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Bike Fact Book

Unusual Information About Bicycles and Bicycling

Copyright 2019, Jeff Napier

Table of Contents

Start Here

Planetary Gearsets




Ultimate Wheels

Circus Bikes

Plastic Bikes


Tricycles and Quadracycles

People-Powered Cars and Boats

Electric Bikes

Art Bikes

Wrong Way Wooten


Derailleurs and Sprockets

Bits and Pieces


Bicycle Safety

Random Bicycle Facts

Start Here

Table of Contents

A bicycle is the most efficient machine in terms of energy expended for moving weight over distance.

A human on a bicycle is also the most efficient animal on earth in terms of energy spent for travel.

Bicycling is six times more efficient than walking.

Using a bicycle, it takes 35 calories to move an average-size person one mile (1.6 km). It takes 1,860 calories to move a person a mile in a car. So, the bicycle uses two percent as much energy as a car.

The average bicycle costs three percent as much as a typical car.

“One of the key studies of cycling has found that people who cycle to work experienced a 39% lower rate of all-cause mortality compared to those who did not even after adjustment for other risk factors, including leisure time physical activity.” – CyclingEngland

According to at least one statistical study, the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by twenty to one.

Therefore, taking a closer look at these wonderful machines will be fun, don’t you think?

Planetary Gearsets

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Only a few short years elapsed between the time when bicycles started to standardize as “safeties,” and when planetary geared hubs, also called planetary gearsets, started to appear.

Safeties were bikes with same-size wheels and a chain drive from centrally located pedals with a large sprocket to the rear wheel with a smaller sprocket – in other words, the typical modern “diamond-frame” bicycle design. Before safeties, bikes had pedals attached directly to a wheel. The driven wheel had to be as large as possible. That way, each turn of the pedals would carry the bike a reasonable distance, so as to avoid being a slow-poke.

With a planetary gearset, the hub can turn different speeds than the sprocket mounted on the hub. Planetary gearsets are also known as “epicyclic gearing” or “gear hubs.” The first ones showed up around 1880, but the first commercially successful two-speed planetary hub, called “The Hub,” was in production starting in 1898. By 1902, a three-speed hub was available.

Now, more than a century later, planetary gearsets are still available, with versions containing as many as 14 distinct speeds.

The Rholoff 14-speed planetary gearing bicycle hub
The Rholoff Speedhub – 14 Speeds

The planetary gearset has some advantages. The system is enclosed, so is less vulnerable to weather and dirt. There’s no low-hanging chain tensioner to get bent or caught in the weeds. The chainline is simple, so easier to enclose, preventing grease marks on socks and pants. In fact, belt and fully-enclosed shaft drives work with planetary gearsets. Because a derailleur system can only be shifted when the chain is moving, the planetary gearset is easier for beginners, and commuters, who often have to shift after having come to a stop. Derailleur bikes almost always have dished rear wheels. This means that the hub flange on the right-hand side is offset toward the center of the hub in order to make room for the sprockets. A dished wheel is weaker against lateral forces. Planetary hubs can have widely spaced flanges for strong rear wheels.

The downside of planetary gearsets is that they tend to concentrate a lot of weight in the rear wheel, and may cost more.

One of the most prolific manufacturers is Sturmey-Archer, who made a hub that remained mostly unchanged for many years, and was the centerpiece of the classic European three-speed bike, which was very popular in America during the 1950s and 1960s.

Raleigh bicycle with Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub
Classic Raleigh Three-Speed with Sturmey-Archer Hub
via Degen_Earthfast

When you come across an old Sturmey-Archer three-speed, you can wipe the road grime away, and read the month and year of manufacture on the outside of the hub.

Sturmey Archer 3-Speed Bicycle Hub

Sturmey-Archer Three-speed shifter
Sturmey-Archer three-speed shifter

via huubvanhughten

Inside a Sturmey-Archer AW three-speed hub

Photo by Keithonearth

Shimano made competing three-speed hubs, typically the FA model. It was low-cost, but unfortunately not as strong as Sturmey-Archer’s most common model, the AW. A strong bike racer could wreck an FA hub within a couple of miles.

The Sturmey-Archer AW, in production from 1936 until at least 2008, and possibly even today, has an alarming problem of its own: There’s a neutral position between second and third gear. If the cable tension is not properly adjusted, the hub can slip into neutral. This can be a serious let-down when climbing hard up a hill.

Modern planetary gearsets are still available with three and more speeds. Shimano makes a popular 7-speed model and offers 8 and 11-speed models as well. Sachs, now part of SRAM, has been making planetary hubs since 1904, and currently offers a 7-speed model that has a wider range than Shimano’s 7-speed.

Believe it or not, there can be room left over in planetary hubs, so manufacturers make models with built-in coaster brakes. For those who don’t know the term, a coaster brake is a hub in which when you pedal backward, typically a quarter-turn of the pedals or so, a braking mechanism is applied in the hub to stop the wheel.

For many years, Shimano, Sturmey-Archer, and Sachs have all incorporated coaster-brakes. You would expect trouble due to the heat generated in the hub by breaking, but in practice, this seems to be a non-problem, since there are many decades-old planetary hubs with coaster brakes that still work like new. Interestingly, the trouble-maker is Shimano’s external roller brake, that can overheat on a long hill, making screeching noises, and fading in effectiveness. Some of the most recent high-end planetary hubs accommodate a disk brake around the left side.

During the 1960s, Bendix an American compnay founded in Elmira, New York, made a two-speed hub that incorporated a coaster brake and automatic shifting, sort of. If the rider backpedaled a little bit, the hub would shift into the other gear. So if it was in high, then it would be in low, and vice versa. They had three models of the “Kickback” hub, identified by colored bands around the middle of the hubs.

The ‘yellow band’ and ‘blue band’ hubs had a shoe style internal brake. When backpedaled, a course screw would push a cone against four grease-covered quarter-circle steel shoes that rode loosely along the inside of the hub shell. The cone would press them against the shell, and the bike would stop.

The yellow band had a straight-through speed, and a lower gear for hill climbing. The blue band was identical except it had a straight-through gear and a higher gear.

The ‘red band,’ Bendix’s most common two-speed kickback model, was straight-through and low, but had a different kind of brake. This had a pack of alternating disks coated in grease. Every other disk was splined to the hub and turned. The disks in between were splined to the axle, so of course they did not turn. When the brake was applied, the pack of disks was squeezed together. Several other coaster brake manufacturers used the disk pack system, but not Bendix. Of the millions of coaster brakes made by Bendix, this was one of the few with a disk pack.

You may wonder how a planetary gearset works. I did. When I was twelve years old, I took apart my Shimano 3-speed hub to see what was inside, and couldn’t quite get it back together. Fortunately, my father came to the rescue, and showed me how a couple of parts might work, and with that hint, I was able to understand it, and get it back together. 10 years later, I owned a bicycle shop, and had overhauled hundreds of 2-, 3- and 5-speed hubs. 40 years later, I took apart a Shimano 7-speed, and had a heck of a time reassembling it properly.

bicycle rear hub planetary gears
Modified, originally via PeterWiki,

So, here’s the scoop: You have a ring gear, three or more planet gears, and a sun gear all in constant contact. Through some sliding mechanisms and ratchets, you can connect the sprocket and the hub shell to various parts of the gearset. The sun gear is mounted on the axle, and does not turn, so the planets turn around it, and the ring gears is turned by the planets. The planets are kept in position by a large ring called the planet carrier. If you connect the sprocket to the planet carrier, the planets are pushed around, and because they have to rotate around the sun gear, the outer surfaces of the planets are rotating faster. The ring gear is attached to the hub, and so you have a high gear. If you connect the sprocket to the planet carrier, but also connect the hub to the planet carrier, you have direct one-to-one gearing, and the ring gear spins uselessly. Finally, if you connect the sprocket to the ring gear, and the hub to the planet carrier, you have low gear.

That accounts for a three-speed hub. For more than three speeds, you have multiple or “compound” planetary gearsets. If you have one gearset in a low gear, and another gearset also in a low gear, you have a lower “low-low” output.

A few people and manufacturers have experimented with combining derailleur systems and planetary gearsets. Your author put together a bike with a triple chainwheel, six rear sprockets, and a Sturmey-Archer 5-speed hub, for a combined total of 90 speeds. In the lowest gear, a rider could merely set the weight of a foot on a pedal, and the front wheel would jump a few millimeters off the ground.

Theoretically, with today’s equipment, one could have a triple chainwheel driving ten rear sprockets, connected to a 14-speed planetary hub. This would result in a 420-speed bike, although of course some of the ‘gears’ would be redundant.


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The previous chapter got rather historical, so let’s go a step further into the history of bicycles.

When people first figured out that you could attach pedals to bicycle wheels, they discovered that the bikes didn’t go very fast. But, if they could make the wheels bigger, they could go faster. This was the world’s first version of “gearing up.”

The limitation was the length of the rider’s legs. Pretty soon, it became ordinary for bicycles to have large front wheels, ranging from 50 to 64 inches (127 to 162 cm) in diameter. So, these became known as “ordinary,” bikes, commonly refered to as “ordinaries,” or “ordinary racers.” They were also called “Penny-Farthings” named after large and small coins of the era, and sometimes “boneshakers” because they had solid rubber tires, and no shocks, while the bumpy streets were typically unpaved or made from bricks.

It was still years into the future before veterinarian and inventor John Boyd Dunlop would create the first air-filled tires for his son’s tricycle. Back in the day, 1887 to be specific, doctors and vets had to make their own rubber gloves. He was already auspiciously equipped to experiment with rubber tires. Irish bike racer William “Willie” Hume was the first one to purchase a “safety” bike outfitted with Dr. Dunlop’s tires. He won all four races he entered, so the fate of pneumatic bicycle tires was decided.

Ordinary racer, bicycle, penny-farthing
via Agnieszka Kwiecień, license: CC-BY 3.0

The fellow riding the replica in the picture is making it look easy, but these were far from easy to master.

First, there was the matter of getting started. If you look carefully at the picture, a few inches above the rear wheel fork, on the far side, is a little footpeg. The rider would run with the bicycle to gain some momentum, then place a foot on the peg while holding the handlebar. The rider could stand on the peg and coast along, but most of the time, the rider would complete the mounting process by essentially jumping up into the saddle, then letting the feet find, or catch up with the pedals. This had to be done quickly, before the bike lost much momentum. Without enough momentum, the bike would start pitching wildly to one side or another. You can imagine a modern bicycle at a very slow speed. When you get down to around walking speed, it is very hard to steer a straight line. But with the tall, heavy bike, it really becomes an exercise in careening if you are way up there, with your head nine feet (275 cm) off the ground. Furthermore, if you turn more than just a few degrees, that big old wheel starts rubbing on your thigh. Anything beyond that, and you simply have to fall off.

So finally, there you are mounted on your ordinary, and you come to hill. You’d better pedal really hard, because you can’t gear down. Worse, when going downhill with the first ordinaries, the techniques for slowing down were all harrowing.

