Mystery antique bike tool – can you guess its purpose?

Mystery Bike Tool

Mystery Bike Tool

Hanging out at our local community run bike shop, Bikeworks North, has given me many opportunities to glimpse the diversity of bicycle technology new and old. While it’s neat to occasionally see somebody wander in with a skookum carbon fiber bike (that cost more than I could sell my internal organs for on the black market), what I enjoy most is getting to see some of the odd avenues that bicycle manufacturers have wandered down in the past.

I freely admit that it doesn’t take much to impress me. As a 40-something year old whippersnapper who has really only been sucked into the cycling history vortex in the past couple of years, I have a lot to learn. The internet is, of course, a wealth of easily accessible information but you can’t beat the opportunity to actually to see something in person.

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be in the shop when an older gentleman brought in the tool shown in the opening photo. This fellow is 85 years old and operated a bike shop decades ago. I didn’t catch when he shut down his business, but judging by the NOS parts he donated during an earlier visit, it was likely in the early 80’s. He commented that as a small shop he couldn’t compete with the volume discounts that the suppliers started offering to the big stores. It interesting to chat with him about the cycling shops that have come and gone in Edmonton long before I moved here.

On this day, he had brought in an old bike tool and he challenged the volunteers present to guess what it was used for. I was well out of my depth here. It was looked to be double-ratcheting, tightening something with both the up and downstrokes of the lever, which reminded me of a cider press I rented once. However, I couldn’t guess what would require that on a bicycle.


Here is the other side of the tool.

He also brought in a child’s CCM bike dating from the late 40’s or early 50’s. This was nifty to look at all on its own. In the photos below, an observant reader might be able to spot a clue to the intended use of the tool.



This use of the mystery tool dates back to the dawn of cycling and something of its sort was used with the iconic penny-farthings. I imagine it wasn’t much used by the 1940s but was still a requirement for working on children’s bicycles as well as for baby carriages. Still stumped? The next photos should clear things up.


Pneumatic tires have been around since the late 1800’s but before that solid rubber tires were used and were tightened onto the rim by means of an internal wire. The mystery tool was used to tighten the wire. While the cushioning effect of the air-filled tires made them immediately popular, the durable and puncture proof solid tires remained in use for some applications. Even today you can still buy modern varieties of airless tires. The photo above shows a tire that wasn’t properly fit to the wheel.


The tire material was sold in coils and you would simply cut off the length you needed for a particular wheel.

My wife doesn’t share my bike interests, but is tolerant when I pester her to look at something I find interesting. When I showed her the photos of the tire machine, I was surprised when she said she had seen one before. Her grandfather was a cobbler in Saskatchewan who also repaired bike wheels and she remembered seeing a tool like this in his shop. She had also seen the coils of tire material there. When I mentioned that these sorts of tires had been used on baby carriages she said that there were carriages handing from the rafters of his shop.

I snooped around the internet for a bit, and while I didn’t find an example of this particular type of machine being used, I did find some examples of different machines being used for the same job. Here is a video of one in use.

I doubt I’ll ever have occasion to use a device like this but it was fascinating to learn about this old style of tire. Maybe I need to add a penny-farthing to my small fleet.




Finishing the Errandonnee: Booze, Books, Yoda and much more!

I’ve been busily going about my normal, everyday cycling life and whenever I remembered, I’ve documented my errands for the Errandonnee challenge:

Errandonnee: Complete 12 errands in 12′ish days and ride a total of 30 miles by bike between March 7-19, 2014

Errand #2 – March 11th – Commuting – 10km

After the previous day’s splashing through puddles, an overnight temperature drop provided lots of icy surfaces on the morning commute. Some behemoth had crashed through the frozen LRT puddle, leaving a field of ice panes across the path.

There’s a steep hill that I pedal up every day to climb out of Mill Creek. During the spring thaw it’s a babbling brook during the day but after a frosty night it freezes into an ice slide. This hill is my personal benchmark for studded tire performance on ice. With my DIY sheet-metal screw tires I could never pedal up it. With Schwalbe Winter Marathon Tires, I can make it to the top as long as I am very careful about how I apply torque to the rear wheel – too much and it spins out. With my Nokkian Hakka WXC300 tires I can zip up the hill without even thinking about the ice, enjoying the Velcro-like grip of these aggressively studded tires. On this day, when I was almost to the top I saw another cyclist carefully heading down the hill, staying close to the side.

