To understand the history of suspension bicycles, you have to look way before modern mt. bikes, past the goofy spring forks balloon-tire bikes and head back some 120 years to the early safety bicycle era. There you’ll find the Pierce Cushion Line.
To be fair, George Pierce wasn’t the first person to add mechanical cushioning to his frames, but he was one of the first to do it well. One look at this 1904 Pierce women’s bicycle and you can see he had suspension nailed down pretty well. Over the years I’ve ridden many of the aforementioned ballooner springer systems and they run the gamut from moderately helpful to downright dysfunctional. Some of the earliest mt. bike shocks weren’t much better. Not so here. The “Pierce Hygenic” rear shock seems to actually work. Based on stationary tests I think it would do the trick of absorbing road shock quite well. The front fork, which resembles a leaf spring, is a wonder both in its functionality and beauty. It has a tightness which keeps it from bouncing about like a Schwinn knee-action fork. When it does flex it moves smoothly and has an amazing amount of travel.
Both suspensions lack the showy component of the later balloon-tire versions, another sign that these were meant to be functional, not just ornamental. These were meant to smooth out the roads of the era, often little more than rutty dirt paths. Pierce’s suspension not only made riding more comfortable, it made it possible.
…Or the horse. You choose. At more than 50 pounds, armor does come to mind, though.
The Swiss, ingenius folk that they are, figured out a long time ago that a bicycle could drastically increase the mobility of their troops. Where a foot soldier can walk 20-25 miles a day, a pedaling soldier can cover double that or more. Thus the Militarvelo was born. The idea must have had some credence since one or another version of the MO-05 was produced from 1905 to 1989 (this particular one was made in 1943).
Riding a Militarvelo is reminiscent of the old British rod brake bikes, though the quality is noticeably better and the bike fits better. That likely has something to do with the smaller 26″ wheels as opposed to the DL-1’s 28 inchers. As heavy as the bike is, it doesn’t feel lethargic of loafy. On a slight downhill there is a feeling of, dare I say, efficiency, as it glides quietly along, out-coasting most anything on the road. That might have something to do with shear weight and momentum but I contribute it to the bike’s Swiss bearings which I swear feel smoother and more precise than the Brit or American equivalents.
Like a Swiss Army knife, the bike is loaded with extra goodies, all which all stock. There is a front-wheel dynamo, head and tail light, frame pump, rear carrier, and three different storage areas (a canvas handlebar bag and a leather frame case and leather wedge bag behind the seat tube which holds a set of 4 bicycle-specific tools). There’s also a bell, a wheel lock, and leather saddle and mudflap. A set of riding googles were hanging from the canvas bag when I got the bike. I don’t know whether they’re original issue or not, but I do like the look of them and think they’re period correct so there they stay.
Maybe my favorite part of riding the Militarvelo is choosing how to stop; there’s a spoon brake that pushes down on the front tire, a rear coaster brake, and also a rear drum brake. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself trying different variants of the three to see which I like the best. The only sure conclusion I’ve come to is, when going down a steep hill the answer is always, “all three.”
I try to air out and air up the contents of The Wheelhouse at least once a year. Often it happens if the bikes are heading off to a local show or display. This year it was just a random day. Still fun, though. Here are some photos.
From the nether regions of the Buzz Bomb basement workshop, a fine example of “Donkey Wheel”.
I know, I know. I should be working and not goofing off, but I’m so easily entertained by sounds from my truing stand.
I’ve worked on tons of balloon-tire bikes and my fair of Schwinns in particular, but this is the first Whizzer I’ve ever tackled. Thankfully the engine reputedly runs so I don’t have to mess with any of that (the specific workings of the combustion engine elude me). Instead, I’m left figuring out a better way to attach the rear carrier, getting a crank that clears the engine and overall giving the bike a good overhauling.
After all that I might even try to ride it before I hand it back over to its owner. I hear Whizzers can move along at a decent clip so I’m looking forward to seeing what this old gal has in store for me.”
Over the last 4 years we’ve certainly had a lot of bikes at the annual sale. Beyond the stuff we run across in our daily travels we’ve been selling through a collection of roughly 200 bicycles from fellow collector Leo Knuf. We’ll again be selling a mix of our stuff and Leo’s including vintage balloon-tire and middleweight bikes, three speed British bikes, old racing and touring bikes and a smattering of BMX, Stingrays, folding bikes and other strange stuff.
If you’ve read this blog even a little you pretty much know what goes on around here. Restoration, refurbishing, hours and hours of polishing and shining…Generally, things that make two-wheelers better than they were. Call it “Bike Love” if you want.
So, the opposite of that would be, what? Bike degeneration? Bike destruction? Bike hate? Though we cringe at such terms, things have been known to slip through the cracks and mistakes happen.
Such would be the case with this early 1970’s Schwinn Suburban-cum-popsicle. The short story is that storms moved into the eastern Sierra last week. Snow and general cruddiness ensued. No worries, though; everything was tucked safely away. …Or at least that’s what we thought until we walked around the side of the shop today and found this poor Suburban sitting under an eave.
A small part of us likes the whole wintery feel of it. You have to admit it would make a great Christmas card. That is, if you can get past the fact that there’s a bike there somewhere. A really decent little town bike that was ostensibly purchased so that it could be cared for and put into better shape.
“The best laid plans”, and all that…
This ride has always been a favorite, in no small part because the halfway point is a great stop. Snowshoe Thompson built his home against a little stream which burbles through Diamond Valley near Woodfords, Ca. There are three (count ’em, three) monuments to ol’ Snowshoe on the site, just so nobody ever forgets where he lived.
Fluff and I made the loop a couple weeks ago, riding a 30th Anniversary Della Santa and 1984 Fuji Touring III, respectively. It was an unfair match-up from the get-go, as the “3” had 15 pounds on the DS.
Done and delivered today is one refinished Rossin. Roland Della Santa did a great re-aligning the frame and Jim Allen from The Cyclesmiths gets credit for the paint. The bike now features Porta Catena, always a neato upgrade on racers drilled for the chain port.