The first option would be to resist the pedals. But, you’re geared up, and have not only your weight to resist, but the 60 pounds (27 kg) of the bike as well. If that is not sufficient, you can rub the palm of your gloved hand on the top of the solid rubber tire – until your hand gets too hot. Some of the later ordinaries came equipped with a spoon brake. That’s a metal bar that could be operated from a hand lever that would rub on the top of the tire.

If you have to make an emergency stop, there’s only one ‘safe’ option: Jump backward off the seat, landing with one foot crosswise on the top of the back tire. This jams your foot against the fork, and skids the rear wheel. It costs rubber – and those tires wore out fast, but it could save your life. Otherwise, if something comes up where you stop quickly, such as hitting a pothole, you pitch forward. Not only will you find yourself flying forward, but the bike will very likely be caught up with you.

Tires for the ordinaries – and all sorts of other contraptions such as children’s wagons and baby strollers were sold in bulk rolls called “cab tiring.” You’d pick a width, and buy perhaps 50 feet of tire. It was a fat-walled rubber tube with a hollow middle. The rubber was quite basic by today’s standards. It had carbon mixed in, so that it wouldn’t wear out in the first mile or so. That’s why tires were always black. You’d cut off a length of cab tiring just the right length to go around your wheel. You’d insert a solid steel wire all the way through the tire. Where the tire material joins, you grab the ends of the cable and twist them together. Finally, you cut off the extra length of twisted wire, so the seam in your tire doesn’t have metal sticking out.

Some of the earliest ordinaries didn’t bother with rubber at all. They had wooden wheels, iron wheels, and sometimes wooden wheels surrounded with an iron tire. These were the true ‘boneshakers.’

There are more replica ordinaries in existence today than real ones. How can you spot the difference? The first giveaway is the pedals. Most of the replicas use modern pedals, which by law in most countries, have to be manufactured with reflectors. Back in the day, most of the parts were forged from solid steel and hand worked, so they had a clunky look with hammer or file marks here and there. Replicas will tend to use shiny, perfectly formed parts.

Ordinaries weren’t the first bikes. The first is credited to a German inventor, Karl Drais. He built the first one in 1818, and called it the Laufmaschine. It wasn’t long before his simple contraption was copied throughout Europe and the United States. The English started calling them dandy-horses. In America, they were hobby-horses. and the French called them draisiennes or draisines. It wasn’t until 40 years later than someone in France figured out to attach pedals to the front wheel, so riders didn’t have to kick along the sidewalk to go places. This new French version was called velocipede (literally: “speed foot”), although that term has come to mean any of a wide variety of early bicycles.

Draisine - an antique bicycle


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You would think that the idea of pedals and cracks attached directly to a wheel would have died out when safeties came along. But no, there are still vehicles with direct drive wheels. These would be unicycles.


Learning to ride a unicycle is easier than it might seem. For best results, find a place with smooth level pavement and a chain-link fence. Place your foot on a pedal in the six o’clock position. By pressing down hard on the pedal with your foot, the unicycle will not be able to roll out from under you. While holding onto the fence, situate yourself on the seat. Just cling to the fence for a while as you roll a few inches (centimeters) back and forth to get a feel of the machine. When you are ready, roll forward just a single revolution of the wheel, while holding onto the fence. In time, you can hold the fence more loosely, and with more practice, you can go two or more turns of the wheel. If you are patient, you will soon feel confident letting go of the fence altogether. You’ll learn to turn and stop almost automatically. Your body will know which way to lean to control the unicycle.

Before you start riding for the first time, some safety equipment is recommended. An ordinary bicycling helmet is highly recommended. You may also like to wear the same gear that serious skaters use: Knee, elbow and wrist guards. Broken wrists are common with beginning unicyclists, so don’t avoid the wrist guards.
You may want to wear two pairs of socks, since when you are first learning, your ankles may bump the cranks with uncomfortable results. If you can arrange padding for your butt, that’s a good idea. In the beginning, it is possible to lose control such that the unicycle rolls out quickly, and you fall on your bottom, which can create an injury that’s painful for a month or more. Finally, you may want to wrap some padding around the seat. This is to protect the seat, not you. Unicycles tend to get dropped hard and frequently when learning. The good news is that once you become proficient, all these problems go away. Experts, just like expert bike riders, seldom fall.

Once you become an expert, you can learn a number of tricks such as riding backward, spinning in tight circles, riding with one foot, mounting and dismounting the unicycle in unusual ways and more. One of the important techniques to learn is idling, in which the rider rocks back and forth, maintaing balance in one spot. Once that’s possible, the rider can play a musical instrument, juggle, and other such activities, without needing to cover any distance. You can get a lot of unicycle trick riding ideas from YouTube.

Unicycles come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are for off-road competition, a somewhat dangerous skill that is quite difficult to master. These typically have large diameter wheels with fat, knobby tires.

off-road unicycling
Off-road unicycling
Samuel Mann

Others have thin large diameter wheels for city commuting.

commuting unicycle
A commuting unicycle
via Midiman

Your author built what he called a “commutiuni.” It had a super lightweight tubular rim with a 700 mm (26-inch) 260-gram sew-up tire.
Besides a lightweight frame and seat, the commutiuni also had short four and a half-inch (113 mm) cranks, so the author could spin very fast, making up for the lack of gearing.

Other unicycles have small wheels, sometimes for children, and sometimes for performance, since with a smaller wheel, you can maneuver more precisely at slower speeds, and on a smaller stage.

small unicycle
via xeaza

Another category is tall unicycles, often called “giraffe” unicycles. Using a chain drive from the pedals to the wheel, they can range from 4-1/2 feet to over 100 feet (1.4 to 30 meters) tall. When tall unicycles are discussed in America where the unit of measurement is the foot, the size is usually exaggerated up to the next even foot. So, a five-foot-three-inch unicycle is called “six-foot.”

Tall unicycles can be problematic. One problem is that their frame tubes can flex to the point where the machine is too wobbly to be rideable. Frames can become permanently bent from incorrect mounting. The most critical, and the most common problem is that chains want to fall off. Many unicycles combat this to some degree by using two sets of chains and sprockets, one on each side. Others have one or more jackshafts with several sets of chains and sprockets, each leading partway from the wheel to the crank. Yet another problem is that sprockets that use regular bicycle technology to attach to the wheel hub can strip or slip, because the forces of balancing a unicycle, and the low one-to-one gearing, put more stress on the sprockets than they were designed to withstand.

Unicycles up to about 6 feet (2 meters) tall can be “free mounted” or “open mounted.” This means that the rider can get on the unicycle unassisted and without the use of a ladder or any accessory. There are two ways to free mount. One is to quickly place a foot on the tire while holding the unicycle tilted slightly forward. Then quickly place the other foot on the lowest pedal, and then the first foot on the other pedal, riding away before the unicycle becomes too unbalanced. The other way is to run forward while holding the seat of the unicycle, then as a pedal comes around, the rider places a foot on the pedal, causing the wheel to stop, and the rider rides up in the seat as the unicycle levers forward. Once the unicycle is a bit beyond vertical, the rider pedals, gaining an upright position.

tall giraffe unicycle
via Russavia

Your author became fairly proficient in free mounting six-foot (two-meter) unicycles. Upon building a custom nine-foot (three-meter) unicycle, the author felt that a test ride was required before handing off the finished product to the customer. He didn’t feel ready, but went ahead and tested the machine. This was done by standing on the top of a Volkswagen van (which dented the roof), then climbing up to the unicycle seat. After fifteen minutes of procrastination, the author then rode away from the van, completed a figure eight in a small empty parking lot, climbed off the unicycle, and stated that he would never build such a tall one again, because he didn’t like test riding such tall machines.

Nine feet scared your author, but Sem Abrahams holds the world record with a unicycle more than ten times taller. His unicycle was just a bit over 114 feet (34 meters) tall. The picture below links to a video of Sem’s world record ride. If your ebook reader doesn’t support Internet links, you can go to

Sem Abrahams on world's tallest unicycle
World’s tallest unicycle


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Then there are monocycles. Whereas a unicyclist sits above the wheel, or outside of the wheel, the monocyclist sits within the wheel.


What do you suppose will happen if this rider has to stop fast? Right! One of the problems with monocycles is when you put on the brakes, you tumble right around with the wheel.

Ultimate Wheels

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You would think that you can’t remove much else from a unicycle, and still have a human-powered vehicle. But actually, you can remove the seat, frame and bearings. Then you have what’s called an “ultimate wheel.”

ultimate wheel, a unicycle without seat or pedals via Ian Muttoo

Ultimate wheels have been made in various sizes. The easiest size to learn on is around 700 mm (26 inches) in diameter. The pedals should be mounted as close to the plane of the wheel as possible, on cranks of typical length – around 6.5 inches (20 cm). To get the pedals in close, the ultimate wheel is usually made by bolting or welding a plate into the middle of the rim, and attaching threaded holders for the pedals right on the plate. I have found from painful experience that you don’t want large openings in the center plate in an ultimate wheel. Otherwise, a rider who has lost control may get a foot caught in the wheel, which makes landing on one’s feet impossible.

When first learning, you can cover the sides of the tire with electrical tape. This way, you can use the insides of your shins as a frame and bearings. Just squeeze your legs close together, and let the wheel rub as needed. In time, you can learn to ride without contacting the tire at all. At first however, you’ll want to wear pants, at least, since the wheel will inevitably tilt one way or the other and rub uncomfortably hard.

To ride an ultimate wheel the first time, find smooth pavement along a chain-link fence, just like you would to learn a unicycle. Some people learn unicycling by being held up by friends. With an ultimate wheel, this does not work as well as doing it by yourself. Place a pedal just behind the bottom center position, and as you place your foot on that pedal, the wheel will roll under you. As the wheel rolls past you, place your other foot on the other pedal, and start riding, keeping your knees close together. Some people hold the top of the tire with one hand as they start.

The biggest problem you may encounter is that an ultimate wheel can roll away from you if you dismount quickly or fall. It can roll out into traffic, causing a real mess.

There’s also a “B.C. wheel.” This has pedals mounted on bearings in such a way that both pedals are always about an inch (2.5 cm) below the center. A rider can learn to coast on this machine, but can’t easily accelerate.

Circus Bikes

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circus bike
Circus Bike

circus bicycle
via Vintageedept

Amazing tricks can be performed on a BMX bike. Even more remarkable tricks can be performed on a circus bike. The definition is loose, but in general a circus bike has:

* A straight fork and centered handlebar so the front wheel and handlebar can be spun without throwing the bike off-balance. Common uses for this effect are to ride with the front wheel in the air, a “wheelie,” which is actually just like riding a unicycle. While in the wheelie position, spin the handlebar and let go, letting it spin a number of turns before grabbing it and moving on to the next trick. A simpler trick is to suddenly turn the front wheel a half-turn while continuing to ride forward, backward, or in a tight circle. In a sufficiently tight circle, the front wheel and handlebar can continue to rotate from the power of the turn itself, until the rider returns to a straight line.

