Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Bike Event (1897)

From the Los Angeles Herald, May 31 1897
At this time Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day.

SUNDAY SPORT - Decoration Day Bicycle Meet at the Park
Balsden, the San Francisco Crack, Makes a Fine Exhibition of Trick and Fancy Riding

The Decoration day race meet yesterday attracted quite a large crowd to Agricultural park, and if the attendance was any criterion by which to form an opinion as to the popularity that may attend Sunday racing, then the program as outlined ln the future may be considered assured. . .

Trick Rider, Decoration Day 1897
Illustration that accompanied the article

Monday, May 21, 2012

John D. Rockefeller and His Shaft Drive Bicycle

John D Rockefeller with Bike
A fellow who supplied oil for the automobile society with an exotic bicycle

Title: [John D. Rockefeller, full-length portrait, standing with a bicycle]
Date Created/Published: 1913.
Medium: 1 photographic print.
Library of Congress
Link to full record

An amusing photo from the Library of Congress - John D. Rockefeller with a bicycle. And not just any bicycle, but a shaft drive bike. Yet another example of a shaft drive bike, an early attempt to provide a superior alternative to using a bicycle chain. The shaft drive approach has the advantage of a clean design look to it, but the mechanical efficiency is lower than a traditional chain and the cost is higher, so the shaft drive approach has never caught on. (I have looked at the subject of shaft drive bikes before, here and here for example.)

Mr. Rockefeller does not have the most expensive model "chainless" bicycle available. This is pretty clearly the Columbia basic shaft drive bike, looking at the Columbia 1912 catalog.

Columbia Basic 1912 Shaft Drive Bicycle

This is the basic Columbia "chainless" bike for 1912

The basic Columbia shaft drive bike was only 75 dollars, having come down from $100 in 1900. You can see the "headbadge" (the company logo, under the handlebars on the headset of the bike) shown in the catalog matches what is shown in the photograph of Rockefeller.

Columbia 1912 Two Speed Shaft Drive Bike
By 1912, this bike was available in this two-speed model and a "spring fork"

The price of this more deluxe model that includes "hygenic cushion frame" (whatever that means) was $100.

Just Ride - Book Review

Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your BikeJust Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike by Grant Petersen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Typically a non-fiction book review looks at the intended audience for a book, assesses the author's credentials, and describes what the book set out to do and how well it accomplished that, among other things. However I am feeling lazy and would prefer to just nitpick. My overall reaction to this book? I was disappointed.

* Grant has an introduction where he explains a little about who he is, but the impression I have is that he assumes that if you are reading his book that you know who he is. In certain circles, sure, he's well known, but this is a small circle of people I tend to think among those who are interested in steel frame road or touring bikes - and who probably already know his views (some of them, anyway) and agree with them. His goal, however, is to dispel some widely held views about road cycling that he feels come from the professional cycle racing world and I don't think most of the people of that ilk have heard of Rivendell Bicycle Works or Grant Petersen. (I believe since I have been riding bikes around the DC area for the last dozen years or so I have seen all of three Rivendells.) Anyway, the book would probably work better for many readers if there was more context by providing more of Grant's story and that of his company.

* The "radical" part of this "radically practical guide to riding your bike" is that he disagrees with many commonly held views, but he is then fairly insistent that his views are correct, which in some cases seems a little silly. Really, there is a right view on what to wear when riding a bike? A truly radical view, in my thinking, would be that whatever seems to work for you and your common sense would likely be OK. Occasionally that is Grant's advice, but not often enough.

* Certain statements are repeated several times, but repetition does not equal truth. The suggestion is that carbon fiber forks are dangerous, that they fail precipitously, and anyone other than a professional road bike racer who would own a bike with a carbon fiber fork instead of a steel one is sacrificing safety for trendiness. A single scratch could result in failure, after all! I don't doubt that Grant has seen some amazing failures and in fact I have seen photos of such things on the Internet but this country is covered with tort lawyers and I'm thinking if this was that serious a problem, we'd hear more about it.

* Uh, who was this book intended for? This was not published by Velo Press but by Workman, hardly a cycling specialist publisher, so presumably they were hoping to have reasonably broad sales, not just hard core cyclists. My own public library system, for example, bought six copies, so apparently the review version got good write ups in review tools that public library types use to assess what to acquire. Really though, this book would not be very useful for most public library patrons or other entry-level cyclists; it is more for those who think (actually, are sure) they know something and Grant is going to fix their misapprehensions. In other words, this is not a comprehensive introduction "practical guide to riding your bike" but rather the corrections to that sort of book - which means it can clock in at 200 pages and not 400-plus.

* Gee, it's kind of choppy - I mean, 90 "chapters"? (The 89 chapters are grouped into eight subject-orients parts, such as "upkeep" and "velosophy.") Well, this turns out to be because he cribbed them from himself, from Rivendell's web site ( has some examples) and from their in-house publication known as the Rivendell Reader, some of which is available online, such as this ( One oddity is that the Rivendell Reader versions (of the same thing) usually have better illustrations than the book - overall the illustrations in "Just Ride" are not numerous or particularly helpful - the illustration that goes with "frame arithmetic" for example is too small and has an error - bottom bracket height is not distinguished from bottom bracket drop; also, what is shown as "chain stay" should be labeled "chain stay length." (Of course, if you already know all this stuff, the illustration is fine, but again - who is the book for?)

