Two important passions in my life have been music and bicycles. Coming of age as I did in the early 1950s, musically, I came in at the end of the Big Band era.
I saw the American big bands like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Stan Kenton when they toured the UK. Later I witnessed the birth of Rock n' Roll in the mid 1950s and experienced first hand the emergence of the British music scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
As for cycling I came in at the end of the fixed wheel era. In the early 1950s all the top time-trialists in the UK rode fixed gear. The picture above from 1948 shows a typical British time-trail scene.
Not a car in site; it is easy to see why this era is often referred to as “The Golden Age of Cycling.” Note the rider has a fixed gear, a single front brake, and the obligatory bell on the handlebars. (Picture from Classic Lightweights UK.)
Time Trialing in the UK during that period was predominantly a working class sport, and many working class people at that time did not own cars. Their bike was not only their recreation and sport, but also their mode of transport to get to work each day. Most had a bike with track dropouts making for easy adjustment of chain tension while switching differing size fixed rear sprockets.
The bike would have a brazed on lamp bracket boss on the front fork and have eyelets and clearance for mudguards. The mudguards would be put to good use; it rains a lot in the UK, and if your bike is your only means of transport, riding in the rain is your only option. A rider would wear a rain cape (Poncho) that was long enough at the front to reach over the handlebars thus keep their legs dry.
At the weekend, the mudguards would come off in readiness for a time trial and the cyclist would ride to the start of the event often carrying his best wheels with tubular tires on wheel carriers attached to the front of the bike.
These wheel carriers were simply two aluminum strips about 5 or 6 inches long with a hole drilled each end. The front wheel nuts were removed, the metal strips were then attached on either side of the front wheel spindle so they stood above and slightly forward of the front hub. The nuts were replaced and tightened.
The spare front and rear wheel spindle then attached to the hole in the top end of the metal strip, one on either side. Finally, the spare wheels were strapped to the handlebars using a toe-strap. Track nuts were always used, not quick-release. Everyone used a Brooks leather saddle that had bag loops on the rear; a saddle bag would be attached to carry racing clothes to change into, and food.
By today's standards riders used pretty low gears; distance events would be ridden on a 79 to 81 inch gear and the shorter events on about an 86 inch gear. The thinking of the day was that speed was achieved by pedaling fast, known as "twiddling."
I was like many of the younger riders and used gears, because I emulated the top European pro riders rather than the British time-trialists. However I did switch to fixed gear to ride through the winter months, and I would often strip my bike of its gears and convert to fixed to ride a 10 or 25 mile time-trial.
A very popular early season event was the 72 inch restricted gear 25 mile event. All competitors rode a 48 x 18 fixed gear, which was checked at the start by wheeling the bike between two chalk marks on the road, to ensure the crank did one complete revolution.
My very first time-trial was such an event, in March of 1952, one month after my 16th birthday. I had put in many miles on a 65 inch fixed gear all through the winter months and I could definitely twiddle. I had been riding seriously for over a year, but had to wait until my 16th birthday to be able to race.
I had been preparing for my début through the winter, whereas the more seasoned riders had been taking it easy and had not reached their full level of fitness at the start of the season.
I surprised myself and my fellow club members when I won the event with a time of 1hour-10min.-10sec. (See the press clipping, left.)
This meant I was pedaling at an average rate of over 100 RPM for the 25 miles. Top riders of that era could turn in times under the hour for 25 miles on a 72 inch gear; which is close to 120 RPM average. Two revs per second, that’s some serious twiddling.
The RPM rate was calculated as follows: 25 miles = 132,000 feet. Divide by my time for distance, 70 minutes = 1885.714 feet covered in one minute. Divide by feet covered per pedal revolution (18.67 ft.) = 101 RPM.
Calculated at a nominal wheel size of 26.75 inch diameter. (7.003 feet circumference.) 48 T chainring, divide by 18 T sprocket = 2.666 turns of the rear wheel per 1 turn of the chainring. 7.003 x 2.666 = 18.67 feet traveled per pedal rev.