Errand #3 – March 11th – Wild Card – 10km

On the way home from work I detoured downtown to City Center Mall to buy a cell phone top-up for my daughter. This is only the second month with her first cell phone, so I’ve been reluctant to hook it up to any of my credit cards until I see how she handles it. On the way out of the downtown core I stopped for a pic by the LRT tunnel free-wall, a place where graffiti art is officially permitted by the city. It’s a constantly changing mural, and if there’s an image you like one day it might be painted over the next.


Errand #4 – March 12th – Commuting – 20km

On the way to work in the morning I was treated to a wonderful sunrise that peaked just as I was crossing the pedestrian bridge. It’s a perfect place to stop for a peaceful few moments to enjoy the morning. I’ll miss this bridge when it’s replaced to make room for LRT expansion.


Errand #5 – March 12th – Grocery Store – 1.5km

This is about as boring as errands get. I will note that I am now a fan of bike baskets, with the Wald shown being good for bulky but light loads. The panniers are filled to the top.


Errand #6 – March 14th – Personal Care – 6km

On the way home from work I headed downtown to deposit a few checks in the bank. When I was crossing the river I spotted my first two geese of the year. It’s a good sign that spring might actually be here.


I'll bet I'm not.

I’ll bet I’m not.

Errand #7 – March 14th – Personal Care – 0.5km

After the bank I headed to the liquor store, deVines, to pick up something interesting for the weekend. If you don’t think that alcohol counts as personal care, then you just don’t know me. I bought a bottle of German Schenkerla Marzen Smoked beer. The malted barley for this beer is kilned over beechwood logs and sipping this dark beverage is like drinking a campfire. I mean that in a good way. I also picked up a bottle of Kung Fu Girl Riesling for my wife, who has recently started working out and dusting off the moves she learned when we were studying the martial art more than a decade ago.


Errand #8 – March 14th – Non Grocery Store –  3.5km

Before heading home, I popped in to check out the new space for the Wee Book Inn, an Edmonton used book store chain with several locations. They have just recently downsized their downtown location by moved into this smaller space. There are still lots of books to peruse: I bought “The Sherlock Holmes Scapbook”. Published in 1986, this book has lots of interesting photos chronicling the use of Holmes in a variety of media , from ads for Crawford’s Cream Crackers to a great picture of William Gillette the first actor to portray Holmes on the stage back in 1901. There also also some cycling content, with a photo of Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife riding a velocipede. I’m to lazy to scan it, but you can see it here.


Errand #9 – March 15th – Bike Shop – 2km

I celebrated the Ides of March by getting up early and heading to Bikeworks North to clean some of the winter grime off my bike and to put my lighter duty studded tires on. These Schwalbe Winter Marathon tires are great for when there is mostly bare pavement with a few ice patches. It was odd to see my bike emerge from under the encrusting dirt for the first time in months.

Errand #10 – March 15th – Grocery Store

After I left Bikeworks I headed to the Downtown Farmer’s Market. During the cold months it’s hosted in City Hall, another example of Edmonton’s brief and peculiar fascination with pyramids. I got a heap of food as usual.

IIn my opinin, City Hall is not really enhanced by the addition of a Wacky, Waving, Inaflatable, Arm-Flailing, Tube Man

In my opinion, City Hall is not really enhanced by the addition of a Wacky, Waving, Inaflatable, Arm-Flailing, Tube Man

A pretty swanky location for the Farmer's Market.

A pretty swanky location for the Farmer’s Market.

Errand #11 – March 18th – Wild Card – 1.5km

Before work I had to zip out to 7-11 to pick up a pack of bus tickets for my daughter who had lost her bus pass right in the middle of the month – inconvenient.


Errand #12 – March 19th – Dinner – 10 km

The categories for the Errandonnee were a bit problematic for me as three of them were for going out for meals or coffee, things I almost never do. On work days, I pack a lunch and bring a thermos of tea with me. Other meals are pretty much always at home with the family. However, I’ve been intending to try out the Burger Baron location near my home for more than a decade so I popped in on my way home from work. I’ve gone past it hundreds, if not thousands of times, without going in. Established in 1957, Burger Baron was the first drive-through chain in Western Canada and it was pretty popular until big American chains muscled in and the original franchise went into bankruptcy. The locations are now independently operated and have their own widely varying (and slightly…creative) menus. I’ve been to several in the city, but oddly, not the one a few blocks from my house. The locations are often a little shabby and run down, but I really enjoy their distinct personality, very different form the big chains. Where else can you get Donair Poutine with sides of Corn Fritters and Mushroom Soup?  I had a double mushroom burger, one of the Baron’s signature dishes that comes with a heap of mushrooms in a sort of gravy, fries (piping hot) and a chocolate milkshake. I haven’t had a shake in a long, long time and this one was so thick that I could feel my cranial sutures creaking under the vaccuum force of me trying to suck it through the straw. I was uncomfortably full by the time I was finished the meal.

