When John Boyd Dunlop invented his pneumatic bicycle tire in 1888 it was a tubular tire.
It had a rubber inner tube stitched inside a canvas outer casing, and glued to the rim, in the same fashion as a modern tubular tire.
Contrary to common belief, John Dunlop was not the inventor of the pneumatic tire. This was Robert William Thomson of Edinburgh, Scotland. At the age of twenty-four he was granted Patent No. 10996 on 10th June, 1846.
Thomson was compelled to carry out his experiments on heavy horse drawn vehicles lacking, as he did in the 1840’s the all important aid of the bicycle. Circumstances forced him to resort to leather for his treads and to build up the tire by hand. His tires were not wholly or readily detachable.
Robert Thompson’s tire never caught on due to the fact that the market was, at that time, so limited. It was expensive to produce, and with the only form of wheeled transport being horse drawn vehicles, it was not commercially viable.
Dunlop’s improvement on the idea, on the other hand, came at a perfect time. With the invention of the safety bicycle, and followed in the next decade by motorized vehicles with pneumatic tires.
Even so, Dunlop’s idea was not immediately accepted. People scoffed at his invention and called him “Pudding Wheels.” It appears however; the proof of the pudding in this case, was in the riding. When people started winning bicycle races on the new tires, his critics were permanently silenced.
John Boyd Dunlop like Thompson was also Scottish by birth. Born in Dreghorn, Ayrshire, in 1840; he studied in Edinburgh and migrated to Ireland in his early twenties. He was a qualified veterinary surgeon.
John Dunlop’s idea was financed by Harvey du Cros, a paper merchant, and prominent Irish business man. A small company was formed in Dublin, Ireland to manufacture the tires. This was the start of The Dunlop Rubber Company that still exists today.
In the years that followed there were more developments:
1890 C. K . Welch invented the wired attachment and well-base rim. (The clincher tire.)
1891 C. H . Woods, a cotton spinner, invented a perfect little valve. This took the place of Dunlop’s patent valve, which did not permit of deflation.
1893 F. Westwood invented cycle rims with tubular edges.
1893 C. K. Welch produced his cord casing system for pneumatic tires and the well-base motor rim.
John Boyd Dunlop died in 1921. Although he did not invent the first pneumatic tire, he was the first to produce a practical product. He introduced the word “Pneumatic” (As applied to tires.) into the English language. He never made a lot of money from his idea during his lifetime, but revolutionized not only the bicycle, but also every other form of transport on Earth.
The next time you pump your tires up; think of the bewhiskered old gentleman pictured at the beginning of this piece.
My source was: The Evolution of the Bicycle, by Tom Norton.
Picture from: VirtualScotland.co.uk,
The above picture illustrates a riding position that is suited to someone like me. A body that is no longer as young and supple as it used to be, still wanting a position that is comfortable but aimed towards performance.
Back about 45 degrees allows me to look ahead without straining my neck. Handlebars low in relation to my saddle means that my weight is distributed between my arms and my seat. Arms not stretched, but relaxed and slightly bent.
Try not to view the saddle on a road bike as a seat, but rather as somewhere to park your butt while riding. This is why road saddles are often narrow, hard, and with very little padding. If you want to sit on a bicycle saddle, then you need to be sitting upright, and your saddle needs to be wide, soft, and possibly with some springs under it.
In this position you will never get past riding at a leisurely pace. If this is your goal then this is fine, but if you want some serious exercise, to ride a distance at a reasonable pace, or you have aspirations to race then you need to be leaning forward for three reasons.
2.) Weight distribution
3.) Power transfer from your arms to your legs
If you are racing this is important. With hands on the drops, arms bent, in a low tuck position, the back should be horizontal making the smallest possible frontal profile. To achieve this a rider needs to be top physical condition, usually young in years and very supple.
If you are less than top physical condition, you are never going to achieve or maintain a position like this. If you are not racing, aerodynamics is less important, but a rider still needs to be leaning forward for reasons of comfort and efficiency.
Weight should be distributed between the arms and your butt resting on the saddle. If you have too much weight on the saddle your butt is going to be sore. Too much weight on the hands and you will get numbness in the fingers. It is a matter of experimenting to find what works for you.
I hate to see a rider pushing on their arms to sit upright. With the arms stretched straight, muscles in the shoulders and at the back of the neck are constantly under tension. Road shocks are going straight up the arms to pound on these muscles.
Learn to relax and lean on your arms. Arms slightly bent, they will act as shock absorbers. Constantly moving the hands from gripping the brake hoods, to resting on the bars just above the hoods, will relieve pressure on the palms of the hands. Padded gloves help also.
