Discovering Chuck Harris

While recently perusing my 1976 Bikelopedia compendium, authored by Fred DeLong, I began looking more closely at the illustrations, as they seemed unusual in their free-hand style, depicting a whimsical contrast to the precision of Daniel Rebour’s artistry.  Bikelopedia is a compilation of Fred Delong’s columns in Bicycling! Magazine, which first appeared in 1970.  This edition of Bikelopedia contains Fred’s informative and sometimes grumpy responses to reader inquiries appearing in Bicycling! magazine since 1970.  It also includes a few other authors who helped prepare answers to cycling technical questions of the day.  And some of the articles in this compendium were never previously published.

Studying the intro page led me to the mysterious illustrator’s name:  Chuck Harris.  As this was a name I was not previously familiar with, I took to the internet to uncover what I could.  As it turns out, Chuck Harris was a well regarded engineer, tinkerer, manufacturer and promoter of unusual gearing options, including modified derailleurs and freewheels.  He happily welded bikes together to make homemade tandems, and championed lightweight touring bikes long before the American public figured out that their American bicycle choices were unacceptably limited. He was also known as the “Mirror Man” for constructing bicycle eyeglass mirrors made from recycled and repurposed objects.  He handmade 88,000 of them before his death in 2012, among many other accomplishments, including operating the Ultra Lightweight Touring Bike Shop in various towns in Ohio over the years.  The bicycle depicted in the above drawing is one of Chuck’s own bikes.

There’s even a self portrait of Chuck on page 78 of this booklet, wherein a reader asks about where to acquire a rear view mirror.  Chuck’s company is not mentioned in the response, which seems like a bit of a slight to the hard working illustrator.  But as it turns out, Chuck himself authored these responses and was probably not allowed to mention his own company.

There are two articles about Chuck Harris in Grant Peterson’s Rivendell Reader, which he has graciously allowed access to at  The second article, authored by Tom Gensemer appeared in the #21 edition (year 2000) and featured a discussion of Chuck’s interesting take on derailleurs and gearing. The above photo depicts page 2 of the article.

The other Rivendell Reader article was authored by Sheldon Brown (RIP) and appeared in the #5 edition in 1994.  This article discusses how Chuck came to invent the first American derailleur, explaining that he was inspired by seeing a drawing of a Nivex derailleur in a French cyclotouring magazine in the 1940s/1950s.  According to Sheldon, Chuck’s extra long cage derailleurs were known as the “Beach Hill” models, needed by Chuck to ascend the steep hill leading to his Southern New Hampshire neighborhood.  The derailleur mounted on the chainstay and featured a low-normal design and a floating lower pulley. He also modified freewheels to get a 40 tooth option, taking an aluminum sheet, drilling out, hacksawing and sanding it to the finished product then adding it to an existing freewheel.

Chuck also invented a pedal powered lawn mower and also used pedal power to operate his shop equipment.  He was a penultimate innovator and wanted to use existing materials wherever possible.  He was clearly ahead of his time.

Chuck was also an author and wrote this article for the August 1972 edition of Bicycling! magazine.  He describes how to convert a SunTour Honor derailleur to handle more extreme gearing options, in this case a freewheel up to 34 teeth and a chainring down to 24 teeth.  He preferred a wide gear ratio, and his own bikes were equipped with his modified derailleurs and freewheels that allowed a 15-133 gear inch range.  Wow!

Interestingly, Chuck was not well known for his cycling illustrations.  So, I’m including another page here for your enjoyment.

I’d love to have one of Chuck’s derailleurs in my collection, so if any readers know if any still exist, please let me know.

More information can be found about Chuck’s interesting life at the following links:

Looking Back at Chuck Harris, Cycling Innovator

Click to access 201104_MirrorMan_Siple.pdf

8 thoughts on “Discovering Chuck Harris

  1. I’ve owned and used Chuck’s mirrors for a few decades, and there’s a good chance that he’s saved my life at some time. When Grant Petersen published the articles about Chuck’s background, it was hard to not be impressed. I did get to see him at the Horsey Hundred ride in Kentucky a few times and chatted. Learning that he had started as an electronics engineer, like me, was fun! I’m not sure when Chuck transitioned to making his money with mirrors, but he certainly was selling plenty back in the 70’s. At the Horsey Hundred, I did get to see one of his bikes, complete with the novel derailleur and the homemade huge chainrings. As the Adventure Cycling article mentions, he was fond of using recycled items on his bikes and his VW bus/van. It was a bit odd looking, but as shown by his mirrors, he was very fond of repurposing items. I’ve posted some of my photos of Chuck and his bike on a recent Bike Forums thread (just search for Discovering Chuck Harris, I suppose).

  2. Thanks for a lovely article about Chuck Harris, who was actually my father. He was indeed very brilliant, very creative, and very resourceful. Sadly, I don’t think any of his derailleurs exist, but I will double check with other family member if they have one hidden away.
    He began making the mirrors In 1970 I believe. Somewhere during one of his rides he met a dentist who used a dental mirror taped to his glasses to see vehicles behind him. Dad took it from there.
    Two of his favorite mirror stories: one, at the GEAR rally in Frederick, Maryland, 1973, someone took the sample mirror off the table dummy and left the $3.00 for it. Two, he used to use a green tubing for gripping along the eyewear. He got a letter one day; “Stop using green! I’ve lost three mirrors in the grass!”
    Again, thanks for the lovely article. It highlights some of his lesser known accomplishments (his drawings are superb, as you’ve noted) that got overshadowed as the mirrors became his business.

    • So nice to meet you, Louisa! I’m glad to hear from you. Thank you for the fun mirror stories. It must have been an amazing experience to be in your family. I hope you’ll stay in touch. I wish I had met Chuck. I started my cycling journey as a child of the 1960s and many of my friends participated in the Bike Centennial. It was a time for a reawakening of the cycling industry and your Dad was way ahead of the curve.

      • Two other places you might find some information; Eugene Sloane had a bicycle book, with several editions. My father contributed to the 1974? edition I believe. There is a photo of his ‘trandem’, with my sister and I perched on our seats (wearing the mirrors of course).
        Also, back in 1973 there was a blurb in Playboy magazine about his mirrors. He got more orders from that than the bicycling magazines at that time! I believe it was a spring issue, but am not certain.

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