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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.


Tandem Bike Conversion Kit

I don’t know if this is the first, but it is certainly an early tandem bike. This is a conversion kit, for making a regular bike into a tandem. This kit was patented in 1894.


Recumbent Handlebars

There seems to be a bewildering number of handlebar types for recumbents, especially 2 wheeled ones.  Here is my attempt to define some of them:

Below: Hamster bars

Bruce: I much prefer the hamster bars. I run them on both of my bikes. They place my hands and arms in a “natural”, relaxed position. Very little movement to affect a turn.  I never did understand the “tweeners” style. Limited movement, and if you have really long legs, lots of banged knees. Way too much hand travel for a given steering input, too! Not for me.



hamster bars
Below: Tweeners, (legs between bars) aka Superman, Open Cockpit, OC


Disadvantages: Bruce: I never did understand the “tweeners” style. Limited movement, and if you have really long legs, lots of banged knees. Way too much hand travel for a given steering input, too! Not for me.



Below: Chopper bars (ER and Rans LWB)



chopper bars.45
Below: Praying Mantis

praying mantis.50

Below: Machine Gun bars, Graeme Obree piloting

gunner bars2

Below: Under Seat (Linear Recumbent)


Below: Drop Bars (Chopped Drop Bars)

civl3:  I have drop bars on my Carbent. I used 56cm SOMA Portola bars. When I put my hands on the hoods, they are in the same position as they were with the original OC bars. That hints at how much lower the crossbar is which gives me a less obstructed view forward. I can turn tighter too because the bars don’t run into my thighs unless I’m turning really tightly. If I want a more relaxed arm position I can put my hands in the drops. The drop bars also let me use brifters (Sram Force in this case), which I prefer over bar-ends. The brifters also allow the cables to be cleanly routed along the bars. I tried a tiller set-up but all of the cables obstructed my view forward as much or more than the OC bars. I am using a flip-it style stem because I needed adjustability to find the correct position of the bars. Plus it makes it easier to get off of the bike.

chopped road bars

chopped road bars 2


Below:  Varna Bars, for a fully faired super fast Varna low racer

varna bars




The Velocar, Charles Mochet

Charles Mochet of France first set out to build a four wheel bicycle, because his wife (just a tad overprotective, are we?) thought that bikes of the day (the 1930s) were way too dangerous for her precious baby boy.  So Charles made a little 4 wheeled car that his son could not fall off of.  However, he found that the little car was very fast, and son George was leaving the other kids on their bikes in the dust.  That observation started Charles on his next project.  The first was to make more pedal cars, and there was a mini craze over pedal cars.



From the childs pedal car, Mochet went on to improve a recumbent bike design to a world speed record setting form.

My new ride: a Rans F5 High Racer

In the world of recumbent bikes, there are several broad categories such as Long Wheel Base, Short Wheel Base, Tadpole trikes, Delta trikes, and Low Racer.  Short Wheel Base (SWB) bikes typically have smaller wheels, and typically the front wheel is smaller than the rear wheel.  Another type of SWB with 2 wheels of equal size, of 650 or 700 cm wheels.  Having bigger wheels opens lots of options for selection of racing wheels and tires, and it is thought that the bigger wheels are faster than smaller wheels.  These SWB bikes with larger wheels are called High Racers, and my new (to me) Rans F5 is a high racer.

I got it used about 2 weeks ago, and have been learning how to ride it since.  These are bikes you just don’t jump on and ride.  You have to learn to launch it, learn how to drive it more or less straight, and learn how to stop it without falling over.   Yes, you have to learn these things like you were 6 years old and learning to ride a bike for the first time, and 60 years of riding a DF (diamond frame, or standard) bike doesn’t help that much.


