Thursday, March 29, 2018

What Does a Woman's "Bicycle Suit" Cost? (1897, NYC)

A Gorgeous Cycling Suit to Cost $715 (1897)
New York journal and advertiser, May 16, 1897

The New York Journal was for its time a newspaper with many pages to fill, and it often did so at this time with human interest stories of various kinds about cycling as well as "high society" - this example of an article that took up a half page with its illustration combines both.
A Gorgeous Cycling Suit to Cost $715

The most expensive bicycle suit on record has Just been ordered at one of the swellest tailors in New York.

The girl who meets the bill is worth a million in her own right, is an athletic beauty and a reigning belle in the ultra-smart set.

The suit which makes the bill is the most elaborate ever designed in this country. It is lined with silk, finished with Jewels, and will cost a lump sum of $715.50.

Two "Scott and Adie" shawls at $75 apiece will be employed in making the skirt and jacket. And, by the way, these English shawls are the very latest thing: for any sort of fancy outing suit.

The skirt will be stitched half way to the knees, with the lines of stitching not over a sixteenth of an inch apart: this is the new device to stiffen the lower part of the skirt without adding to the weight.

The edges of the jacket are also stitched and, together with the skirt, is elaborately braided, which latter touch adds some $25 to the expense.

Bloomers and linings of suit throughout will be of silk.not less than sixteen yards of silk to be used, which gives another item of 522.50. With the bloomers have been ordered a half dozen interlining of the finest fawn, at 52.50 a pair.

Loose Jackets are no longer the correct thing for the crack bicyclist. The newest waist is tight-fitting always, and worn with a series of vests and shirt fronts.

It sounds very simple just to say, "I shall order at least three vests for my new bicycle suit," doesn't It? Well, that Is what the "millionairess" in question did, and these three vests are going to cost her 525 apiece. The principal question color in her suit is green, so she has ordered one vest of sage green, one of geranium red, embroidered in black and gold, and one of white broadcloth, in silver. With these vests she will wear snow-white linen shirt embroidered fronts and black satin ties.

And $25 is not so very extravagant for a vest when you stop to consider that the garment is made when the material is wet and was to be moulded to the figure.

A Panama straw hat, fawn color and trimmed with scarlet and green, will add one $10 Item, and bicycle boots of finest leather will add another of $18. Golf stockings in mixed greens and tans will be worn In place of the high top boot. An entire box of these stockings have been ordered, as it is difficult to match them exactly. Fifteen dollars a half dozen will buy the softest and best in the shops.

But the crowning extravagance of this particular "biking" maid is yet to come. Her belt of elephant green leather is clasped with a buckle of oxidized silver set with emeralds. The buckle is in the form of two bicycle wheels; the rim of each wheel is bordered with small green stones, a single large emerald forming the hub. This trifling decoration to adorn the "slender waist" of the pretty wheelwomen will cost treble the price of her wheel! that is to say, exactly $300.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Thinking of the Pacific NW

Don't Leave Your Bicycle Next to a Tree for Thirty Years
The well-known (let's say) tree-in-a-bicycle of Vashon Island, near Seattle - from Sea Turtle on Flickr

Apropos of nothing in particular other than a short trip planned for Seattle this summer.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Mile-a-MInute Murphy and the Need for Speed (1899)

Mile-a-Minute Murphy article (1899)
New York journal and advertiser, June 22, 1899

This June 22 1899 issue of The New York Journal has a front page article about Charles Minthorn Murphy's attempt to cover a mile in a minute, drafting behind a train, including the "instantaneous photograph taken for The Journal" shown above. Riding on boards laid down over several miles of railroad ties between the tracks, this is one of the more extreme daredevil endeavors imaginable with a basic single-speed track bicycle. Whether Murphy was simply crazy or extremely brave or both is hard to say.

Wikipedia has a detailed description of his attempt to cover a mile in 60 seconds or less in this way. He didn't quite make it on June 21 1899 when he made the attempt documented in the above article and photograph. According to the article, he had plans to try again and expected to do a mile in 50 seconds, but there is no record that in fact he did try again - this one attempt was apparently close enough.

Murphy -- Police Monoplane  (LOC)
Murphy in later years a the first policeman to chase criminals in an airplane

According to Wikipedia, Murphy later was a motorcycle police officer; unfortunately he had several accidents and the last one led to his retirement. Nevertheless he lived 80 years despite his early propensity for rather risky activities.

Interestingly Wikipedia uses the public domain photo of Murphy in his police airplane shown above; apparently there is no good quality public domain version of a photograph of Murphy as shown in the newspaper available.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Powered Scooters Are Not a New Idea

Or for that matter, a good one. If it was good idea, it might have gone somewhere in the last hundred or so years.

