Why I Love Cycling

1974 Touring Bicycle with fillet brazed joints – Photo credit – DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles & Bicycling.

In 1974 I was a high school senior, soon to graduate. I often rode to classes on my 5 speed derailleur bicycle, and that involved a number of steep hills, some of which I dismounted to ascend.  The bike I rode seemed incredibly incompetent, heavy, and badly geared.  At that time, I knew nothing about lightweight steel tubing, expertly brazed and filed lugs, and quality components.  I was riding the bike my parents purchased for me, after much goading on my part.  I can’t even remember if my 5 speed was a Sears or a Schwinn, but I think it was the former.  All I knew then was that I loved to ride bicycles, and wanted to be on my bike whenever possible.  My parents did their best to accommodate this odd request coming from their middle child – a daughter no less.

Baby blue Volkscycle

Upon graduation, my parents presented me with a beautiful blue Volkscycle. I was in heaven, as this was the nicest bike I had ever ridden.  After riding this bike in my college days in the late 70’s, I took a hiatus from school, and moved to the Oregon coast.  That was when my cycling energy surged. Every Sunday I mounted my blue Volkscycle and rode inland up Yaquina Bay, to Toledo, and back.  I rode this bicycle whenever I could, leaving my funky Datsun 510 truck in the carport most of the time.

After a while, I began to realize that the Volkscycle might not be the best bicycle out there for me. There was no internet at this time, so my knowledge came word of mouth talking to other cyclists, some of whom were part of the 1976 BikeCentennial.

Later, I acquired my 1976 Centurion Pro-Tour – a bike which really defined my cycling experience.  The frame was “too big” for me, and yet I toured all over the Pacific Northwest on this amazing bicycle.  I crashed it back in 1999, and that is what prompted a life long search for an equal partner.

But that never happened.  Instead, I ride on several bicycles regularly.  I have never found my one true love – the bicycle of my youth which comported me over miles of challenging terrain.  I don’t know what to think about why that is – but the upside is that I now enjoy riding a number of wonderful and interesting machines.

Book Review: Bicycle Design by Tony Hadland & Hans-Erhard Lessing

Rohloff Speedhub 14 courtesy of Bicycle Design, by Tony Hadland & Hans-Erhard Lessing, p. 242

I like to keep my vintage bicycle library stocked with both old and new volumes.  This book, published by MIT in 2014, caught my eye on a trip to my local Powell’s.  Bicycle Design was written by Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing, the latter being a physics professor and Hadland being a Raleigh and Moulton expert and author of a number of cycling books.

This is a book dedicated to the science and design of the bicycle and its components, with an extensive discussion of historical developments and many interesting illustrations and photos.  The entire first half of the book is well worth the admission price I paid – about $35.  There is a fascinating discussion of wheel design and development which includes spoking patterns and engineering concepts.

There are so many interesting engineering designs and cycling innovations in this book that it is hard to single out notable developments.  The book is organized topically, except for the first chapter which deals with Velocipedes and their forerunners from an historical perspective. The remaining chapters address drive train, wheel engineering, braking technology, and transmission, before launching into chapters organized by accessories and applications.

One topic that can be challenging to vintage bicycle enthusiasts is an understanding of the wheel rim designs of the day.  Westwood rims are designed for brakes which will engage the rim rather than the sidewall, while Endrick rims can accommodate brakes which engage the rim sidewall.

C.M. Hanson, 1895 Clipless Pedal

One fascinating innovation described in this excellent resource is Hanson clipless pedals shown above.  At the time, various manufacturers were experimenting with shoe/pedal attachment options.  Another idea involved a magnetic shoe/pedal attachment, developed in 1897 by Henry Tudor of Boston (US patent 588,038).

Mafac, Resilion Cantis, modern cantilevers, courtesy of Bicycle Design p. 277.

This book includes discussions of most historical cycling developments.  However, the authors note their one glaring omission:  derailleurs.  Because derailleur history has been discussed by a number of other authors, that topic is given cursory treatment in Bicycle Design.  If you don’t already have a copy of this tome, I recommend adding it to your library.

Bicycle Design History and Resources

Gompertz velocipede with front freewheel – June 1821 – courtesy of Polytechnic Journal.

I recently discovered a treasure trove of bicycle history technical materials.  Germany’s Polytechnic Journal was founded in 1821 and has since been digitized.  The journal was conceived by Johann Gottfried Dingler, a German chemist who worked for Augsburger, a German manufacturer.  He was primarily interested in printing and dyeing, but later got involved in publishing scientific journals.  His goal was to explore “natural history, sciences, chemistry, mineralogy, planting”, and machine theory, among other topics.

Sturmey Archer 1903 3 speed hub, courtesy of Polytechnic Journal.

The Polytechnic Journal is a unique resource which documents creative innovations of the time for a variety of scientific innovations – cycling being one of those innovations. The above drawing of the first internal hub invention – Sturmey Archer’s 3 speed hub – accompanies a discussion in the journal of the many ideas and innovations that were developed to address the need to change the gearing ratio on a bicycle to accommodate differing surface grades encountered by the rider.

F. Konig eccentric pedal design – courtesy of Polytechnic Journal, 1903.

Lancelot & Coste, March 1903, eccentric dual bottom bracket, courtesy of Polytechnic Journal.

Here are a few more of those ideas – a pedal which rotates around the crank arm, and a dual bottom bracket which can alter the gearing ratio at the crank.

One of the first freewheels – designed by Markt, Kirk and Merifield – courtesy of Polytechnic Journal, 1903.

But the freewheel, possibly first invented in 1821 (but not officially acknowledged until 1869), is one of the most important innovations in cycling’s history.  Without the ability to freewheel, all of us would be riding fixed gear, with no ability to coast.  If you want to learn more about the history of freewheel design, I recommend Bicycle Design, by Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing.  This book contains detailed discussions regarding most of cycling’s engineering innovations, and has excellent illustrations to accompany the only occasionally fatiguing text.

The above examples are just a few of cycling history’s innovations which are documented in this journal.  The journal is written in German, but using a translate tool, I found it to be easily understood. I look forward to further explorations of this resource which continued in publication until 1931.  There are 33,448 articles in all.  I’ve got lots of reading to do!