The Baron Drais

“A wheeled vehicle without a horse
is a thing so preposterous to the eyes of
aldermen that it must be forbidden altogether.”
The New York Herald Article
circa 1800

first-bike 1800s

The Baron’s Laufmaschine displayed at the Kurpfälzisches Museum
in Heidelberg, Germany

Early in 1817 the Baron built out of cherry tree wood and softwood a “running machine”, which he called a Draisine or a Laufmaschine. The machine was more pony-sized than horse-sized so that the riders feet reached the ground for propulsion.

This early bicycle consisted of a saddle seat, handlebars and a steerable front wheel. Testing and improving it throughout the next few years, the Baron finished his invention and patented the running machine in January of 1818.

Almost overnight the Baron’s Laufmaschine became a sensation. News of the running machine spread westward across Europe. Enthusiasm grew among a small circle of young aristocratic men known as “dandies”. Demonstrating one’s manly abilities was key for “dandies”, and the Laufmaschine was a novelty too challenging and exciting for any dandy to pass up.

Draisine bike 1817The Laufmaschine name was a bit foreign to British, so they renamed it the “dandy horse”. Before long, every young gentleman who aspired to the dandy ideal owned a dandy horse. A basic dandy horse in 1818 cost the equivalent of about $900 in today’s money, which made it a rather expensive plaything. The best of these were constructed by carriage builders; the more crude ones were cobbled together by blacksmiths.

As quickly as it appeared, the dandy horse disappeared. By 1820, the price of oats was back down to pre-1815 levels, and horses were readily available to those who could afford them. It wouldn’t be until the mid-1860s that someone had the idea to put pedals on the front wheel of a dandy horse, giving it an improved means of locomotion, as well as a scrub brake for the rear wheel; an improvement for stopping one from crashing it into a hedge.

So, what happened to the Baron Drais?  He went on to also invent the earliest typewriter with a keyboard (1821). He later developed an early stenograph machine which used 16 characters (1827), a device to record piano music on paper (1812), the first meat grinder, and a wood-saving cooker including the earliest hay chest.

The Baron had the misfortune to belong to the losing political party when the Prussians took over Baden, and had his title and property stripped. At age 66, on December 10, 1851, he died penniless and forgotten. 

Without the Baron’s aristocratic plaything he invented, the history of the bicycle might have been very different, and certainly less colorful without the creative endeavors of the Baron Drais.

Shine On

read about, Bicycles in America

Ancestor of all Bicycles

“Truly, the bicycle is the
most influential piece of
product design ever.”
Hugh Pearman

 

mount-tambora-indonesia

1815 Eruption of Mount Tambora, Indonesia

It was the early-18th century in Western Europe when man first began experimenting with human-powered vehicles. In the beginning, these vehicles consisted of four or more wheels and could accommodate up to seven passengers. Much different than carts or carriages, they had handles or ropes for men on foot to push or pull. They were attempts at replacing horses with humans.

Even back in the 1800s, the purchase of a horse was expensive for the working man. No fit and wealthy gentleman would be without a horse for pleasure riding. They usually had horses for drawing carriages, but most affluent European men owned horses for leisure riding.

That all changed in 1815 when the world was thrown into turmoil. A turmoil not from a war or an economic crisis, but because of a small island over six thousand miles from Europe in the South Pacific.

On April 10, 1815, halfway between Asia and Australia, Mount Tambora erupted in Indonesia. It was to become the largest volcanic explosion in recorded history as well as claiming the most fatalities. Mount Tambora’s eruption killed well over 71,000 of its people. This once silent volcano erupted with the power equivalent to 1,000 atomic explosions, blasting about 38 cubic miles of ash, pumice and other matter into the atmosphere.

Ashes reflected the sun’s light and cooled the earth’s surface. Temperatures dropped below freezing in July from Mexico to Vienna. Unexpected snowstorms and rainstorms brought travel to a stop. Farms and grain stores were washed away. Crops failed. Livestock died by the tens of thousands. The world was gripped by the worst famine in a century, and infectious diseases such as typhus was rampant. The year 1816 would become known as “the year without a summer.”

karl-wilhelm-friedrich-christian-ludwig-drais

Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Christian Ludwig Drais

With all the soot and ash engulfing Europe, there was one ray of hope to this gloomy disaster. He was a 31-year-old aristocrat, an expert in forestry, an enthusiastic and passionate horseman as well as an avid inventor from Baden, Germany. His name was Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Christian Ludwig Drais, otherwise known as Baron Drais von Sauerbronn. Baron Drais’ beloved horses died from environmental causes from the volcano eruption, and set the Baron on a journey to invent the bicycle.