Perhaps most interesting to me is that Grant seems to suggest that he really thinks inexpensive cycling solutions are a great thing - for example, using some duct tape to make an impromptu mud-flap for a bike fender. If you look at, however, you soon discover that most of his customers are living in a different universe, since most of what he sells is pretty pricey - good stuff? Yes, but not inexpensive. In the section on bike weight, he reveals further where he is coming from when he characterizes a "more useful, and more all-around durable steel bike costing between $2,500 and $4,500" as having a "typical, early-twenty-first-century price" for an "'enthusiast level' bicycle." Really, the entry point for an enthusiast steel bike is two-and-half thousand dollars? Yes, at Rivendell Bicycle Works. On the other hand, in the book he says a $50 dollar bottom bracket is perfectly fine and his own store has one for $40.

* My suggestion is to just skip part 4, on "health and fitness."

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 17, 2012

DC Area Folding Bike Inventor Dies

Obituary in the Washington Post for Harry Montague who designed full size folding bicycles, patented various processes, and created a company to sell them.

Montague Paratrooper folding bike with a hummvee

Perhaps the best known Montague achievement, a model sold to the U.S. military

The Montague "Paratrooper" shown above is a full size hardtail mountain bike with the added feature that it folds quickly and easily. The same bike can be purchased for "civilian use." Another version of his military bike, not available for civilian purchase (as far as I can tell) was the TENS, or "Tactical Electric No Signature" (as in radar signature) mountain bike, that had an electric power unit in the oversize rear hub.

Because a Montague does not have a "down tube" (the frame tube that runs from where the pedals are up to where the front wheel is) they are distinctive looking. I have seen a few on the bike trail. The Montague fills a niche for everyday users (not the military) but probably is limited in potential popularity even if they are cleverly designed and well executed. Certainly in terms of "breakdown" speed they are way ahead of using S&S couplers for a full size bike (that require messing, literally, with the chain and so on). But you still have close to 30 pounds of steel and rubber in two pieces (the front wheel is the second piece) that would need to be stuffed in a large bag and carried. Not necessarily easy for carrying along into an office building or on public transit in the way a Dahon or a Brompton would be (among others).

The guy I talked to who owned one said it solved a particular problem he had - he wanted a mountain bike he could take easily on his boat on an occasional basis. So for him, carrying a heavy-ish big sack isn't an issue. And the idea of having something that goes into a car trunk more easily than a standard bike rather than using a bike rack certainly has it's own appeal, even to me.

They are good looking bikes. Clever fellow. Also, David Byrne of the Talking Heads who traveled in recent years with a bicycle used a Montague.


This is an old post. Someone complained that I used a photo without permission, so I took the photo out and reposted. There may be some way of resetting the date to that of the original post so this doesn't look like a new post but I don't know what it is.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Enlightened Cyclist - Book Review

The Enlightened Cyclist: Commuter Angst, Dangerous Drivers, and Other Obstacles on the Path to Two-Wheeled TrancendenceThe Enlightened Cyclist: Commuter Angst, Dangerous Drivers, and Other Obstacles on the Path to Two-Wheeled Trancendence by BikeSnobNYC

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bikesnob's first book was better - much better.

The shtick for Bikesnob's blog entries that are good is that he will write somewhat crudely but amusingly about several different cycling related incidents, perhaps one serious (but not seriously presented), and perhaps two or so others that are not serious at all (like something about some goofy pro cyclist thing that happened) and then tie it up cleverly at the end. His first book was engaging and even if it was really an assembly of small bits and pieces it read smoothly enough. The second book reads like the kid who was told to produce a homework essay of 10 pages but really had no more than five pages to say - but manages to drag it out to 10 pages anyway. I swear that in one place there were two long paragraphs one after another that said the same thing, just worded differently.

One can deduce that Mr Snob didn't expect his first book to sell, so he tried hard - god help us, it even included "bikesnobnyc" stickers in it! (Was I supposed to put those on my bike? Crazy.) This time he seems to have assumed he is now an author so he didn't try much at all - with the results that one gets in such situations.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Blessing of the Bicycles ~ May 12, 2012

In a previous post I talked about the relationship between churches and the popularity of cycling in the 1890s - cycling was viewed by some as bad for morality, giving too much independence to women, and also provided an (unwelcome) alternative to Sunday church worship. This was before you got to aggressive rider behavior!

Sunday Morning Cycle
A view of how the bicycle could be a means to get to church

The church that I attend (when I'm not out riding my bike ~) is having a "blessing of the bicycles" on May 12, this Saturday, in the Washington DC area.
Concerned for the safety of bicyclists, Dumbarton United Methodist Church will hold a “blessing of the bicycles” for all riders on May 12, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Fletcher’s Cove, where two bike paths intersect (a spot along both the C&O Canal and the Capital Crescent bike trail). Pedalers on a Saturday morning outing will be able to take their bikes to a quiet setting of
trees and grass near Fletcher’s Boat House and receive a brief blessing from the church pastor, Rev. Mary Kay Totty.
More details are available here.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tweed Ride - 1896

The other day, I mentioned to someone that I had a blog where I discussed cycling history from the 1890s - he immediately replied, "oh, do you go on tweed rides? I can't say the idea hasn't occurred to me, but I haven't.

"Tweed Ride" - 1896
A "tweed ride" from the 1890s

(This is a new derivative JPG I produced from the TIFF that is better than the 90KB one available online at the moment.)

Title: [Tourists riding bicycles] / A.B. Frost.
Creator(s): Frost, A. B. (Arthur Burdett), 1851-1928, artist
Date Created/Published: [1896?]
Medium: 1 drawing : wash.
Library of Congress

The post-2000 period tweed ride phenomena seems to have been a coming together of a retro fashion interest with a retro cycling interest in fixed-gear cycling. Over time, however, the fixed-gear aspect seems to have fallen away.

DC Tweed Ride 2011 060
A tweed ride rider in Washington, DC, 2011

One obvious difference from the 1890s experience emulated is that the modern tweed ride is far more urban. Nevertheless, a good opportunity to build good karma for cycling.

And They're Off!
More DC tweed ride 2011 photos