History was not my strongest subject during my school years. Whether it was the style of teaching, or just my infatuation with what I’m going to do next that led me to shut out centuries of interest and wisdom, I have never been sure. However, it is undeniably true that, apart from making one appear to be rather wiser than one may in fact be during conversations, a knowledge of history is useful in endowing you with a bit of context – in other words, not just knowing that something happened, but why.
And on that rather whimsical note, I must attempt to explain myself. You see, yesterday was one of those days when cycling was off the menu for various reasons, the appearance of wintry conditions only one of them. But I did manage to engineer a trip to Diss, home of my favourite bike shop, Madgetts.
Ostensibly for the twin purposes of saddlebag browsing and kindling an interest in bikes in my daughter, the trip revealed more than just the usual line up of gorgeous bikes, a cycle hooter that barks like a dog, and a little self-indulgence. Whilst in the bit of the shop that contains the tandem that said daughter had dragged me in to see, I was astonished to notice on the wall a collection of items fashioned, with apparent love, out of wood.
Now the hyperlink that has allowed itself to grow all over the word ‘wood’ above will take you to a post I made some time ago alluding to wooden mudguards. These were represented on said wall. As was a chain guard. And, most amazingly to me, a couple of sets of wheel rims fashioned from what, to all intents and purposes, was timber. Very beautifully fashioned timber, of course.
Fascinated, I immersed myself in a brief conversation with Mick Madgett as I left. The man himself was sitting at his wheel stand, happily truing a race wheel as he spoke in his knowledgable and unassuming style. For here is a man with an impressive cycling history, a true Norfolk cyclist unafraid to use the word ‘Cognoscenti’ when talking cycling. Mick explained that in fact wood was the material used for most wheel rims up until the 1940s – at which point steel rims became the norm, a change precipitated due to the advent of rim braking technology.
It would seem that nature provides a solution to most problems, and the natural qualities of wood for bike rims are apparent if you consider it – springy, strong, freely available and flexible. The one problem was their failure mode – a wooden wheel subjected to excessive stresses will in effect shatter instead of collapsing, precipitating the rider into not only a dangerous fall but also the likelihood of an arse full of splinters, to put it succinctly.
So now, it would appear, wooden rims are making a comeback – no doubt on the back of the log truck marked ‘retro’. And so we should now expect, on our infrequent trips into the big smoke to visit our tailors, to see fashion victims showing off single speed bikes with rims made from elaborately spliced hardwood.
But the point of the post is that my bike shop visit was also what modern media folks like to term a ‘learning experience’ – history lessons can, I have discovered, be found anywhere!