Toward a More Perfect Union: the Wolf Tooth RoadLink Derailleur Hanger Extension

I’ve been making small changes to my Giant Escape gravel grinder over the winter. The latest is the addition of a derailleur hanger extension to get the 10-speed SRAM X9 rear derailleur to play nice with the 11-42 tooth Sunrace cassette and Shimano chain.

In the side-by-side comparison below (each time with the chain wrapped around the 42 tooth cog), the derailleur is shown 1) without the Wolf Tooth RoadLink, but with the B-limit screw reversed then backed all the way out to clear the cog (left), 2) with the RoadLink installed, no other change, and 3) with the RoadLink installed and the B-limit screw in its original orientation, allowing the top jockey wheel closer to the cog.

Installing Wolf Tooth RoadLink derailleur hanger extension, before, during, after.

With this change, downshifts are more accurate, though Wolf Tooth doesn’t support use of the extension with anything wider than a 10-speed 11-40 cassette in combination with one or two chainrings. (The Giant has a single chainring: a 40-tooth Wolf Tooth with a 130mm bolt circle mounted on a Shimano 600 crank arm.)

In other words, don’t assume this same set-up automatically works on your bicycle. As Wolf Tooth points out, individual results can vary due to different derailleur hanger geometry, chainstay length, chainring size, B-screw adjustment and, if you’re dealing with a mountain bike, suspension configuration.

But it worked for me.





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Survived the Cull: Eleven Bicycle Books

Last week I got rid of some books. Easy enough, you think—most of them were old, some of them were simplistic, all of them had to do with bicycle racing.

Well, surprise, surprise: I didn’t get rid of all my books—that wasn’t the goal. I wanted to move some to a new home so I could better focus on books that have been important to me over the years, whether or not I’ve read them all the way through.

These are some of the books I’m keeping.

IMG_9143Agonistic Cycling, author: Agostino Massagrande, publisher: Edizioni Landoni, copyright approximately 1980, 173 pgs.

So that’s where my Sutherland’s Spoke Calculator went, stuck inside this book, along with 1) a gear chart/business card and 2) shoe size conversion chart from Champaign Cycle, 3) a Blue Sky Cycle Carts brochure—“carries 150 lbs. with ease”—and 4) a 1988 Associated Press article on Tim Moore, who developed a high-density polyethylene sewer grate cover to protect bicyclists from plunging into long-slot sewer grates.

I can’t get rid of the book. Now I know where all this stuff is.

That aside, I should have known better than to start racing decades ago just by looking at the cover of this English translation of an Italian primer on competitive cycling.

The photo is taken from the back of the pack.

IMG_9135The Best of Bicycling!, editor: Harley M. Leete, publisher: Pocket Book, copyright 1970, 465 pgs.

I’ve written about this book before, and I still wonder why Bicycling! magazine made the decision to drop the exclamation mark instead of making it into a mission statement.

There’s a bit of everything in this book, including a picture of cycling innovator Dan Henry on his fully suspended long-wheelbase recumbent. If anyone knows where this bike is today, let me know. Please.


IMG_9142Bicycle Mechanics, In Workshop and Competition, authors: Steve Snowling, Ken Evans, publisher: Leisure Press, copyright 1986, 160 pgs.

Yes, It’s a few years old, but there are plenty of things worth noting: 1) the spotless workshop I’ve tried to duplicate for thirty years without success; 2) the clever paint brush bent at an angle below the bristles to clean between the chainrings; 3) ideas on transferring rider position from one bike to another (hint: start with a level saddle).

Plus, all the pictures of Snowling on the job remind me how much I miss wearing overalls. Your waistline? Your business.

And with no discussion of mountain bikes, hydraulic brakes, suspension systems or index shifting, the pictures are really big.

IMG_9141Bike Mechanic, Tales From the Road and the Workshop, authors: Guy Andrews, Rohan Dubashi, photographer: Taz Darling, publisher: Velo Press, copyright 2014, 272 pgs.

Guy Andrews says the inspiration for this book was the previous book by Snowling and Evans.

A lot happened in 28 years.

