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Harry Lawson’s Bicyclette

James Starley’s Rover of 1885 was the first successful bike in which pedals and a crank drove the rear wheel with a chain, but he was not the first with that design.  In 1879 Englishman Harry Lawson  designed and patented a version of a large front wheeled bike with a smaller rear wheel driven by cranks and a chain.   Lawson’s bike was not very well received, and he went on to design bikes using levers for power transmission.  The Bicyclette was a commercial failure, but he had hit upon a superior design feature.

lawson bicyclet

This artwork of the Bicyclette is a version featured on cigarette cards.  This and other bicycle art is found at  Framed versions of these beautiful cigarette cards, posters , cards, and other bicycle art  recognize that brilliant design is art.

The First Rear Suspension Bike, 1891

Here is another candidate for the first rear suspension bicycle design, from 1891. Its modern counterpart is shown below.


rear sus modern

The First Front Suspension Bicycle

Here is a very early version of front suspension on a bike.  In this patent from 1891 there is a spring in the headset, and the fork assembly can move back and forth to absorb road shock.

1891 front sus

Jarvis Recumbent Bike, 1902

This was not the first recumbent bike, but it is certainly an early one. I have no information that this was ever built, but it sure was ahead of its time. It is very similar to long wheel base recumbents on the road today.


The Lallement Bicycle, first U.S. bicycle patent, first crank drive bike.

The crank is such a simple device that one could assume it is as ancient as the wheel.   The function of the crank was performed in the ancient world by handspikes which would be inserted in holes to move a capstan, and moved periodically to new holes around the cylinder of the capstan. 

In about the first century AD cranks were used on Roman medical devices, but it was not until 850 AD that proof of a crank in Europe is found, in a picture of a man sharpening a sword on a grindstone turned by a crank.  Other references show the crank in use in certain regions by about 1100 AD, and use in a variety of tools in Europe was widespread by 1600 AD.  Of course, the Chinese had used the crank since 100 BC. 

The Frenchmen Pierre and Ernest Michaux added cranks and pedals to the existing form of the bicycle, by adding them to the front wheel in 1861.  Some people believe that this modification of the Dandy Horse makes the Michaux brothers the inventor of the bicycle.  However, the version made by John Starling was much closer to the modern version of the bicycle, and most people credit him with the invention of the modern form of the bicycle.  Other contenders for earliest bicycle invention include Kirkpatrick MacMillan in 1839.

The Michaux brothers partner was Pierre Lallement, who may also have been the original inventor or collaborator in the crank powered bicycle. Lallement immigrated to the U.S. and got a patent on his crank powered bicycle, which was the first U.S. patent on a bicycle, in 1866.   


Setting Toe on Front Wheels of a Trike (Catrike)

Mikey says: Toe is a measurement of the horizontal diameters of the two front wheels, and how close to parallel they are to each other when the wheels are pointed straight ahead. If they’re not parallel, the wheels either “toe in” (the fronts of the wheels are closer together than the backs of the wheels) or “toe out” (backs are closer). I’ve seen people use a tape measure, piece of string, Catrike flagpole, trammel points, framing squares, or (last resort) a special tool. Once you’ve got a way to measure the inter-wheel distance front and rear, just fiddle with a tie-rod end to tweak the wheels to make the distances equal, or at least within about 1/16″ of each other. Loosen the stop nut, disconnect the tie-rod end from the bracket on the wheel, turn the rod-end in (adjusts the toe “out”) or out (adjusts the toe “in”). The finest adjustment you can make is a half-turn of the rod end, so you may have to settle for a tiny bit of toe. Some people prefer toe-in, others toe-out if they can’t make it exactly neutral, and some people don’t want it exactly neutral anyway. Once you’re happy, reconnect the rod-end to the bracket, tighten the stop nut, and go riding.
trikebldr adds this about toe:

Basically, toe-in gives better stability at higher speeds, but higher tire wear. Toe-out will give more nimble, power-steering feel, with more tire wear. Neutral toe will give a balance of the two, with very little tire wear.

To explain the stability issue, think of it this way; with toe-out, each wheel is trying to pull the trike in it’s direction, and when you try to go straight and hit even a tiny bump with one wheel, that wheel gets a traction advantage over the other and begins to turn the trike it’s direction. As it does so, the weight advantage transfers to the other wheel. And, this cyclic action happens over and over, making the trike feel very unstable. Example: left wheel hits a bump, gets more traction than the right wheel and the trike starts to turn to the left, shifting the weight over to the right wheel. Now, the right wheel has more traction than the left, so the trike starts to turn to the right, shifting the weight over to the left wheel. This cyclic action happens over and over, creating an unstable, unpredictable feel for the rider. It manifests itself as a tendency to wander from side-to-side.