My learning curve:

Day one: I did get up the hill to my house, but it sure doesn’t track as easily and straight as the trike, and going downhill is downright scary! I think I was actually faster on the Rans than on my trike, but I’ll have to put on a speedometer to verify. I have heard people talk about high speed descents on a high racer, but I don’t see how that is possible at present.  Rode about 5 miles, fell off twice when launching. Very twitchy on downhill, but I made it uphill about a mile. The bike feels super high off the ground.  I’ve been using shoes with cleats that snap into the pedal, and hence the risk of falling off the bike when launching or stopping.

Day two: rode about 10 blocks, 6 or 7 stops and launches, went uphill on the steepest section of my hill. Launching on slight downhill definitely helps.

Day three: rode to work down hill, much more stable feeling on the downhill this time, and got up the steepest portion again, did 2 or 3 launches from flat ground. The bike feels not so high off the ground.

Day 5:  I’m doing better on starts. I can start on level ground now fairly smoothly. I still use brakes when going down my hill that I didn’t brake on in the trike. I’m a bit better as far as tracking straight. I have to think a lot more about stops and starts and intersections on this bike than on my trike.  I feel a bit faster going uphill on the F5 than on the trike, but a good deal slower going down hill. I have not had it on a long flat straightaway yet, but by the weekend I’ll be ready to try that.

Week 2: starting on level ground is fine for me now, as long as I remember to put it in a low gear on the front chainwheel. I am still not tracking very straight sometimes at the moment of launching. I’m way faster going up a hill than I was with my trike, because on my trike I could go slow, put it in a low gear, and not push myself. With the F5 I am afraid to go slow, so I try to keep the speed up to improve tracking. When I get to the top of the hill, I’m sucking air like crazy, having spent way more energy to keep the speed up.

On my trike I could get up to 20 mph, but it felt like an exertion. This past weekend I got a speedometer on the F5, and today noticed I was cruising at 20 mph effortlessly. I bet I could easily kick it up to 24 and hold that for awhile on flat roadway. To get to 24 mph on my trike I was on the verge of blowing the engine, and I could not hold it for long. I have still not had it on a long flat road, but I’m looking forward to it. On my way home I go up a big hill, about a mile long, with sharp curves around corners. I have mentally divided it into 10 segments, and to try to get faster on my trike, I would maintain a speed of 7 mpg for one or two sections. After such a pace, I’d be wheezing and puffing like crazy, and I’d have to slow down. I thought I’d eventually build up to every other section doing 7 mph, then someday the whole thing at 7 mph. DFs go at about that pace on that hill, as I know from pacing some of them for a short distance.

Still at a somewhat shaky stage of steering, and at far less huffing and puffing than I would be on my trike, I go up that hill at 6-8 mph, exactly the same motor and fitness level. I’ll take that. If I can also go 2 mph faster on flat ground, hurray for high racers! I might try the full out speed on flat terrain this weekend.

End of week 2: Went on a 30 mile group ride today on the F5. We did great! It put me at about the same pace as riders who were much younger than me, on expensive bikes, in team colors. They didn’t lose me on the hills, and I got passed darn few times, until I had a flat tire.

I started at the back of the pack, to give myself plenty of room to wobble around on the start. As the pack thinned out, I moved through the pack, toward the front. Out of about 100 riders, I could see about 15 ahead of the group, and I picked off a few of those and was keeping the faster group in sight and maybe gaining a little. The faster group crossed a RR track before a long freight train crossed, and I had to wait out the train. Shortly after that I had a flat, so I never caught the lead group, but all in all its quite a bit faster than the trike, and is enough of an advantage that a 63 year old commuter becomes comparable with road bikes in speed, and in the same league as DFs going uphill. The hills were fairly gentle, and I had a rider or two pass me on hills, but not flocks of them like pass me when I’m on the trike. So far so good!

Day after 30 mile ride, the guys on Bent Rider OnLine, a recumbent forum, told me I had the riser to the handlebar on backwards.  I reversed it, and it is more comfortable for me now.