Consider this bit of insight from page 57: “So being a team mechanic requires more than mechanical nous and a love of bicycles. You will also need a good knowledge of the bike races, a trucker’s license, and a strong sense of logistics.”

Bottom bracket? Snowling recommended using the same name as the maker of the chainset on a given bicycle. Done and done.

Andrews, on the other hand, spends page 151 explaining what happened to the old square taper bottom bracket and ends with this paragraph:

“We are going to see continuous developments in this area. Who knows, perhaps we might eventually end up with a light, stiff, reliable solution that actually lasts.”

IMG_9134bike tripping, author: Tom Cuthbertson, illustrator: Rick Morrall, publisher: Ten Speed Press, copyright 1972, 176 pgs.

Like Karl Kron’s book, Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle, bike tripping is dedicated to a dog: “Irving, the best dog in the whole world.” It’s also dedicated to Cuthbertson’s bicycle, a Hetchins, which especially in the U.S. of 1972 was a quality ride.IMG_9132

Like a lot of beginner bike books, bike tripping illustrates the right way and wrong way to ride a bicycle. But no other book illustrates the wrong way quite so clearly.

Why keep this book? Maybe for the endpiece photograph of the author wearing a newsboy cap, white t-shirt, jeans and a smile while riding a high wheeler. It’s an early reminder of the joie de vivre that bicycling represented to me over the years—and yet another reminder of a bike I want to add back to the stable.

IMG_9144The Complete Cycle Sport Guide, author: Peter Konopka, publisher: EP Publishing Limited, English translation (from German) copyright 1982, 182 pgs.

I’m keeping this one for the dumbest of reasons: I’ve already given away 11 bicycle books. But it does recommend something I value, a smooth cycling style, and I think of its words whenever I ride:

“A perfect stylist lets the legs do the work, the rest of the body not moving. Above all, the head should be kept still and the body should not bob up and down or from side to side.”

Style. Cool. Count me in.

IMG_9139European Cycling, The 20 greatest races, author: Noel Henderson, publisher: Vitesse Press, copyright 1989, 152 pgs.

This is the book that reminds me European racing extends throughout the year—that there is way more to the sport than one month in France.

It doesn’t make me any more interested in road racing today, but the history and names behind each contest still reverberate.

IMG_9140Half-wheel Hell & other cycling stories, author: Maynard Hershon, publisher Velonewsbooks, copyright 1994, 133 pgs.

Could there be a question about keeping this book? Hershon is a Writer. Some samples:

  • “You can divide bike riders into two groups: those who believe in their hearts that cycling is an aerodynamic sport—and those who would rather deny it.”
  • “Old as he is, Sully’s never learned respect. He’s smart, funny and irreverent clear to the bone. Got a pig valve in his heart…. You could feel sorry for him if you didn’t know how easily he could ride away from you.”
  • “The last Italian to have won the Tour sat across the table from me in the Bianchi lunchroom. We shared a bottle of acqua minerale. Sometimes I poured; sometimes he did. I felt, between you and me, that I was just where I was supposed to be.”
  • “If you ride 150 races and win 10, you’re a superstar. You lost over 90 percent of the time, but everyone wants your autograph.”

IMG_9137An Intimate Portrait of The Tour De France, Masters and Slaves of the Road, author: Philippe Brunel, publisher: Buonpane Publications, copyright 1995, first published in English (from French) 1996, 158 pgs.

If you like black-and-white pictures of bicycles and racers, here’s your book.

The picture of Vervaeke and Geldbol smoking cigarettes while wearing goggles on their heads and spare tires around their shoulders, water bottles hanging off the front of the handlebars? It’s in here.

The first time you read this book, you look at the pictures. The second time, you read the captions. The third time, you read the biographies, starting with that of Ottavio Bottecchia, the 1924 winner.

Twenty years later, I’m reading it for the fourth time.

IMG_9136Major Taylor, author: Andrew Ritchey, publisher Bicycle Books, Inc., copyright 1988, 304 pgs.

It goes without saying that The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World, Marshall W. “Major” Taylor’s autobiography, has a place on my shelf.