* A fixed gear hub so you can perform all the standard unicycle tricks, plus riding backward, easy track-stand – a bicycle trick in which you can roll back and forth slightly to maintain your position without putting a foot down.

* Footpegs or ways to place your feet, and sometimes your hands in places they don’t ordinarily go in normal bicycling activities.

* A long frame so your toes don’t interfere with a spinning front wheel. Another reason for a long frame is it makes riding on the head tube (the tube at the front of the bike that the fork goes through) easier. You can free mount a circus bike much like a giraffe unicycle, using the head tube as your seat.

Your author was working on a circus bike routine that he never perfected. Perhaps you can: I would free mount the circus bike so that I was riding on the head tube. I’d circle around once or twice, then go into an idle, meaning I’d pedal back and forth a bit, maintaining balance like on a unicycle, without going anywhere. The front wheel had a quick release mechanism, so I’d take it off. Three tennis balls were stuck in the spokes of the wheel. I took them out. Next, I spun the wheel and balanced it on my helmet. A spinning wheel is easy to balance. Then I juggled the three tennis balls for only about ten throws. I’d toss the balls, one at a time, into the audience to keep as souvenirs, take the wheel off my head, reattach it to the bike, and dismount.

Plastic Bikes

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The idea of making bicycles almost entirely from plastic has enticed people for years. In 1971, Original Plastic Bike Incorporated was founded based on a design for a complete road bike that was supposed to weigh just 17 pounds (7.5 kg), and be as strong as, or even stronger than steel and aluminum alloy bikes. Some prototypes were built, but the bike never went into production. That may be because the plastic wasn’t quite up to the task. The company advertised that a static load of 2,500 lbs (1,100 kilos) could be put on the seat tube without damaging the bike. This would be the equivalent of riding a bike off the roof of a four-story building and landing on a paved street at 10 gees, without even bothering to lift your butt off the seat.

The hubs were made from plastic, and even the ball bearings were plastic. In an early test, a prototype went three thousand miles without showing any bearing wear. And, this is without any lubrication!

Maybe the frame itself was strong enough, but evidently they went too far trying to make the chain and sprockets out of plastic.

A bicycle distributor’s representative once gave me a plastic freewheel. It was super-light weight, and fascinated me instantly. In his presence, I put it on a bike, and rode about 100 feet (30 meters). At that point, the pawls in the freewheel stripped the plastic ratchet. Good idea. Bad execution. I took it apart, and found it wasn’t entirely plastic after all. It’s six centrifugally sprung pawls were made from steel. The ratchet surface itself, as well as the sprockets were all plastic. If I recall correctly, the threaded portion that screwed on to the hub (old style), was made from steel as well.

Not long after that, Nervar came out with an all plastic headset. It had the same shape as the headsets of the era, threaded parts with cone and cup bearings. Instead of 3/32-inch independent steel balls, it had 3/32-inch nylon balls. The promise was that it would outlast steel headsets, and this was possible. A steel headset is prone to “brinelling,” a condition in which in the case of a headset, the bearing races become pitted from hitting bumps. The plastic would absorb the impact much better. However, in use, the headsets felt a bit mushy, as if the steering was bound up with rubber bands. Then too, if one over-tightened the headset locknut, it would crack.

For a few years in the early 1980s, a Swedish company produced plastic bikes. In all, about 30,000 of these “Iteras” were made. There were problems, not the least of which was the fact that bikes were not bullet-proof. The plastic parts could be broken, perhaps more easily than equivalent steel or aluminum alloy parts.

Itera plastic bicycle
Itera Plastic Bike

Plastics have improved a lot since then. If you’re old enough, you may remember that if you dropped the TV remote, it was almost guaranteed to break. If you drop a modern remote, it probably won’t break. Plastic chemistry has improved since the early bicycle attempts, so maybe today, an all-plastic bike would work fine.

We are no longer surprised to see plastic bicycle wheels in the smaller diameters. By the way, I’ve been told that if you have one that’s bent, you can place it in your freezer, and it will remember its original shape. These wheels aren’t quite all-plastic. The hubs are made from regular steel components.

plastic bicycle wheels via Incase


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Recumbence: The act of laying down.

Recumbent bikes, sometimes called “bents,” seem like a relatively new invention. Here’s a picture of a recumbent from 1914:

vintage recumbent bicycle

The design has certain advantages, the primary one being less wind resistance. The rider can push higher gears because the limit on the power is not the rider’s weight (plus arm strength), but the amount of strength with which the rider can press back against the seat. The recumbent can be more comfortable on long rides, since the weight is supported by a large seat. On the conventional bike, the rider’s weight is supported only by the feet, hands, and the small area of the seat.

The recumbent rider has less distance to fall, so is less likely to be injured in a mishap. The rider is also able to stop more quickly than on a conventional bike, in which hard braking of the front wheel can cause the bike to flip.

The recumbent design has several disadvantages. It is less visible in traffic. It tends to weigh more, because the seat has to support the rider’s back.

The recumbent is hard to start, or ride at very low speeds. Unlike a conventional bicycle, most recumbent designs make it harder to push off the ground with one’s feet to get the bike rolling at a sufficient speed to gain control and put the feet on the pedals.

More of the rider’s weight is above the axis of the wheels on a recumbent than on a conventional bike, making it harder to control in unstable situations.

The drivetrain is usually more complex. Either it is longer to reach from the front mounted pedals to the rear wheel, or it must accommodate steering in front wheel drive (FWD) recumbents.

The rider on a conventional bike can rise off the seat a bit, balancing her weight on the pedals when hitting bumps. The recumbent rider cannot do that, so the shock is greater for the rider and the machine.

A smaller disadvantage in many recumbent designs is that the rider spends a small amount of energy keeping the legs in the horizontal position. There is a bit of muscle tension involved in supporting the weight of the legs between the seat and the feet.

Another small disadvantage is parts availability. While conventional bikes use mostly standardized parts, recumbents use many parts only available from the original manufacturer.

recumbent bike
Trans-V recumbent

recumbent bike
Toxy CL recumbent
via EvaK

recumbent cycle
Cruzbike Vendetta
via Bentrider811

recumbent bike

recumbent bicycle

bent bike
Android front wheel drive recumbent

recumbent bike
Velokraft No-com

recumbent bicycle
via bradhoc

recumbent tandem bicycle for two
Tandem recumbent
via BetacommandBot

Recumbent tricycles answer to the slow speed stability problem and to starting and stopping nicely, but have design issues. With two front wheels, they tend to catch a lot more wind, which defeats one of the primary advantages of recumbents. With two rear wheels, traction can sometimes be a problem, and transmitting power to one or both wheels requires a more elaborate drivetrain.

recumbent tricycle three-wheeler
Recumbent Tricycle
via Boliston

Tricycles and Quadracycles

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This is supposed to be a book about bicycles, so I’ll keep the discussion of tricycles and quadracycles short.

The most common tricycles are for children, and adult riders who have balance issues or frequently carry a lot of cargo. Tricycles for children are terribly inefficient, but the kids don’t care.

The common adult tricycles are also inefficient compared to bicycles. The typical configuration is a front end just like an ordinary bike, and two rear wheels, with power going to only one wheel.

A differential, which makes driving both rear wheels practical in a car, is not often used in tricycles because of its additional weight and cost. Furthermore, the differential may have the opposite of the desired effect.

With power going to only one rear wheel, the speed of the other wheel can vary when going around corners. If both wheels were locked together with a solid axle, quite a bit of energy would be wasted in scuffing the wheels, since when cornering, one has to turn faster than the other.

But the differential will give power to whichever wheel is turning faster. So, if the rider leans to one side, or in sand or snow, one wheel will spin uselessly, and the other wheel will not add forward momentum.

Common adult tricycles often have a single-speed or three-speed drivetrain, and are not geared low enough for serious hill-climbing. These common tricycles are also quite flexible. As you pull hard (in a too-high gear) up a hill, you feel considerable flex. Older ones are often found with bent or broken frames. The wide seats these machines typically have are designed to seem comfortable, but they fool the purchasers. They are comfortable when the rider first sits down, but when pedaling any distance, they interfere with the muscles and quickly become uncomfortable and inefficient.

It is possible to ride a common adult three-wheeler on two wheels. The rider only has to lean to one side, possibly steering a bit to one side as well, and the tricycle will naturally raise one rear wheel into the air, becoming a bicycle with a large appendage hanging off the side. Oddly, riding this way is easy to do, and perhaps more efficient than riding on all three wheels. However, it is tough on the tricycle’s frame and the spokes of the rear wheel, since it is carrying weight at an angle, rather than on its plane. It can also be damaging to the hub bearings, which are not usually typical bicycle bearings, and can be difficult to find as replacement parts.

Rickshaws are almost always designed with one wheel in the front, and two in the back to support the weight of passengers. You’d think rickshaws were invented somewhere in Asia, but they are an American invention.

via Les Chatfield

Quadracycles can be unique and fun, but don’t add anything in terms of efficiency. They may be safer, since they are hard to fall off. (Your author has discovered it is not impossible to fall off a quadracycle!)

Quadracycles are often used when a group of three or more people want to go together on a human-powered machine.

quadracycle - pedal powered car
Antique quadracycle
via Randal J. (RJFerret)

bicycle technology quadracycle
via Prayitno

Tricycles and quadracycles are often created for people who have disabilities, such as paralyzed legs, since balancing a two-wheeled machine would be difficult.

Human-Powered Cars and Boats

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Through the years, inventors have tried to add car-like features to bicycles, with varying degrees of success. The problem quickly becomes one of weight versus convenience. Putting doors, a roof, and comfortable seats in a human-powered vehicle raises the weight so it is hard to take it up hills. Maintenance can also be an issue. Until someone makes a standardized one that is very popular, replacement parts will not be readily available.

Finally, if you enclose a rider, you need to do something to keep that rider cool in warm weather.

One machine that was popular in the mid 1970s was the PPV (People-Powered Vehicle). This semi-enclosed vehicle could accommodate two riders, or one rider with several bags of groceries. With one rider, it was a monster taking it up hills, even with its three-speed transmission. To the inventor’s credit, for durability, it used a real transmission instead of a three-speed Sturmey-Archer, Shimano or Sachs hub. On the other hand, for stopping, it depended entirely on a drum brake in the front wheel, controlled by a single brake handlever and cable.

PPV - people-powered vehicle
via livewombat

I keep talking about efficiency in this book, so let’s consider something entirely different. That’s pedalboats. They are terribly inefficient, but they’re fun! You can rent these at many resorts, parks, marinas and so on, and they are calm, meditative fun.

via Bart Everson

Electric Bikes

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electric bike, bicycle
via Pleclown

The idea of hooking up a battery and motor to a bicycle is attractive. Imagine that you are a healthy commuter who has an off day. Wouldn’t it be great to let the bike to all, or most of the work? Or, perhaps you’re not so healthy. You can work your way slowly to better health by letting an electric bike do most of the work at first, and less and less as you regain your health.

