A Coffee Table eBook
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.
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?
This book was built for your enjoyment. It is a coffee table ebook containing pictures of all sorts of bicycles and related equipment from the very first bikes, to prototypes so modern they can’t yet be built. Most of the pictures illustrate mechanical engineering at its finest. I have inserted brief explanations and commentary where I thought it might be useful.
Don’t forget to check out the Art Bikes
Enjoy! – Jeff
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 referred 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.
A rider on a penny-farthing replica
image by Agnieszka KwiecieÅ„, license: CC-BY 3.0
Penny-farthings 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.
image by Ian.wilkes
Penny-farthings with their outlandish proportions replaced draisines to gain speed. Bikes were safer dimensions but still capable of great speed were soon invented, and they became commonly known as "safeties." The picture above is an oddly over-engineered model.
image by Ian.wilkes
This one uses an ingenious seat height adjustment that might be a nice modern re-invention.
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.
A bike from 1865
Classic English bike with rod brakes
image by Pramod
Bike repair in Africa, early 1930s
Shaft drive bikes have been around almost as long as chain drives
image by Ian.wilkes
Shaft drive bikes eliminate the need for pants clips, and you won’t get greasy. Changing the gear ratio requires parts that are not usually available.
An early form of gearing. Pressure on pedals unwinds straps around racheted drums.
A restored Shelby from 1938
Military use of bicycles
The caption on this picture says, "US 25th Infantry on bicycles. Caption: "On June 14, 1897, Lieutenant James Moss,
U.S. Army, led his bicycle corps of the 25th Infantry, from Fort Missoula, Montana, up wagon trail and Indian path, to St. Louis, Missouri, arriving July 16, 1897."
Swiss army bike
Library of New South Wales
You would think that the idea of pedals and cracks attached directly to a wheel would have died out with penny-farthings. But no, there are still vehicles with direct drive wheels. These would be unicycles.
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.
image by Samuel
Others have thin
large diameter wheels for city commuting.
A commuting unicycle
image by Midiman
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.
image by xeaza
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.
image by Russavia
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 http://www.semcycle.biz/record/html/35m.html.
World’s tallest unicycle
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.
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."
image by Ian
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 leg 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.
Amazing tricks can be performed on a BMX bike.
Freestyle BMX bike
image by Tukka
In the above picture, notice the footpegs on the front and rear axles. Also notice the rotor, a device mounted on the handlebar stem so that the handlebar can be turned all the way around without interference from the brake cables. This bike also has a long frame to accommodate turning the front wheel around without interference from the rider’s feet or knees.
Even moreremarkable tricks can be performed on a circus bike.
image by Vintageedept
image by Shizhao
image by Shizhao
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.
Itera Plastic Bike
We are no longer surprised to see plastic bicycle wheels in the smaller diameters. These wheels aren’t quite all-plastic. The hubs are made from regular steel components.
image by Incase
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:
Toxy CL recumbent
image by EvaK
image by Bentrider811
Android front wheel drive recumbent
image by bradhoc
image by BetacommandBot
Recumbent tricycles answer to the slow speed stability problem from which many recumbents suffer, 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.
image by Boliston
image by Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden
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.
image by Les
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.
image by Randal J. (RJFerret)
image by 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
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.
image by livewombat
Pedal-powered boats 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.
image by Bart Everson
image by 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 electric-powered 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.
A homemade electric bike conversion
image by Hamish
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.
Bicycles are good candidates for artistic treatment, as the
following pictures illustrate.
image by Chris
image by Donna
image by hAdamksy
image by Amit Patel
image by Porsche
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.
image by Nels P Olsen
image by Andy
Then we have art unicycles. Unicycles have been decorated, outfitted with colored lights, and made to look like other objects, such as wheelbarrows.
image by Steph
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.
image by Daniel
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.
The author on his three-wheel unicycle
This picture is fuzzy because it was a low-quality snapshot. No one realized this picture might be important later.
image by Paretz
Italian firefighter bicycle
image by Harlock81
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.
A rolling shoe repair shop
image by Pivari.com
A cargo bike
image by Salim
Long wheelbase cargo bike
image by Tulio
image by Bernard
image by Oxyman
Bicycle trailer with passenger
In the mid 1980s Tom Wooten, known as Wrong Way Wooten, from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, became rather famous for riding his bike backward.
Wrong Way Wooten
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.
Wrong Way then set out on a journey across the United States 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, encouraging people to donate 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.
Derailleurs and Sprockets
Simple but high-end, non-index shifters
image by 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."
