The Data Book, Noguchi (2010)

A treasure trove of design details

Van Der Plas Publications 9781892495013 $39.95

In the last years of the nineteenth century, the American patents office stored their records in two large buildings. The larger of these contained nothing but patents relating to bicycle design, the other housed everything else.

That tells you something about the craze for bicycles in the 1890s and the American love for patents. But it also points to a truth about these fundamentally simple machines. An extraordinary amount of inventive energy has been devoted to improving the humble bike. Nevertheless, people continue to try and dream up new improvements.

At last week’s Cycle Show in London, for example, there were mirrors that sit between a rider’s legs, hand guards to keep your fingers warm, and a storage system that flips bicycles up to shoulder height to keep them out of the way.

This book is a compilation of pen-and-ink design drawings, arranged in chronological order from the mid 1870s until 1960. There is everything from clamps to hold your lights, to gear systems, brakes, suspension and everything else besides. It would be a useful source book for anyone considering modifications to the bicycle – it is a fair bet that something similar will have been tried before. Indeed, the 1951 pages show something that looks so similar to a Bob Yak trailer, it is hard to believe that it was not the inspiration.

There are fascinating pages of lights from the days when carbide and oil lamps battled for supremacy. The evolution of pedals, toe clips and saddles receive similar treatment.

I would have liked a little more explanatory text – nothing here indicates what each illustration is, nor whether any of these innovations was a success. This is an amazing compendium, nevertheless, and a useful sourcebook for anyone interested in bicycle design and evolution.

It has an intriguing history, incidentally. The designs were originally collected together and published in various forms by a Japanese enthusiast. It was originally published in a single volume entitled ‘The Joyful Bicycle’. The few pieces of Japanese text here are translated.

PS Oct 10

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