The line between what can be called an ‘electric bike’ and other two-wheeled machines is blurry.

Electric motorcycles are being manufactured that weigh hundreds of pounds and have great speed and range.

Electric scooters of all sorts ranging from toys to machines ridden by professional security, maintenance and guide personnel, such as the Segway, might be called electric bicycles by some.


Conversion kits can be attached to most adult bikes, so the mountain or road bike you’ve always enjoyed can continue to entertain you, but now as an electric bike. However, conversion kits can be somewhat clunky compared to bikes designed and manufactured to be electric bikes in the first place.

Hundreds or thousands of people have tried their own homemade conversions.

homemade electric bike
A homemade electric bike conversion
via Hamish Darby

The unwieldy-looking bicycle pictured above used an ordinary car battery mounted above the front wheel. These batteries have poor range to weight ratio. Being filled with liquid and lead, they are remarkably heavy. The inventor of this bike reports having crashed into a tree and smashed his battery shortly after the picture was taken.

Electric bicycles are manufactured with and without pedals and human-powered drivelines. Perhaps without pedals, it can’t be called a ‘bicycle.’ I’ll leave you to decide.

Some are assisted drive, meaning you need to pedal, adding a bit of your own power to engage the electrical system. Others can move entirely on electric power.

Most use nickel-cadmium or lithium ion batteries built into a pack. The actual batteries often look like ordinary D cells. Nickel-cadmium batteries are found in the lower-end machines. They require careful charging and use, otherwise, they don’t last long, and are expensive to replace. Lithium-ion batteries are more expensive to replace, but work with an electrical system that automatically balances the charging, so they’ll typically last much longer. They also provide more power for their weight.

Most electric bikes have regenerative breaking. When you go downhill or coast to a stop, the motor acts as a generator, slowing the bike, and charging the battery.

If you like to be accurate with terminology, the “battery” is the entire pack, composed of the individual “cells.”

The power of an electric bike is measured in watts. One with a motor sufficiently powerful to take an adult up a moderate hill will have a motor rated at 450 watts or greater.

Top speeds range from around 12 miles per hour to over 50 MPH (20 to 80 KPH). In order to be legally considered a ‘bicycle’ in most communities, meaning that licensing, insurance and perhaps a helmet are not required, the speed of an electric bike must be restricted.

electric bike

Art Bikes

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Bicycles are good candidates for artistic treatment, as the following pictures illustrate.

art bike

art bike
via Chris Gilmore

art bike
via Donna B McNicol

art bike
via hAdamksy

art bicycle
via Amit Patel

art project bicycle
via Porsche Brosseau

Schwinn Orange Krate

The Orange Krate, one of a series of art bikes, all in the same configuration, but with varying colors, manufactured by Schwinn in the late 1960s.
via Nels P Olsen

elliptical art bike
via Andy Mitchel

This last bike is kinetic art. As you can see, the front of the bike will rise up and down when ridden due to the off-center mounting of the front wheel.

Art bikes can be sculpted using welding to completely modify the frames, handlebars and other metal parts. Glue can be applied to frame tubing, and glitter, fake fur, plastic scraps, or just about anything you might imagine can be attached. Simply tricking a bike out in every accessory you can get your hands on is another approach. Then there’s color. Most sizes of tires are available in a variety of colors. You can mix and match accessories for color coordination. For the ultimate in color, you can paint the bike.

Millions of people throughout the world have painted bikes with ordinary spray paint getting varying but never perfect results. Some will paint the entire bike, wheels and all. Some will disassemble the bike, painting only the frame and fork. The reason spray paint that you can buy at the local hardware store doesn’t work out well is that it is scratch-prone. Under ideal conditions, it cannot be applied as strongly as factory paint, which in some cases is too toxic for home use, and in other cases is electrostatically applied and baked on.

It also takes a bit of skill to paint a bike. Professional painters use a siphon-feed gun that sprays a mix of air and atomized liquid paint. The expert will arrange a way to hold the frame and fork so that every angle is easy to see. The fork is easy, just hold it by the steering tube. For the frame, you can insert a junk seatpost as a handle. The professional will usually spray the intersections from every angle first, then the long straight sections of tubing. Depending on the type of paint used, the painter may use many light strokes, rather than trying to get the paint on all in one layer. This prevents runs and drips.

Preparation is also important. If you try to apply paint over grease or dirt, the paint will wipe right off when dry. If you apply paint over loose flaking or chipping paint, the new paint will chip off. If you apply paint over a contrasting color, it will show through your new paint. The best preparation is a complete soak in paint stripping chemical, which is dangerous because it is caustic, or sandblasting. You don’t want to use a heavy-duty blaster with a course sand such as a bridge or boat painter may use, because it will wear right through your bike’s frame tubing.

Sometimes a painter will spray a layer of white, gold or silver before the finished color, which can result in a more vivid finished product.

In the mid 1980’s two-tone paint jobs were popular. A frame would first be painted in a solid color. Then the intersections would be painted in a complimentary color. The center of the intersections would be painted solidly, but as the paint gun was moved away from the intersections, to the center of the frame tubing, the amount of paint would be reduced, so that the intersections would fade into the main color. Your author is guessing that anyone who brings back a two-tone job today would receive compliments. Examples of attractive two-tone color combinations are:

Burgandy main tubes, and darker reddish-brown, almost black intersections.

Light green main tubes, and dark blue intersections.

Yellow main tubes, and red intersections.

Artistic Unicycles

Then we have art unicycles. Unicycles have been decorated, outfitted with colored lights, and made to look like other objects, such as wheelbarrows.

stool unicycle
via Steph B

Most artistic unicycles have something added, since there isn’t much left to remove from a unicycle.

One goofy addition is a “handlebar unit.” This is not attached to the unicycle, but pushed along, generally in front, not for assisting the rider in balancing, but for show. At first, it appears the rider is on an ordinary bicycle. But wait, there’s no frame between the front and rear wheels. Then the rider can turn the handlebar unit this way and that, hold it over head, throw it and catch it, and so on, resulting in a rather amazing show for anyone not expecting that.

handlebar unit
via Daniel Oines

Your silly author added a couple of wheels to make a tall unicycle in which one tire rubbed on the one below, turning that wheel backward, and that one’s tire rubbed on the bottom wheel, turning it forward.

Jeff Napier three-wheel unicycle
The author on his three-wheel unicycle

The Legend of Wrong Way Wooten

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In the mid 1980s a man from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, became rather famous for riding his bike backward. At the age of 13, one of his friends said that riding a bike while sitting on the handlebar would be impossible. Tom Wooten proved his friend wrong. When he saw the way people reacted to seeing him ride that way, he decided it would be his career.

Wrong Way Wooten
Wrong Way Wooten

In his late 20s, evidently after driving a tow truck for a while, and receiving a degree in psychology, he planned his first cross-country tour. Originally, he was going to ride with five other people, but they all backed out before he started. He relates, “I learned never to count on anybody for anything.”

he built a custom bike for his purpose. It was based on a Schwinn Varsity, which was a very heavy all-steel bike of the late 1970s, with a one-piece crank. He put padded tape on the handlebar to make sitting more comfortable. He installed two mirrors on long arms so he could see where he was going. He removed the seat, and put a portable television in its place. He then somehow attached another ten-speed bike to the rear of his bike in order to carry more gear. There is no information as to how the bike was attached. There are conflicting reports as to how much the entire contraption weighed. The report that I believe says it was 160 lbs (72 kg). Other reports put it at “over 300 pounds” and some say it was 450 lbs.

He converted the bike to 21 speeds, quite rare in the 1980s, but left the shifters in their original position – on the handlebar stem. This meant that he had to reach between his legs to change gears. His bike had toe-clips, which were, of course, installed backward on the pedals.

Before his first trip to traverse the entire United States, he studied maps. Being independently wealthy (according to what little is written – and we don’t know how he attained that wealth) he then hired a small airplane to fly low, examining his route for overly steep hills, road construction and other such potential problems.

Tom, who legally changed his name to “Wrong Way Wooten,” then set out on his journey with a specific self-appointed mission. “The main reason I do what I do is to get people to realize that they have a responsibility to other people.” He represented several major charities including The American Cancer Society, The American Lung Society, The Heart Fund, the Jaycees, United Way, and March of Dimes, taking donations in person and also encouraging people to donate directly to their favorite charities. According to the legend, he criss-crossed the country several times totaling 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) over the next 17 years.

To some, it looked like what he is doing, riding around the country on a bike, would be limitless fun, but he cites some problems, such as flat tires, bad weather and racists who sometimes tried to run him off the road. “I can’t hate them, then I would be just like them.”

He did not recommend that other people should tour backwards. “One mistake, and you’re history.”

He planned on riding for twenty-five years. Unfortunately, in 2004, at age 47, he died of a massive heart attack. His credo was, “Bind yourself to nothing and seek harmony with all things. Only then can you be truly free.” People who remember him say he was a wonderful and very personable ambassador for kindness to others.


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goat on a bicycle
via Paretz Partensky

What can be carried on a bicycle is amazing. Carrying too much badly is also a cause for many bike accidents, so please be careful. Your author was once carrying two six-foot (two-meter) unicycles with one hand while steering with the other. Suddenly, a gust of wind caused the unicycles to turn in the author’s hand. The seat of one of the unicycles caught in the spokes of the bicycle’s front wheel, and your author went flying, landing on a pedal of one of the unicycles. The injury was minor, but it could have been much worse.

One of the most common cargo mistakes is bungees (“stretch cords”) that aren’t properly secured. When a bungee comes loose, a hook end will almost always get caught in the spokes, wrapping around a few times, until the wheel stops. In worst cases, they’ll break several spokes, killing the wheel’s structural integrity. This results in a sudden and serious problem.

In addition to special cargo-carrying bikes, bicycle carriers, baskets, and trailers of all descriptions have been built. Your author was once commissioned by a bakery to make a special trailer for their needs. They had a warehouse six blocks away in which they stored flour. When the trailer was completed, once a day, a baker would ride to the warehouse, pick up 350 pounds (160 kilos) of flour, and haul it back to the bakery. The bakers were delighted, because until then, they used a pickup truck dedicated to that job, which made pollution, cost money for insurance and registration, and was hard to park.

Derailleurs and Sprockets

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The first bicycles incorporating a chain and sprockets were fixed-gear (direct drive). People soon figured out that coasting might be nice, so various arrangements for freewheeling were created, and the braking operation was changed from using your feet to resist movement of the pedals to much safer braking systems.

Now, inventors were free to go crazy. The planetary gear systems mentioned in the first part of this book came along fairly quickly. Shortly thereafter, people figured out that one could combine a chain tensioner with a stack of sprockets (often called “cogs” or a “freewheel”), so that by moving the tensioner sideways, the chain could be aligned with one or another sprocket. These first versions of derailleurs typically used only two three sprockets, closely spaced in gearing.