Contributor Names-Harris & Ewing, photographer
Created / Published-[between 1911 and 1917]
Format Headings-Glass negatives.
Repository-Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
It is unclear where there the above news photograph was taken, other than that it was in a city in the United States. It provides evidence that the idea of commercial uses for powered scooters (here, a small gasoline or perhaps electric motor) is not a new idea.

With LimeBike introducing eScooter dockless app-driven rentals, one wonders why powered scooters have not been commonly used before. As we now know, scooter-enabled postal delivery did not catch on.

The Segway experiment never went very far, but they are expensive and heavy (clunky) despite a cleverness in design

When Segways appeared more than fifteen years ago, I wondered if they were going to compete with bicycles for traffic space. Their cost and other factors seemed to prevent them from becoming popular with individuals - I see a few being used for city tours in Washington but that is about it. There was one (1!) fellow who I saw for a while using one to commute on the Mt Vernon trail but as an entirely motorized vehicle, it was not legal. The two wheels abreast profile was also not good on this trail that isn't that wide - Segways aren't that fast and getting around him was annoying, and probably stressful for the Segway operator since I don't think putting one wheel off the trail suddenly would be pleasant.

Now we have the LimeBike e-scooters that can be rented for riding around in Washington DC. The LimeBike e-scooters have a substantial 250 watt motor and claim a top steep of just under 15 miles per hour (with the motor alone) which is a pretty good clip for a vehicle that has your feet only five-six inches off the ground and wheels only eight inches in diameter. LimeBike's site refers to the wheels as "solid, stable 8" wheels" but a typical folding bike will have 16 inch wheels (that are real tires, too). The problem with an 8 inch wheel is that a significant pothole or a misjudged curb cut would result in a very sudden stop. While not necessarily a problem if being pushed along with foot power, the results could be a lot more interesting when riding a motorized version.

There is also legal ambiguity, at least for now, as to what rules (if any) a rider of an e-scooter is to follow. The sense one has from LimeBike is that their e-scooters are the same as a bike or e-bike, but isn't obvious why that would be true. Riding one of these on a city street in Washington seems almost crazy by definition, but I can't imagine they are good to have on sidewalks, either. Washington DC in particular has a "no bikes on sidewalks" law for its central business district -

If every tenth, or twentieth, person walking in downtown DC was to move to an e-scooter, how would that work?

A separate but related issue is that LimeBike displays a casual attitude towards their vehicles themselves, as things. I can't seem to find a creative commons licences photo of piles of bikeshare bikes in China, but LimeBike and the other dockless bikeshare operators all seem less than concerned about whether some of their bikes end up in effect as random trash (which works for them since they are very cheap bikes). Society, not the operator, will pay for the disposal of a stream of these "vehicles" that may have some convenience for their user-customers but not so much for the rest of us.

Perhaps I am a curmudgeon.

The First Tour de France (Book Review)

The First Tour de France: Sixty Cyclists and Nineteen Days of Daring on the Road to ParisThe First Tour de France: Sixty Cyclists and Nineteen Days of Daring on the Road to Paris by Peter Cossins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this on the new book shelf at the public library. To me, the dust cover design didn't much suggest a newly published book - and I have read enough books with a Tour de France theme that I took this home thinking I would give it 25 pages with the expectation that it wouldn't engage my attention.

But it did - this focused look at the first instance of the Tour de France and how it came to happen drew me in.

A good book about professional bicycle racing successfully combines description of the context of the race, enough (but not too much) about the significant riders, and a narrative description of the race itself - and that's what is I found here.

From reading this (and having read other books about the Tour), I came away with a better understanding of just how much the structure and rules of the Tour de France have changed over the years since the first iteration in 1903.

Two aspects of the 1903 Tour de France surprised me. One was that the new rule (at the time) for the race that forbid what was called "pacing" - that is, riders that were only part of the race to lead a designated team leader who would draft behind them. Of course riders did draft behind one another, but usually taking turns to help each other and not in support of one person. The "no pacing" rule was in fact more about leveling the field between teams with more money to have more riders and other smaller efforts.

Another was the structure of the race overall, which was quite different than recent years - although it ran over 19 days as a multi-stage race, there were only six stages with longer periods for rest between stages that were on average far longer than what is done today. Some amazingly given the lack of lighting on the route or available to cyclists in the form of headlights, the stages would usually start in the middle of the night and run through the day with some riders continuing on into the next night. Given the road conditions and the length of the stages, the physical demands of simply completing a stage must have been incredible.

An enjoyable and entertaining read.