It’s not known for sure what the impetus was for the Baron to think about the problems confronting the horses, and how those factors affected gentlemen who rode for pleasure. But somehow, his grief from losing his horses, led him to thinking about the basic form of the horse and its accommodations for a rider. He began with experimenting with a wooden and wrought iron frame and a pair of carriage wheels in tandem. The result would be recognized by anyone today as, the ancestor of all bicycles.

Shine On

read more about, The Baron Drais

Schwinn Lady

“Cycling has done more to
emancipate women
than anything else in the world.”
Susan B Anthony

gilbertbikeshop

 

My passion for bikes was passed onto my son. A decade ago, I owned a bright orange Mongoose Mountain bike and my son had his first dream bike he hand-picked from numerous models, a Maverick 18-speed mountain bike, his pride and joy.

When my son went off to college, although he had outgrown the Maverick bike, he wouldn’t part with it and brought it with him to his university. He was heartbroken when it was stolen. I helped him buy another bike which was subsequently stolen. Instead of purchasing another new bike, I gave him my Mongoose Mountain bike to use. Luckily this bike wasn’t stolen but by the time I got this bike back it was trashed from him riding it hard on mountain trails.

I decided it was time to get myself a new bike. I thought long and hard about what kind of bike I wanted and I remembered how much as a kid I loved riding my Schwinn Sting Ray.  So began my quest for a Schwinn Sting Ray bike.

My first place to look was Craigslist, but I soon discovered how expensive and how desirable these bikes had become. Craigslist led me to eBay, at which point I learned that a great deal of these bikes where halfway across the country. All I wanted was to find an inexpensive bike that I didn’t have to ship to California from Omaha.

After several days looking on eBay, I discovered eBay Classified, and found a bike located 75 miles from me out in Acton, California.

1969 Schwinn My Fair LadyWhen I first saw the photo of the bike, I knew instantly the bike was vintage. The funny thing was, it was the spitting image of my bike from the 1960s. After speaking with the owner I found out she had purchased it used in the 1990’s for her daughter and she didn’t know how old it was. It had been in her garage for the past fifteen years. After a long telephone conversation with this nice woman, I decided to make the long drive out to Acton to check out the bike.

The bike was not in pristine condition, but it was rideable and the price was right, $50.  However, when I got the bike home, my husband decided that it needed some major cleaning up. At which point hubby began taking it completely apart and the cleaning and polishing began.

Excited about my new bike I began voraciously researching information about this bike and found websites that allowed me to plug in the serial number and find out the exact month and year it was built. I quickly learned it was a 1969 My Fair Lady model built in August and originally sold in Massachusetts for $49.95.

My husband suggested I call some local bike shops and find a replacement seat for the bike, even though the seat was in good condition.

I found a few local bike shops that had Schwinn replica seats. The bike shop I decided to deal with was Gilbert’s Bicycles in Torrance, California. Gilbert, the owner has been in business for over 30 years. He’s extremely knowledgeable about bikes, especially vintage Schwinn bikes. He was also the most personable when I called all the bike shops.

Gilbert’s shop is five miles from me, so I drove over immediately to buy a replacement seat. After speaking with Gilbert and telling him about my purchase, he showed me a vintage Schwinn bike he recently had powder-coat painted. It was a beautiful cobalt blue and the smoothest powder-coat finish I had laid my hands on. He suggested I bring in the frame and he would get me a quote. Meanwhile, I purchased a white sparkle replica seat and returned home to tell my husband about the powder-coated Schwinn.

After a week of sanding, soaking and attempts to put back the shine in the Sting-Ray, it became apparent that the bike needed more than a little elbow grease. My husband wanted me to have the bike frame and chain guard powder-coated and have all the chrome redone. So, back to Gilbert I went. At this point, Gilbert and I had become quick friends and he began calling me, Schwinn Lady.

My second trip to Gilbert was to get a price on the powder-coating.  After discussing the quote with my husband, we decided to get the frame powder-coated. That led to a third, fourth, fifth and sixth visit which I ended up having Gilbert do the re-chroming of the handle bars, which led to the re-chroming of the sissy bar and fenders, which led to the re-chroming of the crank and the seventh visit was to get the kick-stand, tire rims and spokes re-chromed.

My $50.00 bargain bike quickly turned into a bottomless bike pit. The cost to refurbish my $50 bike ended up costing around $1,000 when the bike was completely restored to better than new condition.