The British Cycling Club Run is a tradition that probably started around the 1920s; a group ride that would usually take place every Sunday throughout the year. There would be a set time and place to meet, and participants would just simply show up.
Cycling clubs all over the British Isles would hold club runs. Don’t ask me why it was called a club “run” when everyone rode bikes; it is just one of those peculiar Briticisms.
Some would be all day events covering up to 100 miles, sometimes more. Others would be a shorter afternoon ride that would usually end at a country pub somewhere, followed by a ride home in the evening.
The shorter, more leisurely Sunday afternoon ride was popular through the summer months, because many riders had ridden a time-trial in the morning. In addition, the summer evenings in the UK are long and it doesn’t get dark until 10 pm.
The picture above from the mid 1970s shows me (Third rider from left.) on a club run with The Worcester St. Johns Cycling Club. It is mid-winter as you can see by the way we are dressed.
The Worcester club is one of the oldest in the UK, it was founded in 1888, the year John Boyd Dunlop invented his pneumatic tire. Early photos from the St. Johns club show a mix of the high wheeler “Ordinary” and the new fangled “Safety” bicycles in use at the same time.
Participants in club runs always rode, two by two, in an orderly fashion. The great thing was no one had to be instructed to do this, it was such a long-standing tradition, that newcomers would automatically see what everyone else was doing and follow suit.
Often the club run would operate like a pace line; two riders would ride on the front for a mile or so, then the inside line would drop back, the front outside rider would move to the inside, and the next rider would move up to the front.
It was a social event as much as anything; you would chat with the person next to you as you rode. With a pace line going, you got to talk with a different person every mile. In a group of twenty riders, you would only hit the front for two miles in every twenty, so some pretty fair average speeds could be maintained.
The club run was one of the reasons for the popularity of fixed gear riding in the UK continuing through the early 1950s. A fixed gear made it easier to control the bike while riding at close quarters. Most people rode around 65 or 69 inch gear. (48 T chainwheel with a 19 or 20 T sprocket.) which kept everyone at the same level.
A gear like this made it possible to maintain a steady pace, and at the same time climb some pretty steep hills. In 1933 Sturmey-Archer came out with a 2-speed fixed hub gear. (Above) The high gear was direct drive and the low gear was a 25% reduction. Later there was a 3-speed Sturmey-Archer fixed hub gear which remained popular with club riders through the 1950s. I believe it was discontinued around 1959.
By the mid 1950s, most riders used derailleur gears, but often switched to a single speed fixed gear for winter riding. Offering less maintenance and more control on wet or icy roads.
It has been almost 29 years since I left the England for the US; I am not sure if the Sunday club run tradition continues. I would be interested to hear from readers in the UK.
I received the following email the other day, with pictures attached:
I was looking through your blogs (great stuff by the way!), and was wondering if you could lend me some insight.
I too am a steel bike rider and have a special fondness for Eddy Merckx bikes. One of my frames was bent by a shipper while en-route to a painter.
I collected insurance, and hung the bent frame on the wall with some other out-to-pasture items.
Now two years later, I figured I need another winter beater bike, and thought the frame wasn't that bad.
My friend suggested some wood blocks with carved out grooves the same diameter as the stays bolted around very close to the bends, clamping the frame with wood vices, and a very slow pressure to try to bend her back.
We're questioning the use of heat. Would that weaken the steel even more?
I know this will never be a racer or every-day bike again, but I hate to leave it hanging, and I really need another beater bike.
Thanks in advance,
Dave Whitney (davefromaine)
Dear Dave from Maine,
Never use heat to straighten tubes, you will end up with a kink in the tube, or it will crack and split. You could straighten it the way your friend suggests, but there is an easier way.
Leave the spacer shown between the rear dropouts, if you don’t have a spacer cut a piece of wood to fit tight between the rear ends.