His “dozen don’ts” contain much practical wisdom:

  • Don’t try to “gyp.”
  • Don’t be a pie biter [greedy—ed.]
  • Don’t keep late hours.
  • Don’t use intoxicants.
  • Don’t be a big bluffer.
  • Don’t eat cheap candies.
  • Don’t get a swelled head.
  • Don’t use tobacco in any form.
  • Don’t fail to live a clean life.
  • Don’t forget to play the game fair.
  • Don’t take an unfair advantage of an opponent.
  • Don’t forget the practice of good sportsmanship.

He was a black man in a white man’s sport in the 1890s, a world-champion sprinter who won on tracks from Peoria to Paris, from Indiana to Australia. Racism prevented some wins; his personal beliefs prevented others. He didn’t race on Sundays until his career was nearly over.

But no autobiography is truly comprehensive. Ritchey’s book provides a few of the missing details.

Taylor died in Chicago in 1932 at 53. No one claimed the body. He was buried at public expense. (His body was later exhumed from an unmarked grave and moved to a more prominent spot in the cemetery.)

When interviewed by Le Miroir des Sports, Taylor’s European manager recounted “the stunning number of his victories during his first three European tours: forty-two first places in 1901, forty in 1902, thirty-one in 1903.”

One of Ritchey’s more telling details: Taylor lived about 10 years longer than the average black man in America.

IMG_9138Visions of Cycling, author and photographer: Graham Watson, publisher: VeloNews, copyright 1989, 127 pgs.

When you’re on the Internet, you live in what some call the eternal present; what Douglas Rushkoff in Present Shock called the continuous now.

Past, present, future (the latter in the form of faith, speculation, overconfidence and lies): everything happens at once. It’s exhausting–and avoidable.

How to preserve your perspective? Open a book. Open Watson’s book.

This is nothing if not the past: leather-net helmets, steel bicycle frames, film cameras. This is what happened before–when before was its own world, not having yet spun into another planet.

This is one bicycle race at a time from a photographer taking one picture at a time. This is life without filters–unless those filters are screwed onto the end of a 180mm lens.

This is glorious. This must remain.



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Lanterne Rouge: Eleven Bicycle Books

When one looks at one’s possessions and admits to oneself that it’s All Too Much to Bear, it’s time to clean house.

Some things are easier to pitch than others, but let’s not discuss electronics, computers or broken bird feeders. Instead let’s look at what really makes a house a home: the printed word.

Newspapers tucked here and there are pitched without a second thought. Magazines are nearly as easy to toss, that is, once you’ve safely set aside all your back issues of Wooden Boat, Bicycle Quarterly and Velo Vision.

But books, what to do with all the books? More specifically, what to do with all the bicycle books?

Some of these volumes have traveled with me to at least a dozen apartments and houses over the years. They’ve been lifted, boxed, shifted, unboxed and placed on new shelves.

In other words I’ve had more opportunities to rid myself of them than I have fingers (and I have all my fingers).

Turns out the best way to cull the herd is quickly. Here’s a quick farewell to books I recently gave to another person who rides bicycles and, out of respect to the authors, a few of the reasons why I did so (spoiler alert: I haven’t been interested in racing as a spectator for a long time).

Bicycle Track Racing, authors: editors of Bike World, publisher: Bike World Magazine, copyright 1977, 124 pgs.

If you were new to racing in Illinois in the 1970s, most of your races were criteriums, short courses with lots of laps. I remember walking around Moline, Illinois, after racing in the rain when it finally occurred to me that spectators grouped around the corners to watch the crashes.

Oh, the humanity. Was all racing like that?

No. This book reminds the reader that “American cycling’s ancestral lineage is in track racing.”

Plus, for spectators, track racing is way more convenient than a criterium. You can see every crash without moving at all.

Contemporary Bicycle Racing, authors: Keith Kingbay, George Fichter, publisher: Contemporary Books, Inc., copyright 1978, 82 pgs.

This is how racing was represented in America one year before the movie Breaking Away came out. Note to self: Don’t ever use contemporary as the title of a book. Time moves on.

Boy, does it move on.

