Saturday, November 19, 2011


As we once again near the time of year when we move our clocks back one hour (Daylight UNsavings Time), most of us bike riders will discover that if we’re not at work or school – IT’S DARK!
Yes, this is true. Because of this fact, it’s time to consider rigging the old bicycle up with some sort of lighting apparatus. Sure, you can go into your favorite local bike shop and purchase the latest, greatest, mega-halogen, mama-there’s-a-train-coming-straight-at-us lamp system for your bike – and this is fine. But, before you go out and enjoy you new system, take a moment to realize how good you’ve got it now-a-days.
Back in the old days – before electricity – no one gave much concern about bike riding after dark. The roads weren’t even paved and it was bad enough trying to miss all of the holes and ruts in the road during the daylight hours when you could see. Besides, there wasn’t anything moving faster than you on the roads anyway, so who really cared?
After the invention of the horseless carriage, it became more common to start seeing paved roads. The first paved roads were simply run over bicycles and cyclists which eventually smoothed out over time. As the number of cyclists dwindled (down to about a dozen nationwide – if I remember correctly), they realized that something needed to be done to bring a halt to the senseless slaughter of bikes and cyclists by the petrol and steam driven contraptions that were grinding them into 19th Century pavement. Thus was born the League of American Wheelmen – an organization paying tribute to fellow cyclists who had been wheeled into the ground by bigger, more powerful wheels. The L.A.W.’s main focus of the time was to fight for roads to be paved with material like stones or pavers or some sort of petroleum based substance – and to hopefully protect the endangered few remaining cyclists that were left.
One of the first things that the new group did was to hit on the fact that most of the fatal “paving” of bikes and cyclists occurred during the dark, and maybe, just maybe, if the bicycles could be seen at night, then the “paving” wouldn’t be happening. (Editor’s note – “Paving” is just Bertha’s nice way of saying, “Ran down like a dog and ground into asphalt.”) Herbert Ulysses Bendix, or “Hub” as he was commonly referred to, was the first cyclist to attempt lighted night riding. Hub devised a plan to put a thin coat of kerosene on his bicycle rims and then set them on fire as he rode at night. His plan definitely made him quite visible to other vehicles and at first seemed like it might be a success. Unfortunately, the wheels on his bicycle were made of wood. Hub didn’t take too many long trips while riding at night.
A few years later my great-grandfather, Huey Ashtabula, invented the candelabrum handlebar. The handlebar had twenty ornamental candle holders welded across the top. He then inserted twenty candles and, after they were lit, the resulting light could be seen for several hundred feet. Great-Grandpa Huey only made one trip with his candle-handlebar bicycle. Ever since then he has been on display at the Wax Museum of American in Dodge City, Kansas.
Later, electricity was discovered and the possibilities seemed endless. As more and more bicycles were fitted with electric lights on their handlebars and front fenders, less and less met with an untimely “paving” incident. Of course, the number of cyclists strangled by the extension cords rose drastically. This prompted the League of American Wheelmen to lobby for someone to invent the battery.
Sometime during the 1940’s or 50’s, someone invented the bicycle generator. This was a little gizmo that you could mount on your fork or seat stay which would grind against your tire and, as long as you were pedaling, you’d get a little faint light shining out a couple of feet in front of you. I’m not sure, but I think this was invented by one of the major tire manufacturers so that your tires would wear out faster.
Well, here we are now in the age of computers and LEDs and more technology than we know what to do with. Now, for a mere four or five hundred dollars you can get a few thousand watts of stadium power lighting mounted right to your front fender. Gosh, wouldn’t Hub and Grandpa Huey be proud of what they started!
(What? You don’t have a front fender?)
Enjoy the ride!

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