Lay the frame on the floor with wood blocks (cut from 2 x 4.) positioned as shown below.
Apply pressure with your foot at the point where the bend is (1.); in other words stand on it wearing a rubber sole shoe like a sneaker. Do it gently at first, depending how heavy you are, it will not take much.
I notice the left seatstay is also bent at the brake bridge. (2.) In all probability this will straighten as you apply pressure to point 1. If needed apply some pressure to point 2.
Check for straightness by looking down the seatstays from the top or bottom. Close one eye as if you are looking down a gun barrel.
If there is a dent in the tube this should not affect it structurally, and if you have the frame repainted in the future it can be filled with brass, and filed to the contour of the tube.
Finally do a string check for alignment. Tie a piece of string from the rear dropout on one side of the frame. Run the string around the head tube of the frame, and tie the sting to the opposite rear dropout. With the string stretched tight, measure from the string to the seat tube on either side. The measurement should be equal.
And you are good to go. That's the great thing about a steel frame; it is easy to fix.
When I worked at Paris Sport in NJ, a customer came in with a frame with bent seatstays exactly like the one shown here.
He asked, “Can you straighten this?” after I told him I could he asked, “How long will it take?”
“Couple of minutes.” I told him.
“Do you have a special tools to do this?”
“Yes, they are so special I keep them in leather cases.”
And I proceeded to straighten the frame as I described above, and handed it back to him two minutes later as promised.
She came flying up to the intersection; driving way too fast.
I could tell by her speed she wasn't going to stop, even though there was a stop sign. I touched my brakes and moved out to the center of the road near to the yellow line.
I could see there was no traffic coming towards me, and I already knew there was nothing immediately behind me.
Two things told me this: 1.) My ears; I could hear no vehicle behind me, and 2.) The fact that she was not intending to stop. She was looking right past me further down the road.
Had I not moved out to the center I would have run smack in the side of her. She saw me at the last second and slammed on the brakes; a little late because by now she was right out into the lane I had been riding in. She might as well have kept going because by this time I was over the yellow line and in the opposing lane completely out of her way.
Anyway, she stopped and let me pass, and I moved back over to the right. As she passed me slowly, I saw her passenger side window roll down and I was actually expecting an apology. She called out, "Why aren't you on the bike path?" There is a bike path that runs along side this road.
Somewhat taken back I hesitated for a second, then told her. "If I had been on the bike path you would have hit me for sure." I don't know if she even heard me because by now the window was rolling up again and she was speeding away.
I would have liked to explain that she had not intended to stop at road intersection, and was certainly not looking to see if there was anyone on the bike path before she came to the road.
Had I been on the path I could not have stopped in time because she came up so fast, and there was nowhere I could go to avoid hitting her. On the road I was at least able to move to the left and give her room.
I dislike this type of bike path. It gives the city planners the impression that they are doing the right thing to improve safety for cyclists. It gives the inexperienced cyclist the impression that they are safe, but are they?
On the road there is a remote possibility a cyclist will be run down from behind. However statistics show that this is the least likely accident that can happen. An accident is more likely to occur at an intersection; either someone pulling out of the side road, or turning into it, in front of a cyclist, or a vehicle passing the cyclist then side-swiping them as they turn. (The right-hook.)
Although the cyclist on the bike path has zero possibility of being run down from behind, they are at even greater danger at each intersection than if they were on the road, because they are less visible.
In addition, as I have demonstrated on the bike path there is no room for the cyclist to take evasive action. Then you have the added hazard as in this case a driver pulling up to the intersection and the cyclist runs into the side of the vehicle.
If planners are going to install this type of bike path, why not move the stop signs back behind the bike path, so at least in theory a vehicle will stop at the bike path then move slowly forward to the intersection.
The bike path crossing should be clearly marked on the road with lines and possibly the bike symbol. And what is a cyclist to do at every intersection? I'm sure the planners will say he should stop every time, but if bike rider is on the road he has the right of way to ride straight through the same as other vehicles.
