I Brake For Nothing

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Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1896. Interesting little item that puts this prior post into clearer technological perspective.

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Hoo boy, how we laughed at those effete northeastern wheelmen and their namby-pamby braking systems.
I know absolutely nowt about the history of bike-braking technology, so I have to fall back on Wikipedia here:

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"The earliest bicycles braked using the rider's leg force to resist the pedals, requiring no additional mechanism. However, larger wheels meant less leverage and thus worse brakes. Further, riders were often thrown head-first from high-wheeled penny-farthing bicycles [see image right], so when coasting down hills, riders often put their legs over the handlebars so they would be launched feet-first instead of head-first. However, this meant removing the rider's feet from the pedals, and so any braking required a mechanical brake."

After that came "spoon brakes," which is what they're talking about here:
"The spoon brake consists of a pad (often leather) which is pressed onto the top of the front tyre. These were almost always rod-operated by a right-hand lever. . . . Perhaps more so than any other form of bicycle brake, the spoon brake is sensitive to road conditions and increases tyre wear dramatically."

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Strikes me that there was almost certainly a "cool" factor at work here: No self-respecting scorcher wanted to be seen with a brake on their machine. It's like the way you never see rough, tough Harley men wearing helmets—with the exception of bad-ass storm trooper-style skullcap helmets, of course.
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"Somerset" is of course an archaic spelling of somersault. Not many people know this, but that's whence the English writer W. Somerset Maughm (né Reginald Sinjin Staffleback) derived his nom de plume. "Look, I can do a somerset, mom!" he was frequently heard to exclaim as a child, and it just sort of stuck.
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This pressing of one's foot against the wheel strikes me as offering pretty faint hope for stopping in time to avert trouble, though it's good to know it saved rubber.

The brake-as-useless-adjunct-to-the-wheel doctrine has recently come back into vogue with the craze for fixed-gear bicycles. These things are cyclical, see?

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