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.

1950’s Simplex Pull Chain Front Derailleur

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I was cleaning out one of my parts bins and discovered this unusual Simplex pull-chain front derailleur.  I can’t remember the bicycle this came from, so I didn’t have any clue as to its date of manufacture.  But, I assumed this piece dated from the 1950’s to 1960’s.

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I pulled out my copies of The Dancing Chain and The Data Book, hoping that I could spot some info about this front derailleur.  But, nothing was there.  Then I did an internet search and found that a 1938 version of this front derailleur is on sale on eBay.  Additionally, there are some photos on flicker featuring an earlier version of this model.  I also found what appears to be this exact model on the Velobase website – a Simplex Juy 56 front derailleur.

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This Simplex front derailleur features an adjustable cage for adapting to 1/8″ or 3/32′ chain sizes, effected by the two screws on top of the derailleur cage.  I disassembled the derailleur for cleaning, and was able to observe the specifics of how it operates.

When the pull chain is engaged by a shifter cable, the whole mechanism slides on the two cylinders which attach to the cage.  One of the cylinders contains the spring system, and the other is meant to provide stability to the cage as it slides, so is rigid.

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The derailleur mounts to a seat tube bracket with two bolts, shown on the left side in the photo above.  If a frame lacks such mounts, then brackets can be attached to the derailleur so that it will mount to any seat tube.

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The eBay model for sale today is purportedly a 1938 “NOS” version with a $475 asking price.  We’ll see about that.  Meanwhile, I am going to keep this front derailleur in my collection, in case something comes along that warrants its application.

1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist – 45 lbs of Riding Pleasure

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I recently cycled home from work on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist.  The bike had been sitting at my office for a while.  One of the reasons I haven’t ridden it with greater frequency is that the full chain guard (“gearcase” for those who speak British) and the drive side crank arm contact each other with an annoying noise with each pedal stroke.  Previously, I had tried to solve this problem by mashing various parts of the gearcase with my hands to see if I could force it into a different position that would provide clearance for the crank arm.

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As I was noisily making my way up Clinton Street, I came upon a rider on a Mercian.  We chatted for a while and I learned he was riding an early 80’s model that a friend had given him as a frame (nice gift!), which he then built up.  That’s only the 2nd Mercian I have spotted in Pdx, aside from my own.  Interestingly, because my Raleigh is geared so high, I ended up surging past him in my big (but lowest) 52 gear inch as we began to climb the steeper hills, and so we parted company.

When I arrived home, sans heart attack, I put the bike into the shop stand, determined to solve the gearcase/crank arm clearance problem.  The first thing I did was to mark the position of the axle in the dropout and the adjuster on the shifter cable.  This way, I could restore the wheel and cable back to their current position – something which took a while to perfect so that the hub shifts correctly.

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One thing I’ve gotten questions about before is how to get the gearcase off the bike.  There are two pieces at the back of the gearcase which can be removed by unscrewing the bolts which attach them to the main part of the gearcase.  After that, there is a bracket which attaches the gearcase to the chainstay, plus a bolt which holds the front part of the gearcase, and attaches near the bottom bracket.  Once those are removed, then it’s a matter of re-positioning the gearcase and sliding the opening at the back through the narrowest part of the drop out.  The photos above show how this is done.

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Once I had the gearcase off, I took my mallet to it and tried straightening it out a bit.  Then, I tried various methods of altering the position of the gearcase once I re-mounted it to the frame, but nothing worked.

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Finally, I took my files and filed away a small section of the metal on the inside of the crank arm, to provide more clearance.  I didn’t want to take a lot of material off.  But with these solid steel crank arms, I probably have nothing to worry about.  Ultimately, I was successful in adjusting the gearcase cover to eliminate any contact with the crank arm.

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Since I had the pedals off, I thought it might be time to overhaul them. Their last overhaul was 8 years ago.  Sure enough, the grease was pretty dirty.  Fortunately, the brilliant design of the cone and lock washer made the process incredibly quick and easy.  The tabs on the back of the cone make it simple to adjust the cone to perfection.  Once adjusted, the cone’s tabs lock into position with the grooves on the lock washer.  If your adjustment needs a tweak or two, just loosen the nut and move the cone one notch at a time.  If only all pedals were designed this way!

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I headed out on the bike today and thoroughly enjoyed not only the new, silent drive train, but the amazing ride quality of this bike.  The steel frame and steel wheels absorb road shock very well, so that even the upright riding position does not transmit pain waves to your spine.  With the inertia of the heavy steel wheels, the bike really rolls once it gets going.  In my high gear, I have even passed a carbon fiber bicycle or two, much to their riders’ surprise.  The components, the paint, and the attention to detail in every aspect of how this bike was manufactured puts modern quality control to shame.

The bike responds to pedal strokes and never feels mushy or bogged down.  The geometry is perfect for the type of bike it is, and it does not wobble at slow speeds and provides for fun descents and excellent cornering at high speeds.  In fact, the ride quality of this bike is a sharp contrast to another 45 lb. machine I recently rode – the SoBi bicycles which are part of Pdx’s new Biketown bike share program.  Those bikes are made with large diameter aluminum tubing, and also feature an upright riding position, although much more extreme than that of the Raleigh.  The stiff aluminum frames, bad geometry and questionable component quality provide for a really unpleasant riding experience.

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It would be fun to see a bike share program which used quality vintage bicycles and de-emphasized modern technology (which serves as a barrier to those who cannot afford the latest internet device) as a way to introduce new riders to urban commuting. There are so many quality vintage bicycles out there. Find one and ride it!