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The Brown bike

I noted in a previous post that my old touring bike had some shortcomings. The following post goes into excruciating detail about the history of that bike, a history which might be interesting to a few bike-history obsessives, but likely not anyone else.

The Brown Bike was built in 1978 under the tutelage of Gary Hale, who was a fellow employee at Stu’s Bike Shop in Eugene. This bike was intended to be a gravel-road camping bike.

There is, of course, nothing new about riding a bike on surfaces other than asphalt. There were no good roads in the early days of cycling and a lot of roads remained unpaved into the middle of the last century. Stages of the TDF were run on gravel into the 1960’s and maybe later. But by the late 70’s, unpaved roads were retreating into remote rural areas and bike tires were getting skinnier and skinnier. It was common knowledge that wide tires were slow and heavy. An all-road bike in 1978 seemed downright radical.


Figure 1. Anquetil and Bahamontes, TDF 1963.

I think the seeds of the idea of an all-road bike were planted on a backpacking trip when I was about 8 years old. My memories are fuzzy, but I remember bicycle tracks on the back country trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area. One of the grownups teased me that we might meet up with the the ice cream dealer making the tracks at any time. As I got older and continued to enjoy hiking and backpacking, the idea of riding into the wild and remote places grew in appeal.

The seeds were watered by Cyclists’ Touring Club accounts of British rough-stuff riding (CTC Link) and the few references that I could find to French touring bikes with 650b demi-ballon tires. I also saw an “expedition” bike around Eugene that was made in Missoula (I don’t remember the builder) that was in the same spirit. The 650b tire size was not available in the US then, American balloon tires seemed too wide, and the British three-speed 26 x 1 3/8 seemed like the best available compromise.
Alloy rims for this size, triple cranks, and cantilevers were all pretty exotic in Oregon in 1978, and it took some looking to find the pieces I needed, but I was happy with the results. The bike rode well on pavement and on gravel, and the gears were low enough for long steep climbs.

I used this bike to explore the back roads, USFS and BLM roads in the vicinity of Eugene, Oregon. And I rode it on the longest bike tour of my life so far, from Nevada City, California to Eugene, up the crest of the Sierra and the Cascades. This trip was all on pavement except for a short segment of railroad shoulder (would have been shorter if I had not missed my turn the first time) to avoid getting on the freeway at Weed.

And there was one particularly epic camping trip on jeep trails on the edge of the Waldo Lake and Three Sisters Wilderness areas.

A few months after the Brown Bike hit the road, Charles Kelly’s article about the nascent phenomenon of mountain biking hit Bicycling Magazine (Clunkers) . This article marked a turning point in bike culture and merchandising and made my attempt at an expedition bike seem a lot less radical. (And of course the more-recent development of fat bikes and the gravel-grinder fad makes this bike almost conventional.)

Later that year (1978), a young footloose man came through town. He tried my bike and loved it, and offered to buy it. I declined the sale, so he knocked out a copy in a few weeks in Gary’s shop. He then disappeared into the sunset only to appear again a year or so later on the cover of Bicycling. That’s him just right of center (under the second “i”) on the orange bike with relatively skinny tires. The scene is Pearl Pass and all the culture heroes of mountain biking are in the picture. I wish I could remember his name. He was obviously an interesting and dynamic person, and I would like to know where he ended up. (The Bicycling cover shot is from Charles Kelley’s site )


After a few years, and after a couple of seasons of road racing, I got the cyclocross bug. The only knobby ‘cross tires available in the early 80’s were sew-ups, which of course are the same rim diameter as 700c. I moved the cantilever studs (including heating the tubing to remove them and heating it again to add new studs) to accommodate the larger rim diameter, and it became a reasonably capable cyclocross bike.

During one cyclocross training session, I hit a big root (or something) buried under the leaves on a trail. The obstacle was big enough to stop the bike and launch me over the handlebars. The result was bent top tube, down tube and fork blades, but not so severely bent that I could not straighten it out again.