Here’s some before and after photos of sections of the bike:

Rusted Crank Rail   Rusted Rear Fender   Rusted Handle Bars

restored crankshaft   restored rearfender   restored newbikefull

It took exactly a month of working closely with Gilbert to restore the Schwinn. Most of the restoration was completed by Gilbert or the people that did the re-chroming and powder-coating. However, I am so grateful to my husband for his hard work and determination to help me get the details, such as all the custom screws and bolts cleaned and polished for my bike. We both spent a great deal of time getting the fine details just right. The bike looks better than new and rides quiet and smooth.

On my first hour ride along the beach, I was stopped by several people who were excited to see a restored vintage Schwinn Sting Ray bike they grew up riding. Although it was a pricey endeavor restoring this children’s bike, I would do it all over again. You can’t put a price on the happiness that the bike provides this vintage Schwinn Lady.

Shine On

read my post about the history of the Schwinn Sting-Ray at, Sting-Ray Story

That First Ride

“Nothing compares
to the simple pleasure of
riding a bike.”
John F. Kennedy

 

First Bike

 

Bicycles have been part of my life since my first tricycle I received on my third birthday. I was so proud of this shiny red tricycle, which came with its very own miniature stop sign. I remember riding my bike around the neighborhood all day until it was dark out and my mom would find me and bring me home.

I guess it was the freedom experienced when riding a bicycle which attracted me the most. As a toddler, you’re at the mercy and control of everyone. Riding my bike gave me the power and freedom to go anywhere my tiny feet and legs could take me.

Hand me down SchwinnMy tricycle days were short lived when I discovered two wheelers. My much older sister and brother would fly by me on my short slow tricycle. So, within a year after receiving my beloved trike, I taught myself how to ride my sister’s two-wheeler. At four years old, not tall enough to reach the pedals while sitting on the bike seat, I learned to balance myself on the foot pedals. Stopping the bike was a challenge but I quickly had my technique down pat. My sister’s hand-me-down large red Schwinn bike was where my serious love of biking began.

When we relocated to California, my parents bought me my dream bike to ride to school. This green, Schwinn Sting Ray, My Fair Lady model was my first very own bike.

In my teens I discovered speed bikes. I read and researched about these modern fast lightweight bikes which fueled the astonishing “Bike Boom” of the 1970s.  I saved up for one I had my eye on at Montgomery Ward. This Japanese $100, black slick 10-speed became my pride and joy. I learned to fine tune the gears and brakes. Daily after riding, I would spend a good hour cleaning and polishing my bike. I even had bought myself a small pack with tools that attached under the back of the seat.

First Ten Speed

 

One school morning I went to the garage to get my bike and it was gone. In tears and feeling like someone had kicked me in the gut, I called my mom at work. I was crying hysterically and she kept asking me who died? I was finally able to tell her my bike was gone. She told me to call my older brother, which I immediately did.

Within an hour, my brother showed up with my bike in tow. My brother had drove around the neighborhood and spotted the bike thief. He knew immediately it was my bike from the shiny spokes and tool pack under the seat. When he stopped the grubby looking kid on my bike and asked where he got the nice bike, the kid stammered and couldn’t answer. At that point, my brother jumped out of his car, grabbed the boy and told him to hand over the bike or he’d break every bone in his body. The kid dropped the bike and ran. My brother’s actions are not exactly something someone would do today, unless you want to get shot. But, I’m forever grateful to my heroic big brother for getting my bike back so quickly in one piece.

In the new millennium, I moved on from 10-speeds to mountain bikes. My current bike with pearlized white paint finish, is a Boss Two Infinity 7-speed and what they call a hybrid which is part speed bike part mountain bike. It’s extremely smooth riding and comfortable. Of course, I’ve tricked it out with my black sheep skin seat, handlebar pack, black sturdy rear rack, CatEye Padrone bike computer as well as front and rear lights.

Boss Two

I’ve had numerous 10-speeds and mountain bikes through the years but my first bike the Schwinn, My Fair Lady, Sting Ray was like a first love and nothing I ever rode or owned would ever match that feeling of true freedom on that first ride.

Shine On

my cycling saga continues with, Schwinn Lady

 

 

Have A Whale of A Valentine’s Day

“Today is Valentine’s Day.
– Or as men like to call it,
Extortion Day!”
Jay Leno

 

Redondo Beach Gray Whale Valentines Day 2020

This is the season for all the migrating Gray Whales. Today a local photographer, Tim Hammond shot this Gray Whale spouting its heart shaped wishes.

Shine On