Personally, I would rather see bike lanes on the existing highway. Cheaper to install, and certainly easier to keep clean. It gets the bike rider used to riding in traffic, the cyclist is more visible, and it lets the car driver know that cyclists have a right to be there.
I like the idea they have in Denmark where the bike lanes are painted a different color at the intersection.(Picture above right.) Speaking of Denmark, yesterday’s post on Copenhagen Girls on Bikes explains their Green Wave System:
“The 'Green Wave' system coordinates the traffic lights to give cyclists a 'green wave' all the way along the route.
This means that if you ride 20 km per hour (12.5 mph.) you'll hit green lights the whole way.
Some people have bike speedometers - not many - but most can adjust their speed using their experience, without electronic interference, and enjoy an uninterrupted ride to and from work.
Most of the stretches featuring the Green Wave have 15,000 - 30,000 bikes per day.”
Now that’s what I call bicycle friendly.
Today marks two years since “Dave’s Bike Blog” started.
Having a blog is in some ways like having a child that demands constant attention. Like a real baby, conceiving it is the easy part. At first, it is fun, it sleeps mostly and you wake it up occasionally to feed it.
It gives its parent a great deal pride and feeling of accomplishment as it grows, but the hungry little bastard needs feeding all the time, and if it doesn’t like what you feed it, it will spit it back at you.
This past weekend I was left to wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?” I am realizing how difficult it is to keep coming up with interesting, and informative articles, two or three times a week. Especially when related to a single subject like the bicycle.
Last Friday’s fiasco was a wake up call for me. Okay, I agree the post was not one of my best. However, after spending hundreds of hours writing 183 articles over the last two years; I write one or two pieces that go against popular opinion and I am told, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off. (See my previous post.) Did I really deserve that?
I give free advice and comment for Cris’sake. It’s like going to a free concert and booing the act. If you don’t like the act, walk out, but don’t boo and tell the performer to fuck off. The guy making the comment says he is taking my blog off his RSS Feeder, like he’s canceling his subscription. WTF.
If I was like Bike Snob NYC who blogs under a pseudonym I could care less. However, I blog under my real name, so I take these comments as a personal attack, and I take it seriously. If you make a personal attack, at least have the balls to include your full name, and the city you live in, and not hide behind anonymity.
I allow anonymous posts because not everyone wants to go through the hassle of signing up for a Google account just to post a comment. It is not there for people to hide behind and hurl abuse, or to post multiple comments, giving the impression they come from different people.
I have always stayed away from politics and religion in my posts, and the biggest mistake I made last Friday was mentioning the “Feminist” issue. It was only meant as a way to lead into the story, which was a comment about, twenty-something young men, who care little about their appearance.
I grew up in and era when we wore suits, ties, and shined our shoes, when we went out on a date with a girl. It was a mark of respect for the girl we were taking out; it also showed respect for ourselves. Of course, this was in a time before God invented tennis shoes and the subsequent decline of civilization, as we know it.
I just put forward a point of view in the hope that it will stimulate thought; I fully realize that I am not going to change the world. You can take it as advice, you can take it any way you like; you don’t have to agree.
You can take it as an insult, leave, and not come back. But when you come to this blog, you are visiting me, not the other way around. Telling me to fuck off is like coming to a party at my house and telling me to leave.
I have put too much work into this baby to abandon it completely. My Stat Counter shows that I get around 500 to 600 hits a day, and the child is still growing. It has just reached the “Terrible Twos” so who knows what will happen in the next year. There will always be a win some, loose some situation with readers.
I’m sure there are some who will say I should lighten up, and grow a thicker skin; I have been told that many times. But this is who I am, my sensitivity to this kind of thing is part of my make up; without it I would be a person who had gone through life in some mundane job.
There would be no Dave Moulton who once built bicycle frames, and this blog would never have existed.