Some years later, long after my cyclocross days were over, the bike was again a utility and touring bike. The 700c wheel size limited the width of tire that could be mounted, and I mostly rode 28 mm tires; anything bigger was a problem with fenders. In addition, the extremely high bottom bracket with the larger tires was less than optimum under most conditions. By this time (2005 or so), 650b tires had become somewhat available, promoted mostly by Grant Peterson. In order to restore the bike to its original function, I again moved the cantilever studs and converted to the bike to 650b. This was quite successful, improving the ride and opening the tire options.

I originally designed the bike thinking about some fairly technical riding, and the BB is high to allow pedaling through rough sections. Frame angles are 71° parallel head and seat tube. I figured this would make the bike stable and cushy on rough surfaces.  The chain stays are as long as I could get them with untrimmed Reynolds 531 stays and long Campi horizontal dropouts, and they come out to about 445 mm (17.5”). Of course the main reason for long stays is to get good weight distribution (and heel clearance) for a rear load, but the length of the stays also allows a reasonably wide tire between the plain round-oval-round stays. The original 1 3/8” (about 35 mm) tires fit fine. I can fit a 38mm wide 650b tire, but there is not a lot of room left for mud. The width of the fork crown also limits this bike to a tire not much wider than 35mm.

The high bottom bracket is good for rocky trails, but it makes the bike feel less stable and grounded than would a lower BB. The head angle is okay, but the seat tube is too slack for a good riding position over the BB without sliding the seat all the way forward.
The fork offset produces a conventional amount of trail (60 mm or so), and I would prefer a little less trail. The offset is also small enough that, combined with the short top tube, I kick the front fender at low speed, which is not a critical flaw but it is mildly annoying, and one would think it could be avoided on a 60 cm frame.

The best I can reconstruct from my memory and the Proteus catalog (Proteus catalog link ) , it appears the frame was constructed with a .8/.5/.8 top tube, a 1/.7/1 down tube and probably .8/.6 chain stays, and it has a .9/.6 seat tube.

After 36 years of use and abuse, two cantilever conversions, one major realignment, and a moderate amount of rust (it never got anything better than a rattle-can paint job), the bike still rides great and serves on an occasional tour, but I felt like the bike might not reliable for the long trips I dream of, and it was relegated to occasional use and replaced with the new bike.


Brown Bike, ready to go


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Bike aggregator 3-13-2010

For all you Middle Earth fans, the Discovering Urbanism blog has this interesting discussion of why JRR Tolkien lived car free (makes you want to go out and buy something from the elves at  Rivendell).


The Washington Post announces dedicated bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue.  The Post says, “The center of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol soon may be reserved for just two things: the president’s inauguration and people riding bicycles.”


Back home, the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) bike plan was approved by the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC).  The bike plan was on the consent agenda, so there was no controversy, but also no discussion and no press.


As everyone probably knows by now, Google maps has launched a bike option for route finding.  Reviews are mixed, with some reporting that Google generates routes that agree with routes they have developed through hard experience, and sometimes even provides new and better routes.  Others report problems, such as Google routes on narrow, busy streets when more pleasant alternatives were available, or directing them to bridges where bikes were prohibited.  My experience with Google was only fair; for Knoxville and environs, the TPO maps provide much more information.  In addition, different individuals have very different ideas about what constitutes a good route, which is hard to capture with a single methodology. 

However, it is great to see Google make this effort, which contributes to legitimizing and promoting bike transportation.  Google reputedly accepts input, so the most egregious errors should be corrected quickly.  And Google generates intercity routes that are worth considering, even if you don’t like the intracity routes.


Michael Musto, Village Voice columnist and cable commentator, is featured in this Streetfilms bike commuting video.  I guess it’s nice to see celebrities celebrated for living car free, but I gotta say, don’t ride like Musto.  He rides too close to parked cars and between lines of moving motor vehicles.  He’s gonna get doored  or worse.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a report on road motor vehicle fatalities for 2009.  It is odd that we can celebrate a decrease to “only” 34,000 deaths in one year (over ten times 9/11), but we have become inured to this carnage as the price we pay for automotive convenience.  This is  the lowest total since 1954, and the fatalities per million mile rate is steadily declining. 

It doesn’t look so good around the world.  NGH posted this summary of a World Health Organization report on world road safety.  According to NGH, “Around the world, approximately 1.3 million people die each year on the roads and between 20 and 30 million sustain non-fatal injuries …”; “If trends continue unabated deaths will rise to an estimated 2.4 million a year by 2030.”  This is another reason that car-dependent development is a very poor model for the developing world to emulate.

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Aggregator 1-3-2010

News of interest

Bicycling hits 1% of all trips, a 25% increase since 2001.


Utah groups advocate gas tax flexibility to allow money to be spent on mass transit.  The Utah Constitution reserves gasoline tax revenues for highway construction and related purposes.

Meanwhile, California Governator Schwarzenegger  has proposed a complex plan  to help balance the state budget by cutting the gas tax, much of which goes to transit, and increasing the excise tax for gas, which can go in the general fund.   


 Six good reasons that all commuting cyclists should have fenders.  They have a little bit different perspective in places where cycling is taken seriously for transportation.  I don’t see very many other cyclists on my commute, particularly on wet days.  But where there lots of other riders, fenders can help keep other people dry, too. 


Fastest in the world.  Articles on London 2012 Olympic velodrome in NCE, a British civil engineering magazine blog:    design features and  progress.

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Aggregator 1-9-10

News of Interest

Denver has gone beyond mere Complete Streets to living streets .   According to Gideon Berger, senior city planner with Denver’s Department of Community Planning and Development, “Complete Streets is about road building, but Living Streets is about city building”.  More.

In New York, 240 parking meters are converted to bike racks.   

And speaking of New York, Bike Kill is an annual bikecentric party that includes costumes,  Tall Bikes and jousting with tall bikes, and bike gangs .  And lots of beer.  It is not exactly a Tweed Ride, though they both have some Steampunk tendencies.   Video.

Image from Wired


Is America’s love affair with the car fading?  We don’t know why there are 4 million fewer cars  on the road at the end of 2009 than a year before, but this article goes through the full range of speculation.


The American Society of State Highway and Transportation Organizations (AASHTO) is a powerful organization that helps set standards and directions for transportation in the US.  They have compiled a list of their priorities for the new year .  AASHTO has managed to get past the American transportation paradigm that has pushed more cars, more roads, and bigger roads for most of the last century.  The list does include a lot of car-oriented stuff, but it also includes improving intercity passenger rail at number 2; reducing distracted driving (#4); recognition of the role of transportation in climate change (#6); and creating livable communities (# 10).

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Aggregator 1-2-2010

News of interest

FHWA Issues Final Rule for Revised Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.   There are several changes relevant to bike design, but the most interesting is that the shared lane marker, aka sharrow, is now vetted as a standard practice, so your local traffic jurisdiction no longer has an excuse not to use it if appropriate.  The bike part of the document is available here.  




The New Republic notes that Americans are still driving less even though gas prices are down from their peak.  Per capita mileage just begins to level off at the end of 2009 from a downward trend that started in 2005 or so.   Sign of real change?

Miles driven per capita


Time has some more interesting details on the Netherlands’ road-use tax.   Charging for each kilometer driven based on type of car and with higher rates for times of peak congestion seems like a good idea to me, but I can’t imagine it meeting with success in the hysterically tax-averse U.S.


Older drivers face choice between safety and mobility.   The mainstream media, in this case, the Washington Post, is becoming more aware of the isolating effect of car-oriented suburban living on people who can’t drive, in particular people getting too old to drive.

A well-designed community means that independence does not depend on the ability to drive.


Bike and car production rates.  I came across a file with this graph in it on Earth Policy Institute data center.

You can see the Bike Boom  in the early 70’s and the mountain bike boom in the late 80’s, followed by doldrums in the late 90’s.

But it looks like the Bike Boom was no fluke (though there was an adjustment that marks the end of the period recognized as the bike boom).  It actually looks like that inflection point in 1969 was the beginning of a long-term trend. 

There is another file from the same source that shows where the production increases were; recently, all the growth is in China.  It is no surprise to anyone that China is producing so many bikes, but it does suprise me that all other countries listed are shrinking, including Taiwan.  U.S. bike production is a mere 3.4% of its peak.