Greg LeMond’s Complete Book of Bicycling, authors: Greg LeMond, Kent Gordis, publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, copyright 1987, 352 pgs.

I’m not going to disrespect LeMond. His career speaks for itself. But this is another racing-focused book, and I’m decades past being racing focused. I may not be the only one.

A few words from the final page:

“Cycling, like any other sport in America, is a business, and as soon as the business of cycling no longer seems profitable, it might no longer be quite as ‘hot.’…”Of course, I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen. After all, I’ve dedicated ten years of my life to this grueling sport because I truly love it. And I think the next chapter of cycling’s history should belong to America.”

Turns out it did. And boy, was it dope.

Kelly, A Biography of Sean Kelly, author: David Walsh, publisher Harrap Ltd., copyright 1986, 240 pgs.

The exodus included two books on Sean Kelly. At the risk of betraying my lack of attention, I’ll say this one has a lot of words with a small group of black and white photos.

I liked Kelly because I thought of him as a great soloist, bulling ahead when his team couldn’t keep up with him.

I flipped through a few pages and came across this description. Apparently, for Kelly, it was all about the bike:

“Kelly wasn’t a clever talker, he couldn’t be deemed physically handsome and he didn’t have the advantages of a formal education. Outside of the bike, there wasn’t much that Kelly could claim to excel at. His talent was for turning the pedals. He enjoyed the feeling of mastery when he turned them faster than everybody else.”

Thanks for waiting until page 78 to write that, David.

Road Racing Technique & Training, authors: Bernard Hinault, Claude Genzling, publisher: Velo-news Corporation, English edition copyright 1988 (French copyright 1986), 208 pgs.

He is French. He won the Tour de France five times. His nickname is the Badger. He raced in Look pedals in 1985.

I raced in Look pedals.

And for the life of me, I don’t understand how you can set the cleat adjustment by riding with the cleat bolts a little loose (pg. 80-81).

How do you retain the adjustment when you kick your heel out to release the cleat from the pedal? Also, how do you release the cleat when it rotates under the shoe?

Clearly a matter for another reader to ponder.

Sean Kelly, a man for all seasons, authors: Sean Kelly, David Walsh, publisher: Springfield Books Limited, copyright 1991, 127 pgs.

Good title. The book is actually divided into four seasons. I love a theme. Lots of good color photos, too.

Years ago I marked my place with the 1991 receipt from VeloNewsBooks: $19.95 for the paperback, $4 shipping.

Guess I was made of money back then.

Stephen Roche, My Road to Victory, author: Stephen Roche, photographer: Graham Watson, publisher: Stanley Paul and Co. Ltd, copyright 1987, 128 pgs.

Why did I keep this book for so long?

It’s a tall but slender hardcover and apparently written by its subject, a Dubliner who in 1987 won the Tour, the Giro d’Italia and the World Championship.

At one time, that was commonly known as a Pretty Good Season.

Plus, the book’s full of color pictures.

But the writing is functional at best, right down to the moth-eaten obbligato of whether there’s a place for the wife or girlfriend during the Tour.

I may be tired of spectator sports, but I’m tired to death of male-dominated spectator sports. Sorry, Stephen.

The Tour de France Complete Book of Cycling, authors: David Chauner, Michael Halstead, publisher: Villard Books, copyright 1990, 235 pgs.

This book promises everything, and that’s before you get to the subtitle: From Weekend Biking to World-Class Racing: The One Total Sourcebook for Every Cycling Question and Every Cycling Need.

However, it doesn’t seem to answer the following questions:

  1. Where did Henry Miller, author of Tropic of Cancer, buy the bike he referred to as “my best friend?”
  2. Which winner of the Paris-Roubaix created both the Champion and AC spark plug brands?
  3. Who authored Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle, a book that includes 18 pages on “Curl, The Best of Bull-Dogs?”
  4. What was that author’s real name?
  5. What year did the League of American Wheelmen ban black riders?

Granted, I didn’t review the book line for line—maybe I missed something along the way. Still, I would expect a comprehensive book on cycling to rival the Oxford English Dictionary in size. At 235 pages, the Complete Book just doesn’t weigh enough.