OK, riding for 2 weeks now, and I take my 3rd fall!  I came around a corner of a building where I planned to stop for food and water, and as I slowed to stop I was still turning to the right. My routine is to pop my left foot out and put it down, stop, pop my right food out and put it down. That doesn’t work when turning right, so down I went at zero mph. OK, so stop only when pointed straight ahead, not turning.  Lesson learned.

I notice after the 30 mile group ride yesterday, my steering is accurate enough to go around the speed bumps in the gutter. Today was the first time I could reliably hit that small zone between the speed bump and the curb.

Riding it for one month, I take my 4th fall!  I was going slow on grass and making big steering movements.  I got my left foot caught in the wheel as the pedal came close to the wheel as it was turned.  Down I went, on grass, and not hurt.  I can go up my hill at 4 mph, and don’t have any trouble starting on the level or at stoplights.  I have not even tried starting on an uphill!

Below is the bike with different handlebars, Rans 3 way adjustable ones. I’m thinking they are too high, and i might use a riser that is 3 or 4 inches lower than this.  Below is with one leg at full extension.


below is a view showing how much clearance I have when my left knee is at the highest point of the pedaling circle.


Below is a pic of my right leg with the knee at about the highest point of the pedaling cycle.


The First Tricycle

Which was invented first, the bicycle or the tricycle?  That depends on what you count as the first bicycle, and the first tricycle.  If you say the Lallament version was a bicycle, it was patented before the tricycle below.  If you count the John Starley Rover as the first bike, then the tricycle was first.  If you count the Cugnot steam vehicle as a tricycle, it was before Lallament.  Here is a very early tricycle, which looks very similar to Lallament’s bicycle, but inclues a verion that is in the tricycle format.


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.

Catrike Headset Adjustment, Replacing Bearings

I found that I needed to replace my factory bearings at 5 years of all weather commuting on my Catrike speed.  I opted for a set of 4 cartridge bearings, rather than using the teflon bushings for the upper bearings. A great place to get these is Utah Trikes, who know exactly the size that is needed for Catrike bearings.  The teflon bushings were made available to eliminate shimmy problems that certain models of Catrikes were having at certain speeds.  I just never had the shimmy problem, so decided to keep the ball bearing type cartridge bearings.  These are available from Utah Trikes for $10 each, for a total of $40.


To replace the headset bearings, you loosen and remove the top cap bolt and top cap, and loosen the handlebar clamp. When that is removed the steerer tube (the tube inside the head tube) can drop out of the head tube, so keep a grip on it to guide it out.  Remove the top bearing, then remove the steerer tube from the head tube. You don’t have to disconnect the tie rod in order to remove the steerer tube from the head tube.  When the steerer tube is free of the head tube, remove and replace the bottom bearings.  Put the steerer tube back in the head tube, and replace the top bearing.  Put the bearings in oriented the same way as they were when you removed them.

To cinch the bearings together on the steerer tube, put the handlebar on the top of the steerer tube, but don’t tighten the bolts.  Put the top cap and top cap bolt on the steerer tube, and begin tightening.  The top bolt engages a star nut inside the steerer tube to tighten up the assembly.  At first there will be a lot of play in the steering tube in the head tube, but as the top cap nut is tightened, there will be less and less play.  The top cap bolt will be “tight” when there is no “tick of play” and the bearings still allow the steerer tube to turn freely.  When that point is reached, tighten the handlebar bolts.  Its really the handlebar bolts that hold the steerer tube in place at the proper tightness.  Check to be sure there is no “tick of play” in the bearings.  If any play develops in the steerer tube, loosen the handlebar bolts, tighten the top cap bolt, and then tighten the handlebar bolts.

Once the handlebar is secured, you can remove the top cap bolt if need be to install or remove the front fenders on a Catrike.


Early FWD Recumbent

Thomas Traylor’s 1982 design patent for a front wheel drive two wheeled recumbent, very similar in design to a Cruzbike Silvio.  Considering Maria Parker’s new 12 hour record, set on a Cruzbike, maybe Traylor was ahead of his time!

fwd recumbent30

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