View my other cycling book reviews.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hertz "Rent-a-Bike" in Washington DC (1971)

1971 DC Hertz Bike Rental
Photograph title: Bike story [Bicycle rental store, District Hardware]
Creator(s): Leffler, Warren K., photographer
Date Created/Published: 1971.
Medium: 1 photograph : negative; film width 35mm (roll format)
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Forms part of: U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection.
The Library of Congress has a collection of older photographs from the US News & World Report, including many that never appeared in the magazine. These are occasionally being digitized and put online, which is nice since they are in the public domain.

The photographs sometimes have discernible context but often not - here, it isn't clear why this photograph was taken - what news story would have been supported by such a photograph.

A store called "District Hardware" still exists in Washington DC. I confirmed by email with the grandson of the man pushing the bike out the door that this was an earlier location for the same store in Washington. And that Hertz really was in the rent-a-bike business in the 1960s-70s. Crazy.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Celebrity at Home - Photographs with Bike

Occasionally one finds old news photographs featuring well-known persons of the time with a bike, apparently to show they are regular sorts of people.

Dalhart (LOC)

In these two examples from some time between 1915 and 1920, a then-successful country singer is shown (among other things) with a bicycle. A regular guy!

Dalhart (LOC)

Dalhart seemed to like hats - the one he is wearing while riding a bike is somewhat amazing for its size.

"Speed Kills" - According to the Seattle Dept of Transportation

The Seattle Bike Blog has a recent post about e-bike versions of LimeBikes that is interesting to read. The description of the apparent success of dockless bikeshare in Seattle is intriguing since their attempt at "traditional" docked bikeshare was a failure, only getting to 500 bikes available before being shut down. And now they have dockless e-bikes too.

LimeBike e-bikes in Seattle
LimeBike e-bikes in Seattle from SounderBruce on Flickr

The blog post talks about how the LimeBike e-bikes only provide powered assist up to about 15 miles per hour. This is explained as follows: In part, this is for safety and liability concerns. As the Seattle Department of Transportation regularly reminds us, pedestrians have a one-in-ten chance of death when a driver collides with them at 20 mph. For LimeBike, any crash or collision at that speed is a serious liability.

I first read that (too quickly) as having to do with the speed of cyclists, not cars, and involving cyclist crashes - thus getting two aspects wrong. Oh well. There probably aren't good numbers about how the speed of a cyclist relates to crash outcomes, but it likely that the faster one is going, particularly beyond 20 mph area, the more likely the outcome will be more unpleasant (for the cyclist - and also for whoever he may run into who isn't in a metal box).

This is why I am often unhappy with the so-far relatively few e-bike equipped bicycle commuters I see whose main goal seems to be to emulate car-like average transportation speeds on their overall commute, chugging along the Mt Vernon trail along the Potomac at between 20 and 25 miles an hour (and beyond). Counter-intuitively many such riders are highly disinclined to slow down when presented with traffic or to exercise what would seem like common sense, instead passing at the highest speed manageable with little apparent interest in anyone's safety. (Of course, this is not true of all e-bike commuters, some are a little more safety minded, thankfully.)

The speed limit for cyclists on the Mt Vernon trail (as one example) whether riding an e-bike or a regular one is 15 mph, so someone traveling at 22-24+ mph is traveling well in excess of the speed limit. Now if there is a fantastic tailwind (which is very rare with the direction of my commute) I may average 20 mph for a while but 16-18 is more typical as my high speed - also exceeding the speed limit, but only by ten percent or so, and not exceeding the 20 mph "death zone" speed.

It is also relevant that the trails are used by persons on foot, running or walking, and that the trails around here are typically not very wide or all that well maintained. The mix of 3 mph walkers and 23 mph e-bikers on these trails is not good for anyone.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Invisible Mile by David Conventry (Book Review)

The Invisible Mile: A NovelThe Invisible Mile: A Novel by David Coventry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am something of a cycling enthusiast, although my interest in modern professional road racing has mostly collapsed, I guess from fatigue with doping scandals.

There are some topics that are, let's say, overworked. For U.S. history, topics such as the Civil War, for example, or something about Abraham Lincoln. For books about cycling, the Tour de France has somewhat the same place - it feels like every third or fourth book involves the Tour somehow. This is a work of fiction drawing on actual events at a particular Tour, the 1928 version. At that Tour there was a mostly Australian team; the main character of the book is a fictional participant from New Zealand. The rest of his team are historical figures from that race, as well as other named riders and a few race officials and others.

The structure of the Tour de France has evolved (and perhaps also devolved) over the years - I should have read the Wikpedia entry on the Tour de France for this period before reading the book for some basic context.

The book has several plot lines - one is certainly the main character's participation in the race, and much about the race itself with particular focus on its many grueling aspects. There is at least one other plot line, although perhaps it's more like several others, and I somehow never engaged will with any of that.

I didn't read the book properly, I guess. Oh well. I enjoyed the cycling parts.

View my other cycling book reviews.