Answers: A) Madison Square Garden at the end of a six-day race. B) Albert Champion. C) Karl Kron. D) Lyman Hotchkiss Bag. E) 1894.

Tour de France, The 75th anniversary cycle race, author: Robin Magowan, publisher: Stanley, Paul & Co. Ltd., copyright 1979, 204 pgs.

Another racing book. If I must choose between the Tour and Jules Verne—and I must, life is short—I’d rather spend five weeks in a balloon.

Magowan’s book includes this discussion of anabolic steroids:

“They also have, like birth-control pills, dangerous side effects. Blood pressure goes up, liver rots, and the testes atrophy. But this is only in a small percentage of cases, and there is a school of sports medicine, in East Germany notably, that believes these can be prevented if intakes are continually monitored as to dosage.”

Is it too early to ask how that all turned out?

Tour de France, Three Weeks to Glory, author: Samuel Abt, publisher: Bicycle Books, Inc. copyright 1991, 192 pgs.

I’ll probably regret giving this one away. It’s well written and includes a scattering of historical images.

There’s also an interesting Q&A with Jacques Goddet, a Tour de France director for decades. Here’s one exchange from page 40:

Q: “Doesn’t the average person seem less attracted to the ideals of sacrifice and suffering that are so much a part of bicycle racing?”

A: “They want security. The whole world has become much more interested in security. There is so much misery in this world that everybody looks for peace and quiet, definitely.

“And the Tour especially refuses security. It involves and needs the concept of facing pain and defeat. Sacrifice is partly responsible of the Tour’s popularity. Sacrifice is part of cycling’s legend, certainly part of the Tour’s legend.

“I’m not saying that personally I would like the riders to encounter huge difficulties, but it is necessary for the sport.”

winning bicycle racing, author: Jack Simes, photographer: Robert F. George, publisher: Contemporary Books, Inc., copyright 1976, 195 pgs.

In America in the 1970s, bicycle racing was exotic to me. The best racers in the world didn’t come from this country. The huge six-day races of the 1930s were impossibly lost in the long ago. No American had yet competed in the Tour de France, and LeMond wouldn’t win his first Tour until 1986.

TV and newspaper mentions of racing were rare. So I read and reread books like this one. Simes was a good rider (three Olympic appearances) and coach, but he was an American, and his book provided little perspective on the world beyond the lower 48.

A quick look at the index reveals a mention of the Tour de France on page 99. Here’s the totality of that mention:

“Many stage races in this country involve only two or three events on a weekend, but the bigger international ones last several weeks and cover as much as a thousand miles in that time. The most famous bicycle race in the world, the Tour de France, is a three-week stage race for professionals.”

Short. Sweet. Gone.







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Something old, something new and blue derailleur housing: the Giant Escape

Giant Escape on Blue Ridge Road, Peoria County, Illinois

In the early 1970s, I bought a coaster-brake axle and some grease and disassembled the hub of my Sears Hawthorne bicycle.

I don’t remember having anything to do with wrenches before that. Instead, I was into woodworking. Specifically, modifying a narrow, triangular treehouse at my grandparents’ house outside Joplin, Missouri. Though built and rebuilt by a cousin and me over the years, the treehouse always fulfilled its design brief: not falling apart under a visitor’s weight.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a good saddle. The Henge Sport is at or near the bottom of Specialized’s line. Note how the horizontal tail light, a Light and Motion Vibe Pro TL, tucks in below the saddle bag.

Similarly, the hub repair met the basic goal of getting me back in the saddle.

This was a significant milestone in my repair journey. Maybe it was because bicycles move and treehouses do not (again, unless they are designed to fail). Bicycles move through the landscape; treehouses are just one part of that landscape.

I wanted to move.

Eventually I became a bicycle mechanic. In other words, I got paid to work on bicycles.

The cassette starts at 11 teeth and bottoms out at 42. To get the SRAM X9 to go along with this range, the B-limit screw was reversed.

Today, I’m in bicycle sales, not in wrenching on them. But I continue to fiddle with my own bicycles. Those are the rules. You get paid to deal with bikes you don’t own so you can spend money dealing with bikes you do own.