SRAM Rival rear derailleur
image by Fanny
SRAM Rival front derailleur image by Fanny
A Huret Svetto derailleur, circa 1970
image by Paco Girasol
Shimano LX e-type front derailleur image by Jeremy
Campagnolo Super Record rear derailleur
Single-speed bike with a chain tensioner
image by Ralf
above configuration seems redundant until you notice that the bike has vertical dropouts. There is no way to adjust chain tension. Many years ago, "half-links" were available, so you could adjust a chain’s length to the nearest link, not to the nearest set of two links. That was generally adequate adjustment granularity for most uses.
Let’s hope this bike has a freewheeling sprocket. If fixed gear, the first resistance against the pedals would cause the tensioner to let out all the slack.
image by Ralf
image by Cvosmer
image by Keanu @ no:wp
There are more ways to stop a bike than to make it go. Below are pictures of some interesting concepts in braking:
image by 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.
Fongers rod actuated brake on Westrick rim
image by Jeremy
It didn’t take long to figure out that rubbing something against the rim was more durable than against the tire.
A typical old coaster brake
Coaster brakes are relatively complex mechanisms, yet they appeared early in the history of bicycles.
Early drum brake
image by Ralf
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.
Modern drum brake
image by Haupseite
image by 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.
image by Ralf
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 – a highly styled caliper brake
Rollercam brake – uses a cam instead of a bridge cable
by Jeff Archer
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.
a Few Modern Components
image by Hauptseite
image by Ukxpat
image by KMJ
image by AndrewDressel
a few old ones:
image by 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.
image by 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.
The sew-up is a simple tire compared to the modern kind, called clincher.
Crosssection of a typical bicycle wheel
image by 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).
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
image by Ralf
Serious cyclists call seats "saddles."
Serious cyclists call seatposts "seat pillars."
image by AndrewDressel
A "banana" seat from a stingray bike of the late 1960s
image by AndrewDressel
A sprung leather saddle
image by Suleyman
The Brooks Professional, a top of the line leather seat
image by 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.
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 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 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.
Classic Raleigh Three-Speed with Sturmey-Archer Hub
When you come across an old three-speed, you can wipe the road grime away, and read the month and year of manufacture on the outside of a Sturmey-Archer hub.
Sturmey-Archer three-speed shifter
image by huubvanhughten
image by PeterWiki,
Then there is a new variable speed hub design, called NuVinci that doesn’t use gears at all. There are no clicks or stops on the shifter. You can select the exact ratio you want at any time. This uses a system of cones and rollers to vary the ratio.
The NuVinci hub
image by Keanu @ no:wp
Inside the NuVinci hub
image by Keanu4
image by Usien
image by SJu
image by SJu
Change – a folding mountain bike
image by Jean.rhs
image by Erik
image by Andrew
Bicycle for three
image by AndreasFahrrad
Bicycle workshop in a village in Burundi in the province of
image by Andreas31
Modern six-day race
image by tetedelacourse
Start of a road race in Mendefera, Eritrea
image by David
Road race in Belgium
image by Wouter
image by Tullia
image by Clive
Power from London
Dahon folding bike
from Gainesville, FL, USA
image by Keithonearth
"Yellow Bike" (see below)
image by Wolfgangus
This yellow bike is in Varberg, Sweden, and may be a "free rental" bike. In Portland, Oregon and various other communities throughout the world, "Yellow Bike" programs have been tried in which bikes, which are typically painted yellow, and converted to one-speed coaster brake machines, are given to the public for free use. This cuts down on pollution and noise, and reintroduces adults to bicycling who might not otherwise ride a bike. Most yellow bike programs do not last long, since the bikes tend to disappear faster than additional bikes can be added to the fleet. Most yellow bikes carried signs specifically explaining that they were free to use.
A field of bikes in Oxford, England
image by Adam
image by Halfalah
A hand and foot bike
image by www.skywheel.kr/
This is must be an interesting contraption to ride. You can power this bike with your hands as well as your feet. Notice that the handlebars are not hooked to the front wheel at all. The fork has a strong reverse camber, so leaning should be sufficient to control the bike’s direction. Starting might be disconcerting at first.
A railway bike
image by PekePON
Leo Tolstoy’s bike
image by Moscvitch
image by Russ
from Grosse Pointe Park, USA
playground ride. Lund, Sweden.
image by Popperipopp
Doing everything wrong
In the above picture, the rider has no helmet, is riding with flip flops on his feet, his seat is way too low, and look at that: he has no brake levers or cables! I think we can assume it is a test ride.
An amphibious bike created in 1932
Bicycle lawn mower