Subscribe in a reader

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

The Inventor of the Bicycle

The bicycle as we know it came together from the innovations of many inventors, such as the inventor of the roller chain, and first person to put a crank on a Dandy Horse, the first person to invent pneumatic tires, and the first person to adapt ball bearings to bicycles wheels.







But enough of these features came together in one machine in 1885 to form a device we would recognize as a bicycle.  It was built by John Kemp Starley of England.  John moved to the big city, Coventry England, to work for his uncle, James Starley.  James was an inventor, and was in the sewing machine business, had perfected the penny farthing high wheel bike, and had invented the first tricycle, which was sold as the Rover.

John Starley built an improved Rover, which was a two wheeler with a chain drive on the rear wheel, equal sized wheels, diamond shaped tubular frame, tangential spokes,  ball bearings in wheels and cranks, and pneumatic tires. It was a truly modern bicycle.  The photo below is of John Starley’s Rover of 1885.  Other early bikes were Isaac Johnson’s folding frame bike, and Harmon Moise’s bike with a freewheel, both of which came after Starley’s Rover.


The Rover company also experimented with motorcycles, and also started a car company.  The Rover Motor Car Company went on to build Rover cars, which run from luxury sedans to the famous Land Rover and Range Rover.


Updating an 80’s road bike (Fuji Design Series)

I lucked into a fantastic bike about 6 years ago, a Fuji 1987 Design Series road bike.  This was their top of the line road bike, and all components were top quality Campy parts.  It fit my wife Tuckie perfectly, and was her road bike.  We went on some fun short rides, and she never did longer rides or group rides on it.  She didn’t ride it enough to get used to using the clip-in Speedplay pedals, and one time she didn’t get a good push off from a stop, and fell over onto the pavement.  She broke her fall with her hand, and ended up with a broken bone in her wrist.  This was exactly what the bike looked like, but it was not quite as pristine as this one:


The picture below shows the down tube Campy shifters.  Our bike was the same color, same saddle, same components as this bike, but the paint was not as perfect as this one.


While recuperating from the broken wrist, Tuckie rode a mountain bike with flat handlebars, and got used to having all the controls on the bars.  She never really got used to the down tube shifters, nor riding with hands on the brake hoods, as road bike riders of the 80s did.  I talked to a friend of mine who owns a bike shop, and looked at his new road bikes with flat handlebars.  They also had wide rims and heavy tires, and cost upwards of $1500.  I wanted the light weight and speed of a road bike, just with flat handlebars.  He said don’t try to convert the old road bike, as it would be a money pit, and would require a different axle and derailleurs, and I’d never find the right size parts to do the job.  I had a love for the old bike, and I wanted to try to make it work.
So my project was to make a few changes to the Fuji, to take advantage of the light frame, and nice road wheels, and keeping the Campy brakes.  The tasks were thus:

replace the drop handlebars with a flat handlebar, complete with shifters and brake levers

put on a granny gear for getting up the mile and a half long hill to our house

possibly make it indexed shifting, but I knew there was a low probability of that

I had a pair of brand new brake levers, so that was easy.  I bought a pair of Suntour thumb shifters on ebay.  With those components I put on the flat handlebars, and replaced the down tube shifters with shifter cable stops, as shown below.


The flat handlebars, with brake levers, new grips, and the Suntour thumb shifters, are shown below.


That was the easy part.  To add a granny gear, I would need a different axle with a longer end on the drive side, and a triple crankset, with pedals.  I’d also need a long reach derailleur to take up the extra chain slack when using the granny gear.  The chances of getting all these components to fit correctly was pretty small, and would likely be costly but I had two secret weapons.  First secret weapon: We have a bike co-op in Boise, the Boise Bicycle Project.  They have a good supply of bike parts, and I found an axle with sealed bearings that fit my bottom bracket, and would likely accommodate the extra gear of the triple.  We also found a long reach Suntour rear derailleur, and also a front Suntour derailleur.  It was coming together, against all odds.  The triple crankset we found is shown below, after I added a 40 tooth chain ring to replace the 48 it came with.   Cost of parts, about $50 for the axle, triple crankset, derailleurs, platform pedals, and flat bar,  $40 for the thumb shifters.  Second secret weapon: expert advice and coaching by two BBP mechanics, Yon and Michael.  Wow, those guys saved my butt every time I turned around!


So the bike came together nicely, and every thing actually works. We found that the thumb shifter had an indexed setting for a 6 speed cluster, and since the rear cassette was a 6 speed, and the Suntour rear derailleur was compatible with the Suntour index thumb shifter, we had 6 speed indexed shifting!  Awesome, and an unexpected result.  So the bike ended up looking like the picture below.  I also put on platform pedals, which Tuckie wants to use.  Now maybe we’ll get a gel saddle, and do on some rides when the weather gets better.



Front Suspension Bike – 1889

Here is one method of front suspension for a bicycle that came out in 1889! This was patented by J. S. Copeland.  When the front wheel hits a bump, it can travel up in relation to the frame. It also has a cool spoon brake, which was the norm before caliper brakes were invented.



