Saturday, September 23, 2023

A Search For "Gravel" Geometry": Part 4 - Inspired By History, Still "New"

 Today I will wrap up this series and in this post I am going to show what the bike design is and why this idea I started out with has garnered interest with a few folks.

But first, let's review:

Purpose: The idea is to see what, or even if, any past efforts in bicycle design have any bearings on where we are at with geometry regarding"gravel bikes" today.

Okay, and with that, let's keep in mind that the ideas that were presented in the page I shared this past week are what this post is mainly based on.  That page, which featured a bike design shared by Willie Honeman, an accomplished track racer and frame builder, is the genesis for this whole series. Willie is someone who I believe exemplifies the ideas which influenced my thoughts on gravel bike design, and in turn, ideas which have impacted the cycling industry in terms of gravel bike design. 

 Many of Willie Honeman's ideas were congruent with gravel bike design as I saw it.  I should also point out that master frame builder, Steve Garro was the one who posted about this design on his Facebook page. Steve had similar thoughts about this design being an influence on current gravel bike design. You can see my original thoughts about the bike HERE from an April 2023 blog post. 

Willie Honeman's Brennan Track bike from 1932 Image courtesy of "Classic Cycles")

Willie's championship winning sprint bike was built by John "Pop" Brennan, according to this information I found. Read that link's information and you will learn that Willie Honeman was the first cyclist to wear the Stars and Stripes jersey, that he advocated for helmet usage by his fellow racers, and that he rode the bike, imaged above, for racing, training, and for recreational pursuits. 

That bike is also the same that was detailed in my last post which showed the original plans for the bike. So, this gives a little better context for that drawing.

There are a lot of things about this bike that would work for me today, but the thought is to take the basic foundation here and modernize it for today's components and for me, obviously, because I would need a longer seat tube and head tube than Willie did. 

But the basics like head tube angle, offset, bottom bracket drop, and chain stay length is all easily transferable. How one approaches the extra long top tube/short stem factor in this design scaled up for my size would be the challenge here. (Yes! Short stem, long top tube, slack and "low' are NOT a new thing.) And before anyone asks, yes. This would be a single speed gravel bike.

But some things would be smart to change. Modern wheels use disc brakes and drop-outs are through axle now. Bottom bracket standards, fork length to accommodate bigger tires, and even that fork's material are all up for consideration. Do you steepen that seat tube? What about the top tube? How wide a tire are we talking about. Several salient points here that need clearing up. And then there is this....

Do I already have "that bike"?

My Twin Six Standard Rando frame has very similar numbers to the Honeman bike built by Pop Brennan. The bottom bracket drop, head tube angle, and chain stay length are all almost identical. The seat tube angle is different though. So, other than that, the Standard Rando is steel, does single speed, (although now mine is set up geared), and it is likely "close enough" to the 1930's track bike design that making a custom one-off might seem, well......unnecessary

Plus, the T-6 is a modernized bike with all the typical standards of a 21st century bicycle for gravel. No need to re-invent the wheel, as it were, unless there is a compelling reason to pursue this idea. Like maybe sticking to the original plans for a bike like this more closely. Otherwise I am hard pressed to see what I would learn from having to go through a custom bike build. 

Now, I am not saying I will get a custom done or not, but if I do, the working name would be "The Honeman Sprinter", since that is the inspiration for this bike.

Conclusions: Can we say with any certainty that a bike like the Brennan made for Willie Honeman influenced gravel bike design? Perhaps the answer is no if we are looking for a definitive, direct lineage, but the answer is "yes" in a general sense. Bicycles in the Pre-WWII era were made to be ridden on roads that, at that time, were still mostly unpaved. Riders that bought these expensive, custom made machines rode them all over. I read one account of a professional track rider that was from Davenport, Iowa that rode to a national event held in Chicago, raced his bike, and rode back to Davenport again. So it would seem that many of these track racing designs also had to work off-track as well, making them a forerunner of gravel bikes, in a way. 

That I found inspiration in these older designs, which I used to relate my design ideas to Raleigh in 2012, which resulted in the Tamland series of bicycles, is another facet which speaks to the relevance that these track bikes and road bikes had from the pre-WWII era as well. So, does gravel bike design owe anything to old designs like the Brennan? Probably. Yes. 

Another question: Will I have this custom single speed gravel bike built? Maybe.... Again, I don't need another gravel bike. I have the T-6 which, for all intents and purposes, is 80% of what a modernized old Brennan would be. So, why bother? (Read a review on the Standard Rando HERE)

Well, if the design sticks more to the original, (in particular, the slack seat tube), then perhaps it would be an interesting experiment and it probably would be a fun bike regardless. But that said, things like this cost money, I would need help getting parts and pieces lined up, and maybe to make it all make sense, I'd need a goal. (There is one that would make sense, but no need to go there unless the bike comes first.) 

That all said, I'm not now feeling a great need to pursue the custom Honeman Sprinter idea. Even though it might be fun to see how that design would stack up against today's bikes, I am more than sure I can tell you, at least from my viewpoint, how it would work,because of the Standard Rando. 

Again, this is all my opinion, and I'm not doing anything in this series but espousing my views on what a gravel bike should be like, for myself. So, contrasting opinions will abound, but just go dig into so-called gravel bike geometry charts and you'll see that the Honeman, the Twin Six, the Raleigh Tamland, and many others are pretty closely related. And in my opinion, that is significant from a historical point of view. Gravel bikes may be relatively "new", but I think it is safe to say that they are indeed inspired by the past bicycles that came before them. 

That brings this series to a conclusion, for now. Thanks for reading Guitar Ted Productions!

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