Then, for many years, until the late 1970s, ten-speed bikes were the norm, with five sprockets on the rear wheel, and two in front.

As you know, “ten-speeds” is a misnomer, since some of the speeds overlap, and one doesn’t shift from first through tenth, hitting every gear on the way. Just like a modern 24-speed bike doesn’t really mean you use all 24 speeds.

All modern rear derailleurs have two pulleys. The top one is called the guide pulley, and the bottom one is the tension pulley.

Some of the earliest designs had only one pulley, so shifting was a bit sloppy. At first, serious cyclists resisted two pulleys on a derailleur, figuring the extra pulley would eat up a lot of power with extra friction. It turns out that the second pulley uses only a microscopic amount of power.

During the late 1960s, some odd variations appeared, and became quite common. A French manufacturer, Simplex, made a derailleur in which the biggest parts were made from plastic. It worked quite well, but was prone to failure, as the points where the springs mounted would tear out of the plastic.

Another was by Huret. Their Allvit model was one of the very few that used ball bearings in the pulleys. This all-steel derailleur had a shell, sort of like a turtle, that protected the parallelogram mechanism which moved the pulleys in and out among the five sprockets. All the pivots were adjustable, with bolts and locknuts. Unfortunately, being adjustable, they frequently needed adjustment. Some of the Huret Allvits came with red pulleys, which became quite collectible for a while.

Index shifting did not become practical until the mid 1970s. Until then, one had to carefully adjust the shifter after selecting a gear to line up the derailleur properly for smooth and noiseless operation. The first index shifting systems generally put the detents (stops) in the derailleur, so it would precisely line up under each gear. Now, almost all systems have the detents in the shifter, depending on the cable to carry the message accurately to the derailleur. It seems like a system designed to fail, but index shifting seems to work well most of the time.

Most system have an adjusting barrel around where the cable casing meets the shifter. You can turn the barrel to adjust the system on the fly.

Colnago shifters
Simple but high-end, non-index shifters
via Arnoooo

One of the latest changes in derailleurs isn’t in mechanical design, but in the word itself. It is slowly evolving to be spelled “derailer.”


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There are more ways to stop a bike than to make it go. Below are pictures of some interesting concepts in braking:

vintage bicycle spoon brake
Spoon brake
via AndrewDressel

One of the first brakes, called a spoon brake, just rubbed on the surface of the tire. This was common on penny-farthings (also called “ordinaries”) – the bikes with huge front wheels – if they had brakes at all.

antique bicycle brake
Fongers rod actuated brake on Westrick rim
via Jeremy Burgin

It didn’t take long to figure out that rubbing something against the rim was more durable than against the tire.

bicycle coaster brake
A typical old coaster brake

Coaster brakes are relatively complex mechanisms, yet they appeared early in the history of bicycles.

bicycle drum brake
Early drum brake
via Ralf Roletschek

Something more powerful was needed for motorcycles and cars, so the drum brake was invented. This has two half-circle shoes that rub against the inside of the hub shell when actuated with a cam. Just like most caliper (rim) brakes, these work poorly when wet, unless sealed against the weather.

bicycle drum brake
Modern drum brake
via Haupseite

bicycle band brake
Band brake
via imoni

A band brake fits loosely around the outside of a drum mounted on the hub. When actuated, the band tightens around the drum. This type of brake is used extensively on slow-moving machinery such as riding movers. Interestingly, in one direction, generally forward, the brake is easily controlled. In the other direction, as soon as the band touches the drum, it tends to tighten itself, making braking touchy. Band brakes are seldom used on bicycles.

Mafac Competition centerpull bicycle brake
via Ralf Roletschek

A very common type of brake used in bicycles is a caliper brake. There are several variations. This one is called a “centerpull” style, because the cable pulls equally on both sides. Sidepull brakes have a cable in which the inner wire pulls on one side, while the cable housing (“equal and opposite reaction”) pushes on the other side.

Campagnolo Delta bicycle caliper brake
Campagnolo Delta – a highly styled caliper brake
via Christian Kunze

Shimano Rollercam bicycle brake
Rollercam brake – uses a cam instead of a bridge cable
via Jeff Archer

Caliper brakes often squeak. Squeaking is caused by vibration, as the brake pad sticks, the brake arm flexes, the pad lets go a bit, then sticks again, and so on, in very rapid rhythm. This is usually remedied by cleaning the rims, replacing the pads, or adjusting or bending the brake calipers a bit, so the trailing edges of the pads touch the rims first when the brakes are squeezed lightly.

bicycle disk brake

And then we have disk brakes. These are easier to keep adjusted than caliper brakes. Because the rotor is small and near the center of the wheel, it is less likely to get bent. The overall weight is low compared to other kinds of brakes.

bike disk brake

Many disk brakes are controlled with ordinary Bowden cables. That’s the technical name for the kind of cable used for bicycle brakes and shifters. Other disk brakes are controlled with a hydraulic system. There is a piston in the brake handlever that squeezes oil through a hose to a piston in the brake assembly which presses a brake pad against the disk. The piston in the handlever is much like a doctor’s syringe. When you let go of the lever, a spring in the brake assembly retracts the brake pad, and forces the fluid back to the handlever.

bicycle disk brake

bicycle disk brake

Bits and Pieces

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a Few Modern Components

via Hauptseite

bicycle handlebar end grip
via Ukxpat

bicycle cog freewheel sprockets
via KMJ

bicycle hybrid handlebar
via AndrewDressel

And a few old ones:

bicycle skip link inch-pitch chain
via Wp-0001

When chains and sprockets were first used with bicycles, they were adapted from farm and industrial machinery. At the time, skip-link also known as inch-pitch chain was common.

bicycle sew-up tubular tire
via tetedelacourse

Sew-up tires, also known as “tubulars” are far less common today than they were until the early 1980s. These are made like an American football. They have an inner tube that is completely surrounded by the tire. The tire is sewn together with heavy stitches along the inside edge. You can inflate a sew-up off a wheel, and it will look like a giant, thin donut. They were very popular for road and track racing, since they can hold a very high pressure, and are thin and light. These are glued or fastened to the rims with double-sided tape. Tourists also liked sew-ups since the rider could fix a puncture in two minutes. The tourist would have a spare tire folded up and carried under the seat or in a pack. Sew-ups take up less space than a water bottle when folded. Upon getting a flat, the rider would tear the old tire off the rim, and stretch the new tire into position using the old tape or glue. The rider would inflate the tire with a portable pump, fold the punctured tire under the seat, and ride away.

When the rider came home with a punctured tire, approximately six inches (15 cm) of the stitching along the inside edge could be cut, and the inner tube would be patched in the usual way. Then the rider would replace the stitching, and have a good spare.

The sew-up is a simple tire compared to the modern kind, called a clincher.

cross section of a bicycle wheel
Crosssection of a typical bicycle wheel
via Deerwood

In the picture above:

1. The metal wheel rim.

2. The rim strip. This is a rubber, cloth or plastic strip that protects the inner tube from punctures caused by contact with the spoke heads.

3. The side of the rim where a caliper brake can be used.

4. Inside the edges of the tire are steel cables. Without these, when pressurized, the tire would stretch and blow off the rim.

5. The inner tube. Because of the small volume of air in a bicycle tire, the smallest leak would cause it to deflate quickly. Since bicycle rims usually have to accommodate spokes, it would be difficult to seal the spoke holes. Therefore, it is not practical to make a tubeless tire, such as cars use. The inner tube makes it possible to have a system that is not microscopically precise, yet is air tight.

6. The tire casing is made of cloth, and has sufficient strength and flexibility to withstand the air pressure and bumps and cracks in the road surface.

7. The tread of the tire is usually rubber impregnated with carbon. That’s why most tires are black. The carbon keeps the rubber from wearing out immediately. Without carbon, instead of 2,000 miles (3,000 km) per pair of tires, they might last 10 miles (15 km).

dangerous bicycle axle wingnut

For a short while in the 1970s, wingnuts were popular. The idea is that riders would not have to use a wrench to remove and replace wheels. Even though hollow axles with quick release skewers were available then, they were somewhat more expensive.

The problem with wingnuts is that it was hard to get them tight enough. The rear wheel would typically pull to one side on a hard hill climb, so the rider would have to stop and reposition the wheel, then attempt to tighten the wingnut sufficiently. Sometimes the wings would break off. Worse, wingnuts on the front wheel could come loose by simply parking against a bush or bumping a wingnut with a shoe.

Seats or Saddles

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bicycle seat saddle
via Ralf Roletschek

Serious cyclists call seats “saddles.”

Serious cyclists call seatposts “seat pillars.”

Go figure!

bike seat
via AndrewDressel

bicycle seat

bike saddle
A “banana” seat from a stingray bike of the late 1960s
via AndrewDressel

Brooks bicycle leather seat saddle
A sprung leather saddle
via Suleyman Habib

Brooks Professional Pro bicycle saddle
The Brooks Professional, a top of the line leather seat
via The Javelina

Leather seats were common for a long time in bicycle history. Before plastics were readily available, they made the best compromise between comfortable softness and reasonable weight. The leather saddle started out hard as a rock. The rider was supposed to “work it in” which could mean anything from applying neatsfoot oil and beating it with a hammer, to just riding it for a long time until it naturally softened from wear. If it became too soft, there was a screw under the nose that could be adjusted to lengthen, and therefore tighten the saddle.

via Hutschi

New riders are advised to limit the length of their rides until they get used to their saddles. Until a rider is quite experienced, most saddles are uncomfortable. For that reason, inventors have been working since the beginning of bicycling to come up with better alternatives.

Bicycle Safety

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Three out of every four fatal bike accidents are due to a head injury. 97 percent of the people who died in bike accidents were not wearing helmets. It has been said that helmets are 85% effective in preventing head injury.

During the fifteen years between 1990 and 2005 in the United States, only one person riding a bike in a marked bicycle lane had a fatal accident.

In 2009, the latest year for which there are US national statistics, 618 people died in bicycle related accidents. Interestingly, 87% were male, and the average age was 41. Your author was quite surprised, figuring it would be mostly children who die in bike accidents. 52,000 people were injured, 80% were male, the average age of people injured on bikes was 31.

humorous bicycle crash scene

So, wouldn’t it be great to make money teaching bicycle safety?

The venues and ways to get paid for teaching bicycle safety are unlimited. For instance, you can get paid by schools and universities to perform at assemblies. If you can make an amusing show of some sort, perhaps demonstrating BMX freestyle skills, that also teaches some basics of bicycle safety, well, you’d be doing everyone a favor! The show has to be interesting so the audience will pay attention, they will remember, and maybe even tell their friends some of the important points.