It is the same idea as shown in the Softride shock absorber stem above, which is also a parallelogram with a strong spring, to cushion some shock from hard bumps.  But in the Softride version, the wheel doesn’t travel up, the handlebars travel down.  My friend Kurt inUtah really likes his Softride stem, and has used it for years.

Front Suspension Bike 1889

Here is a nifty front end suspension for a bicycle, from 1889.  In this design, when the front wheel hits a bump the front wheel and handlebars move up in relation to the frame.  Thus the rider is not really protected from shock, it seems to me.  Am I seeing how this works incorrectly? 



Rear Suspension Bike, 1891

Here is a rear suspension bike from 1891 which used springs in a tube to give some give to the rear wheel.

1891 rear sus2

A Bad Case of Drillium!

Bruce went crazy with his drill press, and removed, if I read his notes correctly, about 13.7 pounds from the normally 30 pound Catrike Speed!  This is Catrike #CS754, named Holey Spokes.







Now we need to see that thing assembled, a final weigh in, and a test ride to see if it whistles.  Its just remotely possible that Bruce has too much time on his hands. One last picture:


Adjusting BB7 Brakes on Trikes

Bruce’s advice on adjusting the Avid BB7 brakes on Catrikes:

Avid BB7 PROPER brake alignment and adjustment, and the physics behind it.

For the sake of simplicity I will restrict this explanation to the Avid BB7 brakes found on Roads, Speeds, Expeditions and 700’s. The BB5’s are similar, but just harder to adjust and maintain.

Be aware that what I describe is for those who want the last degree of fine tuning of their brakes. It involves a lot more work than a bike shop would do for you and is best done with a helper of similar weight to the trike’s normal rider.

The point of brake caliper alignment is to position the caliper properly around the rotor so that the pads contact the rotor squarely and evenly as the brakes are applied. The spacer packs on each side of the caliper mounting ears are made up of ball-and-socket washers that allow the caliper to “wobble” around the mounting bolts to align with the rotor. The caliper’s mounting ears are also slotted to allow the caliper to slide side-to-side as needed to position the caliper evenly over the rotor.

Avid’s instruction sheet recommends that the rotor be positioned in the caliper with a 1/3-2/3 clearance to the caliper body casting. After talking on the phone with Calvin Jones of Park Tools, it is my belief that this is not necessary, and that the rotor should be positioned as evenly centered as possible. Even the techs at Avid that I talked to couldn’t give me a reason for the 1/3-2/3 setting. I set all of mine centered and have had no issues with this. Calvin said that all other manufacturers recommend centering the rotor and that he does so on the BB7’s, too.

Before we get into the actual alignment process, there is some understanding and setup that must be done.

First, it should be understood that these brakes are borrowed from bikes, and their use on trikes is a compromise in application, requiring extra effort in alignment and adjustment for truely proper function. A bike’s front axle is “double hung”; that is, it is attached at both ends to the fork dropouts. There is virtually no bending action of the axle at either end. On a trike, the axle is “single hung” and there is considerable flexing going on compared to a bike, even with our 20mm axle tubes. The caliper is mounted on the spindle steering arm and the rotor is mounted on the wheel’s hub. The point at which the axle flexes is between these two mounting points, so the caliper and rotor move in relation to each other as the axle flexes. This movement disturbs the proper alignment of the rotor to the caliper. As you can easily imagine, the weight of the rider and cornering forces, as well as other factors, will cause the axle to flex. We can’t anticipate and compensate for the constantly changing cornering forces, but we can do something about the flexing caused by the rider’s weight. This is what this “story” is all about, and how to do it.

Second, there is a constantly overlooked situation that affects rotor-to-caliper alignment. It’s the clearance between the 20mm axle tube and the spindle. To accomodate removal of the wheel while on the trail for tire repairs and other reasons, the axle should be an easy slip-fit into the spindle, which means there is some clearance, although a very tiny amount. This tiny amount of clearance allows the axle to “wiggle” a tiny bit in the spindle with no weight on the trike, which translates into movement of the rotor in relation to the caliper body. This tiny bit of wiggle is at the same point as the flexing mentioned earlier, and has the same effect as flexing. However, the quick release skewer removes this wiggle when it is tightened properly, leaving only the flexing to affect the alignment when the trike is loaded and being ridden. Again however, when the trike is in the repair stand, unloaded, that tiny bit of wiggle allows the axle to “droop” slightly from the weight of the wheel as it is mounted on the trike, then the skewer is tightened. All of that tiny bit of play is shifted downward at this point. When the trike is taken out of the work stand and set on the ground, then the rider sits on it, the axle actually shifts upward from the rider’s weight, again shifting the alignment of the rotor to caliper. It is this position of the axle that should be established before doing a caliper alignment. It should also be noted that when the caliper has been previously aligned and the wheel is removed for any reason, then put back on the trike, the caliper will appear to be misaligned until the trike has had the rider’s weight on it and the trike ridden a short distance to help the axle “settle” into it’s “natural”, operational position. It should then be back in alignment again!