Take this Giant Escape, for instance. I picked it up after someone backed over it with a car, maybe a tractor. The frame and fork were unharmed, but the wheels, saddle, handlebars and stem were trashed.

It doesn’t make economic sense to have someone fix an inexpensive bike this far gone. But if you’d been hoping for a platform to experiment with single-chainring drivetrains, well, it doesn’t make sense then, either.

Which is why, of course, I had to do it.

I bought a saddle, chainring, chain, cassette and, after experimenting with a modified Shimano bar-end shifter, SRAM Apex brifters.

The crank arms are around 20 years old, but the Wolf Tooth chainring–designed specifically for 1X drivetrains–is new, as are the Shimano 10-speed chain and cassette.

But it wasn’t a total money pit.

Bushwhacker coworker RJ gave me the rear derailleur. Duncan gave me the crank arms. The wheels came from a Giant Cypress (broken frame). Tires, tubes, cables, pedals and other miscellanea were pulled from here and there in my basement.

Success: a gravel grinder I can call my own.

A third coworker, somebody who really knows bikes inside and out, paid me a huge compliment when he said, “You know, that almost looks like something.”

Yeah, Russ: something that moves.

Posted in Becoming a bicycle, Bushwhacker, Giant | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Cutting through Shimano-SRAM compatibility nonsense

I once came across a claim that a properly sharpened screwdriver was an indispensable tool.

Maybe you’ve done this: File a v-channel into the tip of a screwdriver, which keeps it from slipping off the spring of a single-pivot sidepull brake spring. Then tap the other end of the screwdriver and, voila, the brake moves to one side, which centers the brake shoes on either side of the rim.

If you haven’t done it, it works. It’s brutal, but it works.

Like that idea? Here’s one for derailleurs. And good news, it’s more brutal.

Shimano bar ends don’t normally have enough travel to fully motivate a SRAM derailleur across 10 cassette cogs–the parts feature different cable-pull lengths.

Solution? Remove the cove above the lever of a nine-speed bar-end shifter. Now the lever can point at the sky as well as the ground, and you have something that plays nice (in friction mode) with a SRAM 10-speed rear derailleur.

All it takes is a hacksaw, though if you have the time you might add a little judicious file work for the sake of aesthetics.

Or you can do what I eventually did and install a SRAM Apex brake-shift unit. It doesn’t offer a friction mode but it’s so good otherwise you’d think it was made for the job.


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The Review on Purpose: H.G. Wells’ The Wheels of Chance


The Wheels of Chance, A Bicycling Idyll
By H.G. Wells
Illustrations by J. Ayton Symington
The Macmillan Company, copyright 1896, 321 pgs.

The Wheels of Chance is the story of an English draper’s assistant—a salesperson who sells cloth to housewives–and his adventures on a 10-day cycling holiday in 1895.

Or, as I like to think of it, it’s the story of how a relatively poor salesperson not only gets a 10-day vacation, but also trades up to a much better bicycle at relatively little cost.

The salesperson, Hoopdriver, is a bicycling novice and so his first adventure is the machine itself. One example should suffice:

“Mr. Hoopdriver…resolved to dismount. He tightened the brake, and the machine stopped dead. He was trying to think what he did with his right leg whilst getting off. He gripped the handles and released the brake, standing on the left pedal and waving his right foot in the air. Then—these things take so long in the telling—he found the machine was falling over to the right. While he was deciding upon a plan of action, gravitation appears to have been busy. He was still irresolute when he found the machine on the ground, himself kneeling upon it, and a vague feeling in his mind that again Providence had dealt harshly with his shin. This happened when he was just level with the heathkeeper. The man in the approaching cart stood up to see the ruins better.”

img_7947.jpgHe soon meets the Young Lady in Grey, an accomplished rider and, to judge by her rationals (a divided skirt or bloomers), a forward-thinking New Woman. She is accompanied by “the other man in brown,” the lower-cased predator of the story.