You might like to focus some attention on aspects of bicycle safety that don’t get mentioned often enough. That’s because many safety programs miss the point. They teach kids to use hand signals, when they really ought to teach children – and adults – what really happens in a bike accident. How bad it can be. If a child breaks an arm at the beginning of summer, that kid will not be able to have nearly as much fun for the rest of the summer. If an adult breaks an arm, he may miss out on a promotion, lose his job, and pay considerable out-of-pocket expenses.

Many people don’t understand why riding on the wrong side of the road is so risky. What creative way could you come up with to illustrate that point? Teach what happens to visibility in wet weather. Don’t just tell people they need lights and reflectors. Explain why. Explain that the reflections on wet streets are confusing to drivers, and camouflage bicyclists. You get the idea.

Or, in case you don’t: Kids, and way too many adults, do not think much about their vulnerability. They think bad things can only happen to other people, not to themselves. They take risks because they haven’t learned to adequately weigh the possible outcomes. Perhaps you are the one who can teach them bicycle safety in a way that sinks in. They aren’t going to think about hospitals, bike accident attorneys, time out of work, lost money. So, you have to give them good reasons not to ride a bike while impaired, or without thinking defensively.

You can be sponsored by local businesses to perform at their company picnics, paid to present in after-school programs, or even street perform. Have you ever seen a juggler or magician doing an entertaining show and then passing the hat? You’d be surprised how much the experienced ones can make. But wouldn’t it be great if they had a message in their show? Maybe something about bike safety? Or, maybe you’re a musician who can write humorous lyrics. . .

Then, there are ideas such as putting together a free video for YouTube. If it is popular enough, if it goes viral, you can make a fine living just from the co-advertising dollars that it will bring in. The same goes for a website. You can make a free website, but better, and focused to the actual riders, and include some advertising on the side.

This next proposal is for people who are somewhat mechanically inclined:

I have been told that seven out ten bicycle accidents don’t involve cars. One out of eight bikes has a serious, often hidden, mechanical problem that could cause injury or even death. If you are mechanically inclined, I’d like to suggest that you could perform safety tune-ups on bikes where you live, and maybe even make a business of it.

As the former owner of two bike shops, founding author of BikeWebSite, and having repaired more than 15,000 bikes, I have written up some ideas for the safety tune-up business. You are free to take what I have learned, set up your business, and keep perhaps 100 people out of the hospital this year. I’d like to encourage everyone who reads this to consider the bicycle safety tune-up business.

Here are all the details. Good luck, and enjoy your new, meaningful, profitable business!

I was recently walking through a neighborhood because I was a few minutes early for a meeting, and saw something I really did not want to see. However, it changed my life, and may change your life, causing us both to help prevent something similar from happening to hundreds or maybe even thousands of other children and adults.

I watched in horror as an eleven-year-old boy came rushing down a hill on an out-of-control bicycle. He barreled through an intersection at about 30 miles per hour. Fortunately, there were no cars there just then. But, he was not out of danger yet. He hit a curb on the far side of the intersection, and with a bang of escaping air, his front wheel was instantly destroyed. At that point, the boy and the bike became separated. He airborne flight was abruptly halted when he hit a chain-link fence face first. He was taken to a hospital. I believe his injuries were minor, but it certainly could have been worse, and is worse, for many riders.

I came back a while later due to a professional curiosity. The broken bike had been forgotten at the accident scene. I tried the brakes. No go. There was no front brake cable. The back brake cable was so rusted that a grown man could not have squeezed the lever sufficiently to slow that bike.

So, it got me to thinking: What if I could have had a chance to fix that bike before the boy rode it? Of course, the accident wouldn’t have happened. But what if I could fix other bikes? There are several ways I could perform safety tune-ups and get paid. I could probably fix more than 20 bikes a day. Since one out of eight bikes have serious but hidden problems, and since seventy percent of bicycle accidents requiring hospitalization don’t involve cars, that means in the course of season, I might be able to keep up to 450 people out of the hospital. That number may be exaggerated because not all bicycle safety problems necessarily result in a serious accident. But still, if I could keep some people safe, I’d be happy.

Then, I got to thinking about a larger picture: What if I could leverage my knowledge, and show many people how to do the same thing? I would be quite happy if I could encourage someone in every community to make their living by keeping bikes safe, ultimately preventing hundreds or thousands of injuries.

Be the first in your city to make a profit while performing bicycle safety tune-ups, and keep hundreds of your friends and neighbors, and their children out of the hospital.

You don’t need years of experience. Get a good book on bicycle repair, and practice on some old garage sale or thrift store bikes. Follow the step-by-step procedure described below, and you can literally save lives. However, before you actually start out, you should be well-practiced, and I’d like to recommend you pay a professional bike mechanic to observe you while you tune up a bike, and offer commentary. Obviously, we want to be sure that you working on bikes is safe, since you want to make them safe.

If you really don’t feel mechanically inclined at all, you might consider a partnership with someone who is a good bike mechanic. You can line up venues, take care of scheduling, payments, and all the business activities. For that matter, if you don’t feel like much of a business person, you can leverage your mechanical skill with a good business partner.

Next, I’ll present the step-by-step procedure. Later, I’ll offer all sorts of business advice that will save/make you thousands more dollars.

The Tune-Up Procedure

You may feel inclined to modify this step-by-step procedure, but if you do, keep in mind that every aspect has been designed after 15,000 bikes experience, to prevent accidents. If you change anything, you really ought to have a good reason, and consider the consequences. Here it is:

1. With the bike on the ground, hold the front wheel between your knees, and turn the handlebar from side to side. It should be firmly attached. If it turns easily, then you’ll need to tighten the stem. If it is the type with a single bolt on the top, try tightening the bolt. If that doesn’t work, you may need to loosen the bolt several turns, tap it with a mallet (soft hammer), which releases a wedge inside the fork steering tube, lift the stem out, lubricate the wedge, reinsert and tighten the stem. While you’re at it, see that the stem is sufficiently inserted. Many people like having their handlebar higher. But if you exceed the limit of stem extension, the stem or fork steering tube could fail. And like many such failures, it will generally let go in a most critical time when bearing a lot of weight. Most stems of the single-bolt-on-top variety have a line molded into the side and a statement stamped into the metal to the effect: “Insert to hide this line.” That line and text must not be visible.

2. Check that the seat clamp and seatpost are tight, and that the seatpost is inserted in the frame at least two inches. Many seatposts have a line stamped in the metal, and sometimes text that says, “Insert beyond this line.”

3. Suspend the bike and check the tire seating, and then air pressures. Tires can be badly seated such that there is a place where the inner tube could bulge out, and suddenly explode. If you find a place where the tire is not seated properly, you can often reduce the air pressure to almost nothing, manually force the tire into position, and then reinflate. Sometimes it is a bit more of a struggle, since the bad seating can be due to a portion of inner tube caught under the bead of the tire, a misplaced or broken rimstrip (layer of material that prevents the top of the spokes from puncturing the inner tube), or damaged or poorly manufactured tire.

Except for serious off-road riding, the tires should be inflated to the maximum amount imprinted on the sides of the tires. Low pressures are generally more of a maintenance issue than a safety issue, or are they? When pressures are low, there is greater risk of puncture, or blow-out when hitting a curb or pothole, and therefore losing control. Furthermore, with low pressures, rims can become kinked when hitting potholes and so on, which causes caliper (rim-squeezing) brakes to work poorly.

4. Check the bearings: headset, bottom bracket set (crank), pedals, and front and rear hubs. If you find excessive grinding, tightness or wobbliness, you have at least a maintenance issue, and possibly a safety issue. Repair of these problems is more than I can cover here. You might charge additional money to fix bearing problems that you encounter, or simply tell the bike’s owner to take it to a shop for deeper repairs.

When you find a bearing mildly out of adjustment, it’s not a safety issue. If it’s a slow day, or if it’s your policy to do more than a safety tune-up, you can adjust the bearing. That can be a big plus for customer relations.

5. See if the wheels are true (round). Adjust with a spoke wrench if slightly out of true. Recommend or perform bigger repairs as needed. In the case of rim-squeezing brakes (caliper brakes), run your fingers over the rims to see if there are any kinks or outward bends. Bend them back with gentle hammer strokes or squeezing with pliers while protecting the rim with a piece of cloth. If the rims are made from aluminum alloy, only a small degree of bending is possible. Aluminum rims should be checked for fractures. If spokes are loose or broken, additional repairs will be needed. When you have more than one spoke broken where they bend and enter the hub, fatigue is likely. When spokes fatigue, they all start to break at the hub, and should all be replaced.

6. Now that the wheels have been taken care of, you can adjust the brakes. This is where you should really know what you are doing. If you have little experience with brakes, consult several bike repair manuals, get lots of practice, and maybe even have a professional bike mechanic check your work on several models of brakes. The hand levers should be secure on the handlebar.

For the remainder of this discussion, we’ll assume that you’re working on bikes with cable-operated caliper brakes. For coaster brakes, hydraulic disk brakes and so on, you must know what you are doing, or simply decline tuning up that particular bike. Fortunately, most bikes, especially the ones that are most often unsafe, have standard caliper brakes.

Look in the handlevers just past where the cable attaches. This is where cables most often start to fail. If even one strand is broken, the cable must be replaced. As each strand breaks, the cable becomes weaker, so with even one broken strand, the cable is much weaker than a new one. Keep in mind that when a cable breaks, it would be when it is at maximum tension in a panic stop, not the time you’d want it to break.

Look at the far end of the cable when it attaches at the brake caliper. You may find a broken strand just at the anchor bolt. If so, the cable needs to be replaced. The brake should open easily. If when the handlever is released, it opens lazily or not fully, the handlever pivot, brake pivot, or cable may be sticking. If you detach the cable, you can find out what’s sticky by squeezing the brake caliper and operating the handlever. If neither of those are stiff, then the cable is the culprit.

The brake pads must hit the rim at the proper height. Too high and they’ll grind through the tire. Too low, and they could suddenly slip lower, jam in the spokes, and cause a horrendous accident. Look for fractured aluminum components. Look for improper cable attachments.

The brakes should open wide enough to allow the wheels to spin freely, yet should adequately stop the bike with lots of room left over for cable stretch and brake pad wear. If you can’t achieve both, then it’s better to have the brakes rub the rims a bit, compared to too-loose brakes.

One of the best things you can do for lower-quality (most) bikes, is replace the brake pads with ones better than original equipment. These are available at all bike stores. A common brand is Cool-Stop. Oddly, many bikes, especially ones with chrome-plated steel rims, have brake pads that don’t work at all when wet. This must be attended to. Whereas most bicyclists don’t intend to ride in the rain, it can happen. Yet, it is such a rare occasion, the rider may not know that the brakes won’t work when wet.

So many brakes have been designed so poorly over the years that I have always been amazed that the bike manufacturers haven’t been sued over and over again because of this issue.

What do you do when you get a bike on which the brakes can’t be tuned adequately? You must not pass that bike. You must tell the user there’s a problem that’s beyond your ability to repair. Remember, it’s not your fault if you can’t fix it. You didn’t make the bike! (If you did, the brakes would have been better quality.) You may not be able to charge the full price for the tune up when you reject a bike as unsafe, but you must reject it. That’s your job. You’re a safety inspector first and foremost, and a repair technician after that.