It should be clear by now that to do an accurate caliper/rotor alignment, the trike must have the rider seated, and the trike should be rolled a few feet to allow it’s front wheels to “squat” as much as they are going to. Once this is done, the calipers are ready to be aligned by a second person while the rider sits on the trike.

To align the calipers, begin by making sure that the rotor is absolutely straight and doesn’t wobble (this is done ahead of time with the trike in the repair stand), then loosen the caliper mounting bolts (2) just enough to let the caliper body wiggle on the bolts. Now, adjust the pad adjusters (the read knobs on each side of the caliper) until the pads are tight against the rotor, holding it solidly, and the rotor is centered in the caliper body. Use the pad adjusters to center the rotor in the caliper body. Once the rotor is centered and the pads are very tight against it, tighten up the caliper mounting bolts. Now, back off each pad adjuster about 3 or 4 clicks and check for rotor clearance by looking for a gap between the rotor and the pads. It helps to hold a piece of paper behind the brake caliper to see this gap. If there is a gap (and, there SHOULD be!), make sure the rotor looks parallel to each pad, and that neither of the pads is “cocked” at an angle to the rotor. It is best to set the gap to the fixed pad as small as possible without any drag, then set the gap to the moving pad to suit the rider’s feel for lever movement. In any case, be sure that the rotor doesn’t drag on either pad. The fixed pad is the one nearest the wheel with the largest adjuster knob. Some older calipers had a T-25 torx fitting in the center of this larger adjuster knob to make it easier to access and turn. If the gap to the fixed pad is too much, the rotor has to bend too much to contact it during application of the brakes and it may warp under hard use. This is why the gap to this pad must be kept as small as possible without creating any drag on the rotor.

Of course, there are thousands of trikes running around out there with brakes adjusted and aligned while still in the work stand. This is what you will get if you have a bike shop do the work for you. If the wheel hasn’t been recently removed before the alignment process, this will work reasonably well for most folks. But, if you’ve read this far, it is because you want your trike to run it’s very best, and are willing to do the extra work to be sure your brakes don’t drag at all.

As a final note, some riders have reported hearing their brakes squealing in hard turns even when not being applied. This is dirrect evidence that the caliper and rotor are moving in relation to each other from axle flexing, and that movement is sufficient to cause the rotor to contact one of the pads, causing drag and wear of the pad. This is especially true of heavier riders, so if you are a heavier rider who takes corners fast, then try backing off the pads another click or two to give them a little bit of extra clearance for the rotor to move more from flexing. On all Catrikes, the right brake would get those extra clicks on the moveable pad, and the left brake would get them on the fixed pad. Don’t ask why, because that is another story that would take just as long to tell !

Early Cantilever Brake

The earliest bicycles, like Lallement’s bicycle, did not have brakes as such, but back pressure on the pedals provided some braking. Later bikes used a brake pad that pushed against the tire, like the brakes found on wagons of the day. Later bikes used pads that pressed against the rim of the wheel, like the centerpull brake. Another type of brake is the cantilever brake, in which the brake arm is pivotally attached to the bike frame, with the brake pad placed between the pivot (the fulcrum of the lever thus formed) and the end of the brake arm. This type of brake is thus a class two lever. Although this cantilever brake is from 1939, they really became popular when added braking power was needed on bikes that were being made for off road use.


SlowWheel Cycling innovation

Nathan Womack is a serious bike rider, serious enough that he wanted to ride at a training pace on rides with his girlfriend.  The trouble was that his preferred pace for training for triathalons was about 20 mph, and his
girlfriend’s pace is more like 15 mph.  He had the bright idea of making a wheel that would give him some resistance in his rides, so that his speed would equal his girlfriends speed, yet give him the training he wanted.

His solution developed into a bike product called the SlowWheel. The SlowWheel is a replacement rear wheel for a bicycle that allows the rider to increase the resistance of the wheel (in order to slow the rider down). Using the SlowWheel, Nathan and his girlfriend are able to ride together, and both get a workout!  The wheel can also be set to no resistance at all, for maximum speed.

Additionally, Nathan looks to have a children’s model out (for children under 5) that will go on a small bike with training wheels to help "slow" the child down as they learn to ride a bike. This will help in coordination as well as be an incredible safety device (as the children will not be able to get going so fast they get out of control).



Cable Brakes, Centerpull

The early bikes didn’t need brakes, because the crank was directly connected to the wheel.  Applying pressure to the cranks would stop the rear wheel.  But when the freewheel was in use, a new type of brake was needed.  The first brakes were like wagon brakes, in which a brake pad pressed against the tire itself.  This worked well with wagons, because the wagon tire had a steel tread to press against.  The rubber of a bike tire wasn’t as good of a braking surface.

So someone had the bright idea of pressing a brake pad against the rim of the bike wheel.  An early version of this might be the first centerpull caliper brake, using the steel cable within a rigid tube invented by Bowden.  This design was patented in 1903, and is not so dissimilar to modern centerpull brakes.