The villain is little different from the predators of our time or any time, though way less handsy. His story begins when he accompanies the Young Lady as she rides away from a home she finds suffocating. (His wife’s story is pretty much limited to the mention of her existence.)

But the Young Lady, being as perceptive as she is young and naïve, quickly realizes she’s in trouble. As our narrator relates:

“She was pale, divided between fear and anger. She perceived she was in a scrape, and tried in vain to think of a way of escape. Only one tangible thing would keep in her mind, try as she would to ignore it. That was the quite irrelevant fact that his head was singularly like an albino cocoanut.”

Don’t worry, the cocoanut is gone halfway through the book–and so is his bike, as Hoopdriver takes it in the rush to help the Young Lady escape. Instead of a heavy old cushion-tired bike, our hero now rides a lightweight safety with air-filled tires.IMG_7948

But while the pair gives the other man in brown the slip, they can’t escape their former lives. Not because of the rescue party chasing them (though now that the cocoanut is out of the picture, they finally are) and not because the narrator tells you it’s going to happen (though he does), but because neither rider has enough money to sustain the pleasant journey from country inn to country inn.

Yes, even in a fictional romance of latter-day knight errantry, money makes the wheels go ‘round—by hook or crook.

Or chance.

The Wheels of Chance was published in the 1890s, the same decade as The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds.

Though Wheels is less known today than Wells’ other books, its publication at the tail-end of the nineteen century couldn’t have been better timed.

Bicycle sales were booming. Bicycle riders traveled far and wide—and pushed for improved roads in Britain and the United States. In 1896, as Carlton Reid mentioned in his excellent 2014 book, Roads Were Not Built For Cars, the League of American Wheelmen was enough of a political force that it “had its own room in the campaign headquarters of the Republican Party.”

Literacy was widespread and attention spans were long. Good thing, too.

IMG_7946The first sentence of
The Wheels of Chance contains 92 words, one parenthetical aside, two opinions set off by long hyphens, an abbreviation nestled within quotation marks and the needless announcement of the beginning of the story.

On the second page the narrator builds up expectations by saying of the protagonist, “Now if you had noticed anything about him, it would have been chiefly to notice how little he was noticeable.” And in case you think, well, he might be a little interesting, the paragraph balloons to 334 words to underscore his invisibility.

In short, the book favors readers who welcome narrative digression. For instance:

“The human nose is, at its best, a needless excrescence. There are those who consider it ornamental, and would regard a face deprived of its assistance with pity or derision; but it is doubtful whether our esteem is dictated so much by a sense of its absolute beauty as by the vitiating effect of a universally prevalent fashion.”

Some might say The Wheels of Chance is a page-turner in the sense that you have to turn pages to read it. Even I might say that. But it’s worth having on the bookshelf.

That’s because it’s a bicycle book of a bicycle time, one of the last documents created in a world without cars, written when roads—the last truly open roads—had room for enthusiastic people in charge of simple machines tracing paths in “voluptuous curves.”

And there is plenty of value in that.

“He did not ride fast, he did not ride straight, an exacting critic might say he did not ride well—but he rode generously, opulently, using the whole road and even nibbling at the footpath. The excitement never flagged. “




Posted in book, History | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Building better signs

It’s fun to ride a gravel bike. Unless, that is, you’re focused on the idea that some roads are really supposed to be blacktop.

Like Santa Fe Road in Hallock Township. 

Back in the spring, workers turned three sections of the road into gravel. Residents along the way probably thought the road would be completed within days.

I did.

Then the sign went up. And dirt rose with every passing vehicle. The obvious solution to the problem?

Fix the sign.

So, instead of Road Construction Ahead, which at this date seems wildly promissory, I offer the following suggestions for a replacement:

  • Roll Up Windows Next Two Miles
  • Abandon All Hope Ye Who Pass This Way
  • Gravel Bike Infrastructure is Big!
  • Indiana Is Working on Something a Couple Hundred Miles Ahead
  • Whatever You Do, Don’t Call Us
  • If There’s One Level of Government You Can Do Without, It’s the Township
  • Welcome to Illinois
Posted in Infrastructure, Report from the road, Sekai 2500 | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment