Thursday, October 03, 2013

The good ol' future...

In a post elsewhere I found this bicycle from the 1890s with a one-piece aluminum frame:


That thing wouldn't look at all out of place parked up among the hipster fixies out front of Twenty Tap on a SoBro Saturday afternoon. Well, except for the archaic headlamp, but he'd get mondo cool points for that.

Large-scale aluminum use didn't come into play until the very tail end of the 19th Century, with the Hall–Héroult process of refining and the industrial-scale electricity production that made it possible. Just a few years before that bicycle was made, refined aluminum was more expensive than silver; using it for the capstone of the Washington Monument was an extravagance that cost like a war pension.

Think about how giddily high-tech that bike was when it came out! It would be like, oh, I don't know... walking into a store and buying a bike made from materials reserved for jet fighters and F1 cars only a few years earlier.

27 comments:

staghounds said...

I wonder what new product this year will still serve its intended purpose in a century?

Tam said...

Your basic safety bicycle is a remarkably durable artifact.

Tam said...

You could hop on that thing in 1899, stuff your S&W Hand Ejector in your belt, pedal a hundred and some years into the future and still be reasonably well-equipped. :D

Paul said...

You could at least travel efficiently. Long as the roads where dry.

We do not appreciate the governments benefit of the roads we have today.

Still, that is one cool velocipede.

Armed Texan said...

It would be like, oh, I don't know... walking into a store and buying a bike made from materials reserved for jet fighters and F1 cars only a few years earlier.

I assume you are referring to carbon fiber. It will be interesting to see if carbon fiber holds up as well as this aluminum model did.

Tam said...

Armed Texan,

It won't, and nobody suggests it will.

On the other hand, I don't think I'd want to hit bumps very hard on a hundred-year-old cast aluminum frame, either.

Rich in Ohio said...

If you ever find yourself in western Ohio, the Bicycle Museum of America is in New Bremen. It's fascinating to see all of the different ways bike builders in the past approached things like power transmission, braking, steering, etc. As a bonus, the Armstrong Air and Space Museum is in nearby Wapakoneta.

Firehand said...

As I recall, part of the British Crown Jewels is made of aluminum; stuff was scary-expensive back then, and stayed expensive for a long time.

As you note, it took serious advances in tech to bring that price down.

Scott J said...

I shoot an AL frame 1911. Since JMB designed in steel I often wonder if I'm beating the thing to death running it in IDPA.

The guy I'm gonna get to do the trigger on the Charles Daly if i can ever quit blowing the money on other stuff thinks the AL won't hold up.

Tam said...

Scott J,

It'll wear out faster. (Also, your frame is machined from a forging, while the bike frame above is investment cast.)

perlhaqr said...

Tangential factoid: Carbon fiber (or at least the resin they use to hold it together) is light sensitive. The ever so kewl thing for cars is raw carbon fiber, and I'll admit, I think it's pretty, too. But here in NM, after a few years of exposure to admittedly aggressive sunlight, it comes apart.

ASM826 said...

There are plenty of early aluminum framed bicycles from the 1970s and 1980s that I would not want to hit a hard bump on either. Some of the early aluminum frames were epoxied at the joints. And forks were often made of steel for reliability's sake because having a catastrophic failure in a fork was likelier to result in death or very serious injuries than a crack at the bottom bracket.

Of course, if this is truly a solid frame, than the hollow tubing used in the 20th Century bikes would be much weaker.

Sendarius said...

@ASM826:

If I remember my engineering classes correctly, a pipe of the same outside diameter as a solid rod of the same material is actually stiffer.

So for some values of "stronger", the hollow tube wins, as well as being MUCH lighter.

Fred said...

Ti and carbon fiber bikes are pretty much the standard top end stuff now, and Al is almost standard.

Matt G said...

I was surprised to see that an 1890s bicycle would have been made of aluminum. Must have been some super wealthy guy's toy, right? Not necessarily. Aluminum was still pretty expensive in the late 19th century, but if you think about it, that bicycle was cutting edge city transportation. Sure, cars and motorcycles existed, the same as rocketships and jetpacks and hovercars do, today. But the confluence of events in the 1890s made the bike king:
macadamized roads, vulcanized rubber, industrialized workforce, urban living, reduced cost of manufacture....

So, while that was a high-end bike of the day, it was no more remarkable than current cars made of carbon fiber and unobtainium frames and bodies, with aluminum alloy engine blogs and magnesium wheels. (Who was the moron who thought THAT was a good idea, BTW? Ever seen Mg wheels catch fire? It's... spectacular.)

Thanks for the look at history.

Matt G said...

Er, engine blocks. I guess my subconscious is telling me that I should write something.

Will said...

Scott J:

Chuck Taylor has a Colt Commander that has at least 20k rounds through it (as of 10+years ago, IIRC). It helps that the hard anodizing is harder than the slide's steel, by a significant margin.

Tam said...

Ever since his Glock "test", I tend to treat anything from Chuck Taylor with a grain of salt the size of a house.

Tam said...

(That being said, I have no trouble believing 20k+ out of an alloy-framed 1911, assuming a reasonable spring replacement schedule.)

Mike_C said...

Looks like a very interesting link (bookmarked for later reading), thanks!

@Firehand: I seem to recall mention of an aluminum and gold helmet as part of the ceremonial military regalia of some European royal back when. Can't seem to find it on a cursory Googling though. "AluminIum."

Played around with a welded aluminum frame for a while but finally decided that the "steel is real" crowd does have a point. Then again, I have bar-cons on the (sadly neglected) commuter, top-mount thumbshifters on the mountain bike, and downtube shifters on the road bikes, so what do I know. SO last millenium.

Anonymous said...

Wear Wool
Sit on leather
Ride lugged steel

MACVS2

Will said...

Tam,
slightly off topic, but I just started reading this book about motorcycles:

"The Perfect Vehicle", by Melissa H. Pierson. Good writer, so far.

Tam said...

Will,

It's a good book; I recommend it.

Scott J said...

"That being said, I have no trouble believing 20k+ out of an alloy-framed 1911, assuming a reasonable spring replacement schedule"

At my current usage rate that gives me something between 5 and 10 years :)

The friend and I had the discussion because he had to re-stake the plunger tube for me.

Of course that might have had more to do with Taurus' quality control than the frame material.

Scott J said...

Matt G, I've experienced that. We tossed an air cooled VW block with a hole in it from a slung rod in a bonfire. Quite the show.

Kristophr said...

Paul:

Those macadam roads were first paid for with money from bicyclists.

Later, they learned they could lobby governments into doing it for them.

They did have quite a snit fit when Model Ts started using their macadam roads, taking up lots of their space. The curiosity about these newfangled self-powered quadracycles turned to anger pretty fast.

AM said...

For those worried about the longevity of carbon fiber, you can spring for a titanium frame. Maybe not as high tech as a stealth fighter, but nothing says old school cool like the SR-71.