seems pleasing because it emphasizes the photographs one-by-one in a way that neither Flickr nor the blog presentations do, and allows for flipping around that the Internet still doesn't support.

Fun. Good.

View all my reviews of cycling books on Goodreads.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Book about Schwinn HIstory in the Pubic Domain

Schwinn Roadster
Page from this company-sponsored history of Schwinn from 1945

Fifty years of Schwinn-built bicycles: the story of the bicycle and its contribution to our way of life. Arnold, Schwinn and company, Chicago. 1945. No author is given on the title page, but the dedication is from Frank Schwinn, son of the company founder, Ignaz Schwinn.

Typically books published after 1922 in the U.S. are still covered by copyright, but if published before 1964 (I think) then copyright has to be renewed after 28 years or the book goes into the public domain. Or perhaps the University of Michigan where this was digitized cleared the copyright otherwise somehow. Anyway, the full book is viewable through HathiTrust.

While primarily a book about Schwinn, looking back from 1945, there is quite a bit of general cycling history in this too (albeit presented in summary). There are some interesting photographs comparing a Schwinn factory in 1895 and 1945, and some discussion of the development of bicycle technology as it relates to technology in (then) automobiles and even airplanes. In many ways it is more interesting for someone interesting in Schwinn and bicycles than the much more recent No Hands that was published in 1996 but is more about Schwinn as some kind of extended business case study. (350 pages, published by Henry Holt & Co.)

Schwinn Family On Bike
The Schwinn family on a bicycle built for three

Schwinn's introduction of the balloon tire in 1933 is described in detail and makes clear that the bicycle industry in the U.S. following the initial craze of the 1890s had been negatively affected by the "single tube" tire that was difficult for individuals to repair but cheap for bicycle makers to sell.
The antiquated single-tube tire had been standard equipment on American bicycles from the 90's to 1933. Small double-tube tires were available, but expensive and little used. Everywhere else in the world only double-tube tires had been used for a generation, because they were readily repairable, while the single-tube tire was not. Small punctures in the single-tube tire could be repaired by makeshift methods, but large punctures could not be repaired satisfactorily, and a cut of any size meant the purchase of a new tire. The fiction that the American cycle buyer just wouldn't pay the additional cost of the practical, repairable, double-tube tire had taken root, and no serious attempt was made to encourage their use.

Schwinn Balloon Tire Ad 1933
Ad for Schwinn's 1933 bike featuring a balloon tire in the U.S.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Snow & Fenders

Having arrived at work after riding mostly in about 1/2-1 inch of snow

On Tuesday it was starting to snow when I got up in the morning and starting to accumulate a little on the trails when I was ready to take off for work. Still, the promised weather for later was that the snow would stop, the sun would come out, and there would be enough warmth for all this to go away.

In previous experience, I have found that riding a road bike in fresh snow where there is no ice underneath can be easier than riding a mountain bike with big wide tires - and it seemed I wouldn't need any sort of special snow or ice compensation for the ride home. So I chose to ride my 1982 steel road bike (or whatever one calls such a thing) to work. I lower the tire pressure a bit to improve grip.

On the trails the snow was less than an inch, generally (that is, less than 2.5 centimeters). After a while I started hearing a high pitched noise from a tire in contact with something and realized that the way the rear fender is fitted, snow was building up at the back and pressing against the tire, making the noise. It didn't seem to be causing me to work noticeably harder, however.

When I crossed the 14th Street bridge into Washington, however, the snow was deeper on the bridge section set aside for pedestrians and cyclists and somehow the difference meant snow was building up under the fender enough to slow me down. The bridge is long enough that it was beginning to wear, but for whatever reason it got to a certain point and didn't get so bad that I was stopped.

Snow built up under rear fender in particular

The above photos are after I got to work (but before I entered the parking garage, which since it is heated, quickly melted all this messiness). In DC there was much less snow and almost none on the roads I was riding on, but you can still see the build up problem.

So I learned something - road bikes may be fine for certain snowy conditions, but not with fenders, or at least not with fenders fitted this closely.