7. Take a look at the chain. It’s not your responsibility to clean it. But you need to see it. You’re looking for cracked, warped, or otherwise defective links. Most of the time you can see them by looking at the chain from above while slowly pedaling backward. Just watch the chain go by from one spot. A link that’s on the verge of failure will often look swollen compared to the others, as one side plate is starting to come detached. Or, you may see that a pin is starting to drift sideways. With practice, you can easily spot a pin that’s out of position compared to the others. You should also look to one side and the other for one revolution of the chain for each side, looking for cracks in the side plates, or missing portions of a side plate. These conditions are less common, but a huge safety issue. Also consider stiff links. While not a safety issue, they can usually be easily fixed with a bit of oil, and moderate side-to-side (lateral) flexing.

8. You can now turn your attention to the gearing system. If you’re working on a typical derailleur-equipped bike, your foremost concern is the condition known as overshift. That’s when a derailleur guides a chain beyond the largest or smallest sprocket. The chain then falls off, which can quite seriously confound the rider. The general idea is while ignoring the index shifting (clicking from one distinct position to another), you can tighten the limit screws (two on each derailleur) until the chain quits shifting smoothly into the largest or smallest sprockets, then back the limit screw off. This doesn’t tell the whole story however. Many conditions such as worn chain and sprockets, badly positioned front derailleur, weak or broken derailleur springs, and bent sprockets can cause the chain to fall off even when adjusted to the best of your ability. You can study and practice such repairs, or simply refer the bike’s owner to a fully-equipped bike shop.

Time permitting, you can adjust the index shifting so the bike works as elegantly as possible. This is not officially a part of a safety tune-up, but will score you big points in terms of reputation and can sometimes be accomplished in less than a minute.

9. One of the major parts of the safety tune-up is to check all the nuts and bolts for tightness. Start at the handlebar, checking handlevers, shifters, any accessories that may be attached, and then the handlebar stem. Cruiser style and highrise handlebars should be checked to be sure they won’t shift position. Check the seat clamp and seat post bolts.

Check that the front wheel is properly attached. Check the rear wheel the same way. Check the cranks (which often come loose and while not a safety issue, can cause an expensive mechanical failure), pedals, and chainwheel bolts. Check the brakes – every single nut and bolt should be checked on the braking system. Check all fasteners associated with the shifting system. Check all accessories.

See if the bike is properly equipped with reflectors. If not, an artistic application of reflective tape is a good idea, and fairly inexpensive, lightweight, durable, and effective. Suggest proper lighting equipment to the bike’s owner.

10. Test ride the bike. You’re looking for squeaky brakes, improper shifting, and anything idiosyncratic in the ride/steering/handling characteristics. It is common for bike mechanics to baby the bike on the tune-up, in case something goes wrong. That’s not what you want to do. You want to make a fool of yourself if necessary. It is better to look like a ‘bad’ mechanic than to let a safety problem go unresolved. Squeeze those brake levers hard, shift all the way from low to high in one swoop. If something does indeed go wrong, it’s better to happen now, when you can do something about it! Compared to your client’s safety, your own pride is not important!

11. Finally, check that the rider fits the bike properly, is using a helmet, wearing fluorescent or bright clothing, not riding at night unless properly equipped and experienced, knows defensive riding techniques, and ask whether the rider would be willing to talk with others about bike safety.

The Business of This Business

Now, let’s look at some ways to make money with bicycle safety tune-ups.

Probably the first and easiest way is to charge a fixed amount for house calls. This requires the least expense to set up, since all you need are some basic tools and transportation – a car or bike.

Using the standard methods of putting advertising flyers on local bulletin boards, newspaper classified ads, and business cards, you can establish a business in which people call to set up appointments. Once you start getting enough appointments, you can arrange your days for a minimum of time spent on the road. For instance, you can schedule everyone on the east side of town on Wednesdays, the west side on Thursdays, South County on Fridays, and so on. You really want to encourage people to bring all their family’s and friends’ bikes. Once you’re at a location and set-up, you can knock out safety tune-ups every few minutes. When you establish the appointment, you’ll want to know the approximate number of bikes you’ll be expected to tune.

One way to set it up is to work on a donation basis. All safety tune-ups are free. However, you can accept cash donations to continue your work, you can accept old unwanted bikes that you can fix up and sell (or sell the parts on eBay), books that you can sell on Amazon, and so on. This would be somewhat like an old-time country doctor, who would fix people up, and accept chickens, baskets of corn, and such as payment. By going with the all-donation paradigm, you are able to bring equal safety to all, not just those who can afford to be safe. Interestingly, you may get more in donations than you would have charged. For instance, you may have decided $38 is the right price for a safety tune-up. However, many people may give you $40, $50 or even more.

You can also offer additional services. For instance, to fix a flat tire would be $10 extra. You can offer full tune-ups, including derailleur adjustment, more advanced wheel alignment, and bearing adjustment for an additional charge.

You can set up in a local park if you are working on a donation basis only. This is good advertising, because many people will see you and talk about you. Being seen, and talked about is much better than advertising in local newspapers, for instance. If you set up in a park, and want to charge money, it is best to check with the local police first since there is often a local ordinance against doing something in which money changes hands in public areas. More than likely, when you tell them what you are doing, the police will go all out to support your work.

Taking the donation idea a big step further, you may want to look for a benefactor, sponsor, or a government grant, so you can devote 100% of your time to tune-ups, and not have to pursue money.

Another version of the park idea would be to set up in a cafe or similar venue. Imagine: The cafe benefits because you’ve created a brand new stream of patrons, many of whom may not have visited the cafe before, but they may like it and develop a habit of visiting again frequently. Plus, during the ten minutes you’re tuning a bike, the customer will most likely purchase some food. Book-cafes may work in just the same way, with the added benefit that people will browse and buy books while waiting. The cafe venue is good for you also. It’s a place to work out of the sun and rain, in which you don’t have to pay any rent.

Flea markets and farmer’s markets can be gold mines, especially if you have a lot of local people walking their bikes through the market.

You can go a step further and rent your own commercial space. If you have 1,000 square feet or so, you’d have room to accept donated bikes (or buy used bikes), fix them up, display, and sell them. You could evolve into a full-service bike shop, selling parts, accessories and new bikes.

Or, maybe you already have a bike shop. What would happen in your community if you offered free safety tune-ups during the off-season?

If you are planning to sell used (or new) bikes, and if Craigslist operates in your area, you’ll find advertising on Craigs works very well! Here are some tips for working with Craigslist:

1. Due to a recent change, you can post an ad only once every couple of days. But, you can post as many different ads as you want. You’d be primarily interested in the bicycling section. Initially, once every other day, you renew your basic ad for bicycle safety tune-ups. If you’re doing this as a free (or donation) service, you can post another ad selling the same free service in the ‘free’ section of Craigslist, as long as you change all the wording. You can also create up to seven different versions of your ad for each section (bicycling and free), so you can renew one everyday, and stay near the top of the listings. Saturating craigslist to this degree may be technically possible, but it is not a neighborly thing to do. You’ll start getting complaints or getting flagged (ad removed) from people who have seen too much of your advertising.

You can also consider shifting into different categories on Craigs from time to time. You might spend a week in “services” and you could post something relevant in “items wanted” from time to time (like, “donate you unwanted bikes to provide free safety tune-ups”). Of course posting in off-topic areas is best leveraged by making sure your posting also states your primary function: bicycle safety tune-ups and how the readers can find out more.

home bike shop bicycles for sale

2. If you sell used bikes out of your garage or backyard, this is a big opportunity on craigslist, because you can post a separate ad for each bike (within reason).

Don’t forget to delete your ads as soon as the specific bikes sell.

3. If you have more than a half-dozen bikes available most of the time, you’ll probably want to make your own website. You can register an easy-to-remember, and easy-to-type domain name at Godaddy for as little as $3/year. Most ISPs (your Internet service provider) give you free space to build websites. For instance, Comcast gives you 10 megabytes of contiguous space. This is plenty for a website that sells used bikes. Or, you can do it blogger-style for free.

artistic view of bicycles for sale in a bike shop

I’d recommend a home page with basic information at the top, such as your name or your business name, phone number and email address. Then a sentence that explains what you do, maybe something like this: “Call or write to schedule your free bicycle safety tune-up. We accept donated used bikes, fix them up, and sell them here to support our program.” Also, invite people to bookmark your website, and tell everyone they know about it. Oddly enough, this invitation brings quite a bit more business.

Then start right in with a table of available bikes. Each can have a thumbnail image, small description and price. The thumbnails can be clicked on to see larger pictures. You’ll probably want to limit your larger pictures to 800 x 600 pixels so people using smartphones and small tablets can see the whole bike at once, and so the download times on slow connections will be reasonable. Thumbnails work well when they are around 200 x 150 pixels.

Now, all you need to do is get people to see your website. Each bike you advertise on Craigslist should have a link to your website. That way, if the bike they see on Craigs isn’t quite right, they’ll find one that is. You might add in the text at the bottom of each craigslist ad: “More like and unlike this bike at”

If you don’t have craigslist in your area, you can do the usual thing: yellow pages ad (expensive, and not required), small newspaper ads (classifieds almost always work better than bigger, more expensive display ads), business cards, and flyers on local bulletin boards. After a while, word-of-mouth will do the work for you.

If you can manage to do something content-rich or eccentric in a positive way on your website, it will soon advertise itself. Everyone will tell everyone else what you have, and they’ll all click on over and take a look. It can have a cascading effect that could literally result in millions of hits. Imagine: Let’s say ten people come to your site, and they’re all fascinated. They each tell 5 others who come take a look. So now you have had 60 visitors. They all tell 5 others, and so then you have 360 visitors – and it just keeps growing. It generally takes considerable thinking and experimentation to build this effect, but it’s well worth the effort. I have often explained this to website owners, and they just don’t get it. Eccentric doesn’t mean paint a bike purple and take its picture. Who’s going to care about that? It doesn’t mean filling a car with sand and inviting the local disk jockeys to a press conference. It means something truly eccentric. Something that strikes a chord in the visitors – enough so that they’d want to take a minute to email their friends about your website. For instance, I once posted some shocking news: I declared a certain road that was a favorite weekend ride as unsafe, and went on to explain why (because it was heavily driven, curvy and narrow without places to safely drive around bikes). That got a lot of attention. No doubt you can come up with something better than that, however.

What if you don’t have any experience or interest in building a website, doing publicity, arranging advertising, or that sort of stuff? This is where a partner can be invaluable. You can offer a portion of your profits to someone who is willing to do the things you don’t want to do. However, when you set up a partnership, make sure there is an easy and amicable way to break it up later on, should the need arise. You’d be amazed how often partnerships end for one reason or another. You want to insure right up front, with honest communication (and written communication) that you can save your brilliant business if you can no longer function well with your partner.