Power transfer from the arms to the legs:
This is probably the most important factor because it affects not only efficiency, but also comfort in avoiding back pain. Imagine rowing a boat (one with a fixed seat.); your legs and feet hold your body in place and your arms and back provide the power to the oars.
Riding a bicycle is the exact opposite; your arms and back muscles hold your body in place, while your legs and feet provide the power. The power transfer is basically the same; arms and legs need to be in opposition to each other.
Imagine rowing a boat, sitting as you would on a dining room chair, with your lower leg vertical and your arms pulling horizontally. The strain would be on your lower back and you would soon experience severe backache.
When carrying a heavy weight, you hold it close to your body. If you carried it at arms length, the strain once again, would be on your lower back.
Often, not having the desire or ability to adopt a low racing position, the remedy often chosen is to raise the handlebars to bring them close to level with the saddle. Often a rider will opt for a larger frame to achieve this end.
Once again, if your goals are riding at a leisurely pace, this is okay. However, the problem with a larger frame is, it also has a longer top tube. Arms become stretched out horizontally, while legs are thrusting downwards, the result can sometimes be lower back pain.
Raising the handlebars seems obvious, but there is another way to achieve a less severe position. Leave the handlebars low, and shorten the reach; this was the option I chose.
When I started riding again last year after a long lay off, I soon realized due to limitations of my aging body, I could no longer ride in the same position I had used previously. I actually went to a one-centimeter smaller frame, which had a top tube that was a half-centimeter shorter. I then swapped my 11cm. stem for a 9cm.
Because of the smaller frame, my handlebars are actually one centimeter lower, but my reach is 2.5 cm. (1 inch.) shorter. The result is not only a more relaxed position, but one that is efficient and has good weight distribution.
One clue that my position is right; when climbing while seated I am rock solid in the saddle. One sure sign that you are too stretched out, is when you make a maximum effort, you slide forward on the saddle as your body tries to take up its natural position closer to your hands.
Another advantage of staying low but going shorter, if your fitness level and suppleness improves, you can simply lengthen your stem to achieve a lower aerodynamic position. Leaning more forward has the effect of lengthening your body, so you can use a longer stem and still have your arms opposing your legs.
Footnote: Unless you have specific problems with your position, I suggest you stick with what you have become used to. Always go by the old, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” adage.
In a recent blog, Still bargains to be found out there, I wrote about a Fuso bike picked up at a garage sale.
Mark Worden who found this one sent me these pictures.
Built twenty years ago in 1987, the 30th Anniversary year, the bike was ridden for 2 years then sat in a garage for the next 18 years.
Amazingly, the bike was picked up for $75. Too small for him, a 55cm. Mark passed it on to a friend.
The bike came with sprint wheels and tubular tires, which Mark kept; the wheels seen here are temporary. The new owner is awaiting a new set of wheels. It makes me feel good that another Fuso has been liberated and is being ridden.
The beauty of these bikes is in the way they ride, and they need to be ridden to be appreciated.
Tip: The white decal panels on these frames are adhesive Mylar, clear coated over with multiple clear coats; they are normally very durable.
However, do not, repeat, do not let a bike store mechanic clamp the frame in a work stand, placing the clamp over the decal. It will permanently mark the white panel.
Most children are born with the potential to be an artist. A child’s imagination is pure creativity, and the basic instinct every child has; is to show off. “Look mommy, look at me.” The problem is the creativity, in most cases, is educated out of the child.
A child comes to a parent with some fantastic story, and they are told, “That’s not true, you made that up.” Instead of given credit for creating something, that is possibly quite cleaver. A better response might be, “That’s a wonderful story; did you make that up all by yourself?”
A child needs to be taught the difference between fact and fantasy, but what is writing a novel other than making stuff up and writing it down. In other words, child’s play.
I was fortunate that I had a mother who encouraged me to be creative, to draw and paint, and make things. She gave me praise for what I had created, and more important she told others about my creations. She built my self-esteem.
If your look up the word “ego” in the dictionary, it refers to self esteem; contrary to an “egotist” which refers to a self-centered person. As I see it, an artist can have an ego, and not necessarily be egotistical. However, we are often taught throughout our life that it is wrong to have an ego.
Children are taught that it is wrong to “show off.” Showing off is only wrong, when you have nothing worthwhile to show. The loud mouth in the bar is saying, “Look at me,” but when we look, there is no talent, nothing to see.
