Thursday, February 07, 2008

R.I.P. Sheldon Brown (July 14, 1944 - February 3, 2008)

OK, I know, every bicycling blog, organization or spammer on the planet has already beat me to the punch with a report, commentary or diatribe related the passing last weekend of the late, great Sheldon Brown into the great bicycle track in the sky.

But, as you regular readers of Underground Science (all three of you -- you know who you are) know, this blog is not the place to look for the scoop, for late-breaking news, or for information found here first and nowhere else.

Nope, Underground Science prides itself on getting the dirt to you last, or at least, well after some other folks have already posted on it about a thousand times. We like to be an entertaining and moderately useful secondary source. You can keep your primary sources in your a href tags, thank you very much!

So, in that spirit, I present to you some of my favorite aspects of the Sheldon Brown website.

First off, he was a pioneer in many fields of bicycling... including, as you may have noticed from the title photo of this post, riding a tandem solo, from the rear seat. He, in fact, built many tandems by combining two separate bicycles into one, and describes how to do so here. As he says, "If you are not already a tinkerer who can fix most anything that can go wrong with a bike, you are not ready to build a tandem. This design is best suited to teams with small stokers, because a large or even medium-sized stoker will likely feel cramped by the short rear top tube. In addition, the single-bicycle parts may not give good service with a heavy team."

He goes over in detail why you would want to do such a thing in the first place (ride a tandem, that is):

Why Ride A Tandem?

Riding a normal, single-rider bicycle is a very rewarding experience, but a tandem bicycle adds a whole new dimension to cycling. Different tandemists choose the long bike for different reasons:

* A tandem allows two cyclists of differing strength and ability to ride together, pleausurably. The faster rider doesn't need to wait for the slower one; the slower rider doesn't need to struggle to try to keep up with the faster rider.

* A tandem turns the basically solitary, individualistic activity of cycling into an mutual experience that may be shared by a couple.

* A tandem allows handicapped people who couldn't otherwise ride a bicycle to share in the joy of cycling.

* A tandem can allow a parent to share cycling at an adult level of speed and distance with a child.

* A tandem is the ultimate rush for cyclists who enjoy the sensation of high-speed cycling.

Whatever your reason for choosing (or considering) a tandem, this article will attempt to cover some of the things that every tandemist should learn.

Sheldon also was a huge advocate of fixed-gear bicycles, as well as fixed-gear tandems! And, as an experienced tandem Captain, he is well aware that a tandem is, in fact, a bicycle ridden by _two_ people:

The rear rider is commonly known as the "stoker." Other names for the rear rider include "navigator", "tailgunner" and "rear admiral" or "R.A." The rear rider is not a "passenger", but is an equal participant. The stoker has two main responsibilities:

* The stoker serves mainly as a motor. Since the stoker is not called upon to control the bike, this rider should be able to actually generate more power than the same rider would on a single bike. Depending on the strength and endurance of the stoker, this may take the form of a steady output or may be held in reserve. If the stoker is acting as a "reserve," it is OK to take it easy for general cruising, so long as the stoker can help out with a burst of power for the climbs. Since starting up on a tandem is a bit trickier than on a single, the stoker should apply as much smooth power as possble when starting up, to get the bike up to maneuvering speed quickly.

* The stoker's other major responsibility is a negative one: The stoker must not attempt to steer! Unpredictable weight shifts on the part of the stoker can make the captain's job much harder, and can lead to crashes, in extreme cases. The stoker should keep in line with the centerline of the bicycle, and lean with it as it leans through corners. When the stoker needs to shift position on the saddle, or adjust a toe strap, or take a drink, it is vital that they do so without disturbing the equilibrium of the bicycle. These activities should not be attempted at all while the captain is dealing with tricky traffic situations or narrow spaces.

The stoker can also do a bit of back rubbing now and then, as well as taking photograhs, singing encouraging songs, reading maps, etc.

He also includes advice on starting from a dead stop on a tandem, including "common incorrect techniques," including "The Cowboy Mount, which involves standing next to the bike, putting one foot on a pedal, then swinging the other leg over the saddle while the bicycle is in motion. Try this on a tandem, and you'll kick your stoker in the head!"

Sheldon Brown's most prized innovations often were released on April 1st. Since that's a little ways off, however, I'd like to present some of my favorites here...

If you've got a tandem, you might be tempted to ride it for a long while. Perhaps even overnight. But, you've already got the weight of two people on the bike. Why add extra stuff? Go credit-card touring! And if you do so, you might want to use Sheldon Brown's extra-light drilled-titanium credit card.

But, say you've got a baby... not a kid, but an actual baby, much too small to hide away in a trailer, much less plop on a seat and expect it to pedal. Then, you'd need a carrababy, to allow you to comfortably carry your child on the bicycle.

And finally, if adding a stoker to the back of your bicycle (by home-building a single-speed rear tandem addition onto it, of course) doesn't quite give you the speed increase you desire, if you travel mainly in north/south directions, you could use a Geomagnetic Booster device!

Rest in peace, Sheldon. You will be missed. Especially on April 1st. :-)


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