In it's heyday, I imagine the drive-in was packed. Now everybody uses the drive-through.

In it’s heyday, I imagine the drive-in was packed. Now everybody uses the drive-through.



Some interesting menu items: Tatertots Poutine & Deep Fried Mush. Although, It turns out that it’s actually Deep Fried Mushrooms I would not have been surprised at all if they were offering some sort of deep fried hash,

Soggy Spring Errandonnee

What is the Errandonnee, you ask? It’s a challenge organized by MG of the blog Chasing Mailboxes and can be summarized as follows:

Errandonnee: Complete 12 errands in 12′ish days and ride a total of 30 miles by bike between March 7-19, 2014.

I’m a bit late getting started on this because I wasn’t feeling the love for running errands. I do lots of them anyway, but they’re often boring – not necessarily good blog material. But today, I decided that I’ll give it a try as long as I can find something at least moderately interesting about the errand.

Today’s errand was a trip to Earth’s General Store to pick up some household items. Entire bottles of shampoo have been going missing in our house lately, and though the children are the prime suspects I haven’t yet been able to prove anything. An elaborate sting operation may be required to get to the bottom of it. Maybe something like an exploding dye-pack.

Today’s errand coincided with my annual spring-thaw bike-splash photo session. The snow is melting fast giving lots of chances to splash through massive puddles while cycling. It’s good, clean (sort of) fun. On general principle I rode through the middle of most puddles for maximum effect. It turns out that none of the ponds were actually bottomless, nor was Nessie anywhere to be seen.

The first puddle to be forded - cutting through the alley on the way to EGS.

The first puddle to be forded – cutting through the alley on the way to EGS.

Heading into Mill Creek ravine.

Heading into Mill Creek ravine.

Bike Splash!

Bike Splash!

Soggy Spring Errandonnee

Soggy Spring Errandonnee

My old nemesis - the LRT trail puddle. This one looked a bit nasty so I rode along the edge.

My old nemesis – the LRT trail puddle. This one looked a bit nasty so I rode along the edge.

A Fond Farewell to the Deep Cold

Yep. It's dang cold out there.

Cold enough to give an icicle frost-bite.

It’s spring! It’s spring! It’s spring! Tra-la-la-la-la!

Yes, spring temperatures have finally arrived in Edmonton after almost two weeks of January type weather stretching through the end of February and the beginning of March. I’m talking about lows of -29°C with a dollop of windchill on top, as Old Man Winter’s way of saying he’s not about to shuffle off quietly.

I have to admit to feeling somewhat trapped and claustrophobic going into  the last week of February with the weather forecast showing an unremitting deep freeze. Getting through the final freeze of the season is like slowly pedaling up a steep hill, while pulling a trailer filled with bricks, on a bike with under-inflated tires and with the brake pads rubbing on the rim. It takes me three times longer to layer up and get out the door. Furthermore, the commute is a slower one with added effort of moving my heaviest boots in circles, as well as the drag caused by the grease freezing in bike components. 

However, with a few years of Edmonton winter bike commuting under my belt, cycling through the deep cold has become just another routine. Properly prepared the riding can be comfortable and rewarding. 

In very cold weather, all the city buildings are sending out great plumes of condensing water vapour, as the moisture laden exhaust air from the hard-working heating systems mingles with the icy, bone dry air outside. The city looks like it’s on fire.

It doesn’t often snow when it’s very cold. There was a lot of brilliantly blue sky to be enjoyed. When it did snow, it was flurries of beautiful dry powder.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA real visual treat that you can sometimes spot during the deep cold are halos around the sun. These are caused as sunlight is reflected and refracted in tiny hexagonal ice crystals suspended in the air. On  one of my morning rides there was a faint haze of diamond dust crystals like a low-lying fog over the city. With the sun just over the horizon, a partial halo appeared in the form of two red and blue pillars flanking the sun. As I rode through Mill Creek ravine, an arc of halo seemed to spring directly up from the trees on the other side of the creek. It was like seeing the end of the rainbow. When I climbed back up to street level, depending on the conditions of light and shadow, the halo fragments sometimes seemed to be just a few feet away, but at other times to be as distant as the sun. Simply magical. Inevitably, my camera does not do it justice.

Ice Halo

Ice Halo

The coldest weather is hopefully now behind us, I’m looking forward to melting snow, bare asphalt and eventually speedy road bikes. With luck, I’ve donned my winter space suit for the last time this winter.