To advertise without a website, the most cost-effective ways are to put up flyers on local bulletin boards (the natural food store in your neighborhood is probably the very best place), and hand out lots of business cards. You should also makes a sign you can place on the ground if you’re working out of a park or flea market-like setting, and signs on your bike trailer, car, or truck. Don’t be surprised if during a house call, you get one or more neighbors who’d like you to work on their bikes, too, if you have such signs.

I’d like to recommend considering complete tune-ups as well as, or instead of just safety tune-ups, especially if you are doing house calls. It seems to me that the perceived value of a safety tune-up is between $15-$25, while a full tune-up is valued as high as $80 (more typically $45 – $60). So, in your advertising, you could say something like, “While I’m there to do a safety tune-up, I might as well give you a full tune up, including wheel alignment, bearing adjustment, and adjustment of the derailleurs,” and of course you can then charge more money for a more complete job. But, the few minutes extra the extra work requires is well more than made up for by the fact you can charge twice as much money.

Random Bicycle Facts

Table of Contents

In 1903, brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright finally got their invention to work. It was the world’s first airplane. They had to calculate and build everything themselves. They even made the engine, casting the crankcase, piston and all the parts themselves. Their first carburetor was just a valve that let gasoline drip on the side of the engine, being vaporized as it was sucked into the air intake. Since it was a prototype, they didn’t provide any cooling system. They could have flown longer than eight minutes that first day, but the engine became red-hot and quit working. How is that they were able to succeed? What was their background, that they had the mechanical skills to do all that? They were bike mechanics. They owned a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio.

The word “bicycle” was not invented until 1860.

In 1934, Fred Birchmore, of Athens, Georgia, who was 22 years old at the time, took a 40,000 mile (64,000 kilometer) mile trip. 15,000 of the miles were water crossings, but the remaining 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) were by bicycle, as he circumnavigated the globe. This was in an era before 24-speed mountain bikes. He had a heavy single-speed machine. The entire trip wore out 14 tires. He called his bike, “Bucephalus,” named after the horse ridden by Alexander the Great. During one of his water crossings, he earned his passage by piloting the ship himself, because the sailors were on strike at the time. Although he earned a degree in law, he worked as a English professor and Dean at Southern Georgia College, and later became a realtor and succeeded as an author. The book he wrote about his trip is “Around the World on a Bicycle.” Mr. Birchmore passed away in 2012, at the age of 100. He was known as an adventurer. Among his other feats, he also walked down the steps of the Washington Monument on his hands. For his honeymoon, he and his wife Willa Deane rode all around Central America on a tandem bike. They remained married for 72 years until his death. He says he was a sickly child, until he joined the YMCA, where he remained an active member for 90 years.

Fred Birchmore, enterprising bicycle rider

Every year, 100 million bikes are built. Lined up tire to tire, they’d circle the globe four times. If you could ride along that line of bicycles at a typical bicycling speed, it would take six and a half months, riding 24 hours a day.

For every time an American rides a bike, 100 Americans take a car. In Italy the average is five bike trips per hundred car trips, and in the Netherlands, thirty percent of travel is by bicycle.

A bicycle has over 1,000 parts, although more than half (typically 512) of
these are in the chain.

The longest “bicycle-built-for-two” actually seats 35 riders and is sixty feet (twenty meters) long.

In the space it takes to park a car, you can park fifteen bicycles.

More than 25 percent of the time when people drive their cars, the distance traveled is less than 6,500 feet (2 kilometers). Fifty percent of the time, the distance is less than five kilometers (3.1 miles). In the first two miles (three kilometers) the car’s engine is cold and inefficient, so it has to use considerably more fuel. Wouldn’t a bicycle make more sense for these little commutes?

You can cut your chances of heart attack or stroke in half by riding your bike 20 miles (30 kilometers) per week.

The typical commuter can save $300 per year (or 300 Euros per year, where higher gasoline prices roughly equate to the diference between dollars and Euros) by using a bicycle. Eliminating the automobile altogether can save well over a thousand dollars per year, considering the cost of car payments, maintenance and insurance.

Maintaining a car costs twenty times as much as a bicycle.

Someone figured out that if there were three times more bike riders on the streets, car-bike accidents would be reduced by half. That would be because motorists would become more conscious of bicyclists.

Mountain bikes did not exist until 1977.

Most roads have a bit of a curve toward the edges so rain water will run off. You can aim your bike, or the front wheel of your bike uphill, utilizing this curve if you are not on a hill. Then, you can alternately press forward with the pedals so the bike advances an inch or two (a few centimeters), then let off the pressure so the bike rolls back. By rocking back and forth in this manner, you can maintain your position while keeping both feet on the pedals. This is called a “track stand.” Someone who is practiced in this can do it without hands. It helps to press one thigh or shin against the bike’s toptube, to maintain better control. If you have no hill or curvature to take advantage of, you can put a hand on the front tire, and manually force the wheel back and forth to maintain balance.

The track stand was perfected by pursuit racers. They race a short distance on a track, and what’s important is to be the second one to start, to utilize the draft (parting of the wind) of the first rider. So, pursuits often started not only slowly, but with no forward progress at all.

Tsugunobu Mitsuishi from Japan holds the record for a track stand at five hours and twenty-five minutes.

One out of every ten workers in the New York City area commute by bicycle.

Bicycle commuters save 238 million gallons (more than a billion liters) of fuel per year.

Leonardo da Vinci was on the right track: He drew sketches of a machine that was more or less a bicycle, but it wasn’t until more than 300 years later that anyone made a real bicycle.

An adolescent who rides a bike is 48 percent less likely to become an overweight adult.

In 2009, the latest year for which there are statistics, $5.6 billion was spent in the US on bicycling. That’s an average of $18.66 for every American man, woman and child.

In America, three times more bicycles are sold than cars.

Real estate near a bike path has a slightly higher value.

According to The 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors:

26 percent of Americans say they ride primarily for “recreation.”

23.6 percent ride “for exercise or health.”

14.2 percent ride “to go home.”

13.9 percent ride “for personal errands.”

10.1 percent ride “to visit a friend or relative.”

5.0 percent commute “to school or work.”

2.3 percent ride “just to ride.”

And 4.9 percent listed “other” as their reason to ride.

72 percent of all bicycles are made in China. 85 percent of the bikes being imported into America come from China.

60 percent of all bicycle trips are less than one mile.

The average US person who rides a bike regularly has an income of $60,000.

“Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world.” – Susan B. Anthony

The riders on a tandem bike have specific names, the “captain” in front, and the “stoker” is the rear rider.

Much of the technology that was necessary to create cars was first used in bicycles. This includes ball bearings, air-filled tires, and self-centering steering (fork rake).

At one time in Manhattan, there were eighty bike shops within one square mile (2.5 sq km).

For a while, the US Patent Office was divided into two buildings. One building was for everything having to do with bicycles. The other building was for everything else.

The energy equivalent of gasoline works out to 2,577 miles per gallon (1,037 km per liter) when you ride a bicycle.

The average regular bicyclist is as fit as a non-bicyclist who is ten years younger.

You weigh six times more than your bike. Your car weighs twenty times more than you.

Your car uses more energy just to power its lights than you do going the same distance on a bike.

For the same amount of energy expended in walking, a bicycle propels you four times faster.

In the early days of the automobile, one had to be mechanically inclined, since the cars broke down so often.

With bicycles, it is still a bit like that today. Bikes are not as reliable as washing machines. You can buy a washing machine, never do a thing to maintain it, yet it will work reliably for twenty years. A bicycle, on the other hand, needs to be tuned up once or twice a year, and tends to need repairs from time to time. The reasons for the difference are two:

It doesn’t matter how much a washing machine weighs. The bicycle has to be lightweight so it is responsive and easy to take up hills. The washing machine doesn’t need to crash through potholes, get covered with dirt from the road, and work in all kinds of weather.

We could have bicycles that are as reliable as washing machines. But, like washing machines, they’d weight 200 pounds (100 kilos).

Most people don’t know the difference between a spindle and an axle. The axle spins with a component, and a spindle does not. So, the wheels have spindles, and pedals have spindles. The “bottom bracket spindle” is actually an axle.

Many people also confuse screws and bolts. A bolt screws into something that has matching threads, such as a nut, or a components that has been drilled and tapped with threads. The screw makes its own threads as it is installed, such as wood screws and drywall screws. Most of the fasteners you’ll find on a bike are bolts.

“On a bicycle you are faster, friendlier and and more free than any other vehicle in city traffic.” – Bicycle Recycling Network

Trips up to three miles (five kilometers) in length average less time on a bicycle than in a car when you factor in the time necessary for parking and walking to and from the parking place.

In nearly one out of four bike-car accidents, the bicycle rider was on the wrong side of the road.

3.2 million Americans biked to work at least once a week during the past year. That’s roughly one out of every hundred.

In Seattle, like many cities, bicyclists can put their bikes on racks on city buses. It is estimated that more than 300,000 put their bikes on these bus racks last year. 353 people forgot to take their bikes off the racks.

In Seattle, where wearing a bicycle helmet for adults is optional, 89 percent of adults do wear helmets.

There are 45 times more paved road miles in Seattle than bike paths.

Have you ever grumbled about how long it takes to lock your bike? That’s generally a minute or less. To park a car and walk from the parking lot typically takes more than five minutes.

The average bicycle commuter rides 1,992 miles (3,205 kilometers) per year.

Cities with extensive networks of bike lanes have three times the number of bicycle commuters as other cities. Do you suppose that’s because the lanes created more bike commuters, or that the larger number of bicycle commuters justified the lanes?

Supporting roadway for cars costs taxpayers twenty times as much as supporting roadway for bicycles.

In Portland, Oregon, at least two attempts have been made to distribute free-use bicycles. Called the “Yellow Bike” program, the idea was to put bikes, all painted yellow, in the streets for anyone to use, free of charge. The bikes were donated, fixed up by volunteers – at-risk children learning bicycle repair skills under supervision – and equipped with signs saying “Free Community Bike, Use at Own Risk.” To improve reliability, bikes with derailleurs were converted into single-speed coaster brake bikes.

At the high point, a fleet of two hundred bikes was in operation. Unfortunately, so many bikes were vandalized and stolen that the organizers could never bring the number up to what they called the “critical mass” of 1,000 bikes. They figured with 1,000 yellow bikes in the city, people would feel no need to steal them, since there’d always be one ready to use nearby. As recently as 2007, the City of Portland itself has discussed ways to reimplement the program more successfully. One idea is to copy the systems used in Toronto, Canada and Lyon, France, in which the bikes are equipped with sophisticated electronics that monitor their locations, and report repair issues automatically. Another idea is to build a stronger financial base for the program by selling advertising space on signs on the bikes.

The original program was sponsored (with assistance from the city) by individuals with few assets, so they had no fear of lawsuits. Insuring such a free use bike operation may be difficult.

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