With toe-in, when one wheel gets a weight advantage and tries to turn the trike, that action only adds more weight to that wheel and nothing changes, giving a feeling of stability. No wandering!

Absolute neutral toe tends to feel more like toe-out at very high speeds, so just a touch of toe-in is preferable for most riding conditions, but not so much that it causes tire wear. That’s where it gets tricky! I run all of my trikes at zero toe when unloaded (in the work stand), and that gives it just a hair of toe-in when I sit on the trike. My original set of Stelvios on my ’07 have over 9000 miles (YES! NINE THOUSAND!), and are still useable. I replaced them only because Tickle Pink was going to be riding that trike during the rally week this year, and I wanted it to be absolutely trouble free. I think this setting has well proven to be optimal for at least my ’07 Speed. Tire wear on my ’08 looks good so far, too, with this setting, and it has over 2000 miles so far.

Here’s a little bit about setting toe. The trueness of the wheels can kill an adjustment completely!!! If each wheel wobbles even 1/32″, and they are in just the right position to each other during the toe setting, that could affect the setting by 1/16″, and that is all I would recommend as a maximum toe-in value. So, even if you actually have neutral toe, it COULD look like 1/16″. The only way to eliminate that is to bind the wheels slightly by adjusting the brake pad just enough to hold the wheel from spinning freely, but allow you to rotate them during this operation. Now. working from the right side, take your toe reading, front and back. Write it down. Now rotate only the right wheel 1/4 turn and take the toe reading again. After doing this at the four “corners” of the right wheel, rotate the left wheel 1/4 turn and start over on the right wheel. This means you will be taking sixteen readings total to see how much your wheel trueness affects the real toe setting. An average of all sixteen values will be a very accurate reading!

This is all very tedious, but if you like a very accurately tuned machine, it is worth it. And, once done to this accuracy, it shouldn’t change unless you take things apart or bend something. My ’07 never changed, and it was never apart in over two years until I recently took it completely apart for “surgery”. My ’08 is now almost 18 months old and has also never changed.

Bicycle Front Suspension 1891

This appears to be a front suspension bike, patented in 1891.  The seat and cranks are attached solidly to the rear wheel, but if the front wheel hit a bump it would be allowed to raise up against the spring located near the crank.  Interesting.  Many other early suspension designs are in the Bicycle Technology section of the Patent Pending blog.  In the top version of this bike, steering is by handles by the saddle, which is connected to the front wheel by cables. There is no traditional handlebar.   I think the inventor was trying to allow the rider to sit upright and not have to lean forward to steer the front wheel. That might really relieve some back strain.


TerraTrike Recumbent Trike

The style of recumbent tricycles with two wheels in the front and one in the rear is called a tadpole recumbent, because like a tadpole, the big end is at the front. Here is a very low slung tadpole configured recumbent, patented in 1975, and it has the rear wheel as the drive wheel, with the chain passing alongside the seat.  The two front wheels are the steering wheels, and steering is by an underseat control. In this style of bike, the rider is way more comfortable, with no leaning forward, no saddle soreness, and no weight on his wrists. The wind resistance is also quite a bit less, which is why recumbents can be as fast or faster than upright two wheelers on flat terrain, even though they are generally heavier. A really cool tadpole trike is the TerraTrike, and they have all kinds of information on their site at WizWheelz.  A TerraTrike is shown below the 1975 tadpole.



Restored Motobecane Grand Record

My fun project of late has been restoring my old bike to its former glory.  In 1973 I bought my first real road bike, a Motobecane Grand Record.  I rode it everywhere, including to work, which was 17 miles one way.  As I had kids, this became the kid hauler, the trailer hauler, the bike for family rides through the orchard country of Wenatchee and Yakima.  When I went to law school in Moscow, a town full of gravel roads, the Motobecane hauled me to classes. After hanging in the garage for 12 years in Boise, down it came for a rebirth. 

The Grand Record has some good features and was toward the top of the line of the Motobecane brand.  I have since learned that many people think that  French road bikes of that period were the pinnacle of road bike design,  and have a different and desireable feel compared to more contemporary road bikes.  The Grand Record has tubes made of Reynolds 531 double butted tubes, and fancy Nervex lugs holding the tubes together.  It has some components made by Campagnolo, the premier bike components manufacturer.  Other componenets are so-so, but thanks to ebay I can upgrade them as part of the overhaul. 

This is the way the frame looked "before". 


These are the "after" shots, although it will look better after some ebay purchased parts get installed.




A host of bicycle patents and technology are in the bicycle technology category.