Most artists have an ego, the desire to “show off.” Without it, there would be no art. No TV or movies made; no books to read, and no music on radio or CD. Why would any actor get up on a stage or in front of a camera, if they did not have the ego to say, “Look at me, and look at what I can do?”
Initially an artist creates for their own satisfaction of seeing what they have created. I always got a tremendous rush from looking at my finished bicycle frames. For some this is enough, but for most, we need the validation of others. This usually comes in the form of people putting down their hard-earned money for what you have created.
The driving force behind most artists is not money. Those who become artists to make a lot of money usually are not good artists and rarely make any. Some artists do make a lot of money, movie stars for example. The money is really a validation of their work; a large number of people appreciate what they do.
All artists are successful, there are only varying degrees of success. The simple act of creating something is a success in and of itself, even if it only benefits its creator. Who would even attempt to write a book if they didn’t think in the first place that someone would read what they had written? If no one tried in the first place for fear of failure, there would be no books.
No creative work is a complete failure, sometimes it is necessary to create one piece of work, simply to enable the artist to move on to the next. Failure paves the way for success in the future. Success cannot always be measured in terms of money. This blog has a readership of 1,000 people a day; I would say that is successful, even though my rewards are not monetary.
The line between ego and egotistical can be extremely thin. How do I write about myself and not appear egotistical? I tell myself it is okay as long as I have something worthwhile to say.
I was blessed in this life to have been given the ability and the opportunity to build a few decent bicycle frames. Along the way, I gathered a great deal of knowledge about the bicycle and its design. Most of this knowledge is in my head and when I am gone, it too will be gone; that would be a shame and a waste.
Writing satisfies my creative passion, just as building bicycle frames did in the past. My purpose is to share knowledge, enlighten, and attempt to entertain. Statistics show that readership here is steadily increasing. As long as this trend continues, I will continue. This is my validation.
A few months ago I came across a brand of coffee called 53 x 11.
My first reaction was, “What a cool name.” It’s a very “inside” name that only a cyclist would get, and maybe even only a road bike rider would get.
For the benefit of my non-biking readers, 53 x 11 refers to the highest gear on a road bike, this being the number of teeth on the chainwheel and the rear sprocket.
The name impressed me enough that I placed a link to their website on my favorite site list on this page. About two or three weeks ago I got and email from Evan Lawrence thanking me for the link and asking me if I would like a sample of their coffee.
Evan is one of the guys behind 53 x 11 coffee; the other is Owen Gue. These are two young and very enthusiastic bike racers, originally from Montana. Evan and Owen started training and racing together about six years or so.
Living in Montana had its advantages and disadvantages; there is some great riding but not very many races. So in order to race they found themselves road tripping together across the USA.
Being poor bike racers they often slept in their car and used whatever equipment they could find. Evan recalled using garbage bags as rain jackets because neither of them could afford at good jacket.
They were hooked from the start. Evan told me “There's just something about pushing yourself to the limit and then finding out that there are no limits. I guess that's what I love about the sport.”
Living in Montana also made it hard to train in the winter. Evan lived and worked at a ski resort, and after the crowds left he would ride his trainer in the lodge for hours every night. “I suffered on the trainer watching TV and vowed I'd never spend another winter like this.”
He didn't either. The next couple winters he lived and trained in Maui; Owen made it over the 2nd time. It was far from glamorous; they lived in a shack with dirt floors and a tin roof that leaked.
They both worked for a bike tour company riding tours 3-4 hrs a day and also worked at a little cafe in town. Evan recalled, “We would basically ride our bikes for half the day and then work an eight hour shift in the cafe. I was a prep cook and Owen washed dishes.”
Since those early days they both made their way through the ranks in the U.S racing scene and have been racing on some good teams over the past few years. Owen now races for Hagens Berman, a team out of Seattle, WA. He has had some very good results over the past couple of years. Evan is racing for a team out of Northern California called RHVille.
They now spend their winters operating a training camp in Tucson AZ called The Cycling House and run the 53 x 11 Coffee Company.
Evan told me, “We care about the environment and the people around us. It shows up in our two companies. The coffee we provide is Organic and Fair Trade. It’s better for the environment and for you. We have also started a volunteer 53 x 11 clean up crew. It’s a new concept, but we are hoping to get teams and clubs involved to do volunteer clean up along their favorite rides.”
I am pretty impressed with these two young guys. They have found a way to pursue their passion of racing bikes. At the same time they provide a winter training house to help other riders, and help the environment.
They also manage to have some fun along the way, and for the rest of us they provide some good coffee. After sampling it I can assure you, it is really good coffee.