Windchill & The Winter Cyclist

With the polar vortex instability this winter and the unusually cold weather our southern American neighbours have been experiencing, it’s not surprising that there has been a lot of chatter about windchill. A fellow Edmonton winter cyclist recently referred me to an article from Scientific American on the subject. The article contains some interesting facts about our bodies and how we perceive temperatures but incredibly seems to come to the conclusion that windchill isn’t real or useful value. I was pretty surprised to find this coming from Scientific American.

Windchill temperatures are an important consideration in a frozen country where your morning bike commute might be at -30°C with a brisk northerly wind. The sad truth is you can’t escape the first law of thermodynamics. It’s all about heat transfer. It can be a complicated subject but I’m going to address some of the basic facts.

Our bodies cannot measure temperature. You can’t stick your hand out the window and determine that it’s -28.5°C. It’s kind of similar to the fact that most of us mortals are not able to hear a musical note and determine that it’s A above middle C. With temperatures this means that we can only sense difference between the ambient temperature and the current temperature of the body part we’re exposing to the air (please be judicious in choosing the body part you expose). It’s like hearing two musical notes and being able to know the interval without knowing what the frequency of the notes are.

What our bodies actually sense is heat transfer: heat loss or heat gain. Mostly heat loss, actually. At about 37°C our body is almost always hotter than the surrounding air. Our chemical engine of a body is constantly producing heat that we need to get rid of.  If you ever find yourself in a situation where your body is actually GAINING heat  then you are in serious trouble – heat stroke is a life threatening emergency. On a hot summer day we are only able to slowly shed our excess heat and so we feel hot, on a cold winter day we are more rapidly losing heat and so we feel cold.

This is important when it comes to wind chill. Our sense of temperature is based on how fast we are losing body heat. On a windy day we lose heat faster, and feel colder.

This is why windchill calculations are used. For example, it might tell us that although the air temperature is -20°C, the wind will make us lose body heat at the same rate as if it were -30°C. This is a valid and useful piece of information for people who venture beyond the realms of house and car. The devil is in the details here, however, and determining that heat transfer equivalence  isn’t trivial. Most of the useful information in the Scientific American article speaks to this point.

The Scientific American article asks us to consider the dashboard thermometer of a car. Does it measure a different exterior air temperature when you drive faster? No, of course not, and so the the author dismisses the relevance of windchill. However, giving some consideration to the basic physics of windchill reveals this thought experiment to be flawed. True, the actual temperature of the air does not change as you vary the speed of your vehicle, but the rate at which your vehicle is losing heat IS changing with the airspeed. The vehicle is experiencing a windchill factor and the driver will have to crank up the heat in order to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the car. My house experiences windchill in this fashion – on a cold, windy night I turn up the thermostat, burn more gas and have a higher monthly bill as a result. One could imagine a specific windchill calculation for buildings. The heating engineers certainly already have one.

An unheated inanimate object will experience wind chill until it cools to the same temperature as the surrounding air. A cup of coffee left outside will cool quicker in the wind  than if there was no wind. The coffee will continue cooling until it’s the same temperature as the surrounding air and after that it doesn’t matter how hard the wind blows – the coffee is already at equilibrium. But until that point, you could do a wind chill calculation for the coffee cup.  If your human body reaches the same temperature as the surrounding air when it’s -20°C outside then it also cannot be affected by windchill – besides which, you’d be dead.

Considered from a cycling point of view it then becomes crucial to consider the wind direction when interpreting windchill temperatures. Suppose, Environment Canada tells me that it’s -20°C outside with a windchill of -30 and the wind is coming from the north a 18 kph. Lets consider three basic scenarios that might then happen during my morning commute.

First, if I pedal south at 18 kph then I am travelling at the same speed and direction as the wind and so I experience no windchill. I will only lose heat at a rate for the actual temperature of -20°C.

Second, if a red light causes me to sit unmoving on my bike at an intersection, then I am losing heat at the same rate as on a -30°C calm day.

Thirdly, if I suddenly remember that I forgot my lunch and then turn around head back north INTO the wind then I increase my windchill above the one in the forecast and I lose heat at even faster rate  – and I freeze my stem off if I’m not properly dressed.

I actually consider these factors when I leave the house to go to work each winter day and I use the information to choose my clothing.

 This is why the windchill temperatures are indeed relevant and useful information, and not a figment of a meteorologists imagination. It can be vital to know when you are moving around in dangerous temperatures.

You can read the Scientific American article that put the bee in my bonnet here: