7 February 2008

A salute to Captain Bike

Posted by todd under: Cycling news; Words from cycling sages .

Sheldon Brown wedding picture
[UPDATED and BUMPED: Rivendell Bicycles has posted a great, long Q&A with Sheldon Brown from its December 01-January 02 issue.]

By now, if you’re plugged in to the online cycling community, you know that Sheldon Brown, one of the best-read and most-respected voices of cycling online, died Sunday.

“I have always loved riding bicycles, especially for the feeling of freedom and self-sufficiency that they give.”
— Sheldon Brown, 1944-2008

Like many avid cyclists who like to (1) tinker with their bikes and (2) surf the Web, I e-mailed Sheldon about several projects over the years, and got prompt, gracious responses each time.

I will fondly remember him for letting me know the historic significance of the Fuji S-10-S, which I was debating about fixing up. I often refer to his Web site, a virtual bicycling encyclopedia, and I have referenced it many times on this site. The page he wrote about his bikes says a lot about his personality and expertise.

As I thought about Sheldon and his influence, I recalled two projects that a non-bike-person would probably find bizarre, or perhaps a little alarming. I am no great wrench, but his clear writing and obvious trustworthiness persuaded me to try these medieval-sounding procedures:

  • I removed a cottered crank from a Peugot under the following advice from Sheldon (some of my favorite lines from his writing): “You need a short length of pipe, long enough to go from the underside of the crank to the floor. Wedge it in position so that the non-threaded end of the cotter can fit inside of it. The pipe will transmit the impact of the hammer to the floor, so as not to damage the bearing cups or axle cones. I prefer a claw hammer to a ball peen. Claw hammers are designed to drive nails without bending them, and that is very similar to what you want to do to a cotter. Most people are scared to hit a bicycle with a hammer, and are afraid they will miss if they swing too hard. They go “tappy-tappy-tap”, nothing happens, then they try hitting a bit harder, then harder still, until the end of the cotter is mushroomed over or bends. If you are going to hammer a cotter, pretend that you are going to try to smash the crank right off the axle. Hold the hammer by the end of the handle, and give it everything you’ve got! …” Well, Sheldon, I whaled away, and it worked! Thanks!
  •  I bent the frame of an ancient Nishiki in order to make a wider-axled wheel fit on it. Sheldon again: “Although it seems fairly alarming to deliberately bend your frame, it is really not that cataclismic an operation …” and: “There are a number of ways to do spread a frame. Probably the easiest way is to use a lever. A piece of 2 x 3 or 2 x 4 lumber, roughly 5-6 feet long works well for this …” Suffice it to say that my operation involved a chair, a piece of lumber as he described, a ruler, and a good deal of trepidation. And you know what, Sheldon? This worked as well!

Many great RIPs to Sheldon have popped up online. Here are a few links:

3 Comments so far...

Ray Says:

9 February 2008 at 4:55 pm.

I had the great fortune to meet Sheldon at a bike show called Cirque in NC in 2005. I also had my camera handy to catch a photo of Sheldon taking a photo of my vintage RIGI bicycle. We stopped and chatted for a moment and he explained that he took the photo for his collection having never seen a RIGI in the flesh so to speak. Attached is that photo and my small tribute to the legend in the hobby.

RIP Sheldon
Ray

Ray, thanks. That’s a great picture. Here is the link to Ray’s picture.
-6-

Vintage-bicycle Mike Says:

2 July 2008 at 7:47 am.

Sorry to hear about this untimely passing away of a good person. Just like him, I also love bicycling because of the sense of freedom it gives me. And there are other good reasons, too, such as being easy on the environment…

MIchael Cook Says:

21 April 2010 at 4:21 pm.

Just reading up on Sheldon again. My first “good” bike was a Fuji S-10-S which I owned for about twenty years before I gave it away to someone who needed a bike. I painted it twice and rebuilt it many times.

What was Sheldon’s historical significance of that bike?

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Yes, that's me, Todd Van Campen. No, I'm not wearing a helmet. Yes, I usually wear one, so please don't scold! Seriously, I endorse wearing a helmet! Pinky swear! In fact, I almost ALWAYS wear one (while riding a bike anyway). (On the other hand, if YOU don't want to wear a helmet, I have no problem with it.) I don't remember what happened on this particular day. Fortunately for all of us it makes for a less-nerdly picture. My exceptionally talented professional photographer friend Charles Bertram took this photo.

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