Year China Italy Germany France Total EU-15 Taiwan Japan United States
      Million Units      
1990 31.9 3.5 3.9 1.5 n.a. 6.8 0.7 5.6
1991 36.8 3.6 4.9 1.2 n.a. 7.7 0.8 7.6
1992 40.3 4.1 4.6 1.0 n.a. 7.5 1.0 8.9
1993 41.0 5.2 4.1 1.0 n.a. 7.9 1.0 7.7
1994 42.0 5.8 3.5 1.3 n.a. 9.2 1.1 7.3
1995 41.0 5.3 3.2 1.3 n.a. 9.7 1.8 8.8
1996 38.0 4.0 2.9 1.3 n.a. 7.4 1.5 8.0
1997 30.0 4.0 2.8 1.3 n.a. 11.9 1.8 6.0
1998 33.8 3.0 3.2 1.6 11.7 10.5 5.9 2.5
1999 42.7 3.2 3.2 1.8 12.1 8.4 5.6 1.7
2000 52.2 3.2 3.3 1.9 12.3 8.0 4.7 0.9
2001 51.2 2.7 3.0 1.6 10.5 5.0 4.2 0.9
2002 63.0 2.4 3.1 1.4 10.2 4.4 3.1 0.4
2003 73.0 2.6 3.2 1.5 10.4 4.3 2.5 0.4
2004 73.0 2.6 2.9 1.7 10.4 4.4 2.5 0.3
2005 80.7 2.4 2.7 1.7 10.3 4.7 1.9 0.2
2006 84.9 2.4 2.5 1.3 9.6 4.3 1.3 0.3
2007 87.0 2.5 2.4 1.1 n.a. 4.9 1.1 0.3

 The abrupt downturn in US production in the late 90’s can be explained with this, from Wikipedia: ” In 1996, Murray Inc., the last major U.S. bicycle producers with Huffy and Roadmaster (formerly AMF), received a major blow when U.S. courts ruled that imports from China were not a ‘material threat’ to U.S. companies. Within three years, Huffy, Roadmaster and Murray ceased manufacture of bicycles in the United States.” (

The fact that production of bike units continues to grow faster than car production looks good, but  how much of this is just mindless consumption of  toys, fueled by planned obsolescence?  And where do all these bikes go?  Are they used briefly and thrown away?

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Henley Bridge

Henley Bridge

I attended this meeting with Tennessee Department of Transportation about the Henley Bridge. The Henley Bridge is a concrete arch open spandrel bridge built in about 1930. It carries the bulk of traffic across the Tennessee River into South Knoxville and is in need of extensive repair. It will be closed for up to 3 years as it is stripped to its arches and reconstructed.

When I first heard that people were suggesting bike lanes, I was dubious. This is an important link for congested car traffic, but not attractive for bikes. But then I thought more about it and realized that there were some valuable connections that could be made. I frequently use Blount Avenue on the south side;  Hill Ave. on the north side could connect to downtown and to the UT campus area. And establishing the precedent of putting bike lanes in a place like this and the preservation of this link for the future is really valuable .

I expected that the meeting would be an “announce and defend” event, but it turned out that the TDOT folks provided good information and listened to the community, and the community said that it wants bike and ped accomodation on this bridge. There is actually some possibility that bike lanes could happen if the community continues to push the city and TDOT. An email to David Massey is a good place to start. Massey says that more formal letters can be addressed to John Hunter, Chief Traffic Engineer, City of Knoxville, P.O. Box 1631, Knoxville, TN 37901, and/or to others in the Administration as you wish.

More info about the bridge and nice pictures here.

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My weekly aggregator #2

News items of interest.

Graceful Interchanges, Now Doubling as Civic Sculpture

Okay, this may be art:

… but so is this:

The South sucks if you want to walk:

City Streets a Mortal Threat to Pedestrians

Republicans continue to just say no:

Climate Bill Approved by Senate Committee Over Republican Boycott

Secretary of transportation gives bike commuters strokes:

DOT bike commuters leading by example

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