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Sheldon Brown Rolls On: The Bike World Celebrates His Web and Words

roadskater's picture

The world, the internet, cycling and the art of sharing lost a major force in the form of Sheldon Brown, whose work remains at SheldonBrown.com. He was an incredible resource of cycling knowledge. By all accounts he was also a man of good humor and skateylove (bikeylove) too. Many accounts tell of his helpfulness online, by email, and in person. Timv has mentioned Sheldon often to me in our various discussions, including where I might find out more about my 1980s Centurion bike, learn about fixies, and much more. See timv's references on roadskater.net here:

I have not read much of his work, but what I did read was great. I hope it will be there forever, and I am sure Harris Cyclery will maintain it, and if they won't, the line will be long to have the honor of hosting his pages. I'll be in that line.

I'm amazed at how Sheldon crossed the silly boundaries among people...among cyclists as among skaters too...these artificial separations. In the list of those honoring him are recumbent, mtb, bmx, fixie, road, classic, and even motorized bike enthusiasts, plus "makers" of all kinds who love tinkering and building and technical knowledge. He wrote about more than just bikes, and touched lives and advanced causes with his work in bicycling and web creation. He was way ahead of the weblog wave, and like many of us preferred the term, journal, to blog. 

Don't forget to check:

On another note, Sheldon had learned that he had "progressive Multiple Sclerosis" but his attitude seemed to be that he would do what he could as long as he could and when he could. He got lots of support and encouragement, it seems, and he was able to contribute even if he could no longer ride.

The internet can be a cranky and rude place at times, but the notes on Sheldon's passing show how many people's lives can be a little or a lot better because someone else made the effort, spent the time and shared the love over the web. How great that he is and will be appreciated. Here are just a few notes I found honoring Sheldon Brown:

Well done, Sheldon! A world of people will know you even after you've rolled on out of here. Skateylove amigo!


Newtonville, Massachusetts
United States
42° 21' 20.9088" N, 71° 12' 32.5188" W


timv's picture

Remembering Sheldon Brown

Thanks for posting that, Blake. I'd been meaning to post something about Sheldon Brown's passing here but hadn't found time to collect my thoughts this week.

As you reminded me yesterday afternoon, I once corrected you when you referred to him as "a cranky mechanic" or something along that line. I only met him once, but my impression matched that of everyone else who'd known him: that he was an extremely open and friendly and charming man who knew a lot and had opinions that he'd state in no uncertain terms, but always with charm and good humor.

When I was teaching math at UNC-Greensboro, there was a trigonometry exercise in one of the textbooks involving the geometry of the tubes in a bicycle frame. At the end of the problem, it stated "For more information, see this url:" and gave a link to a page on Sheldon's site. That gives an idea of how wide-spread his influence was.

The one time I met him was at the 2005 Cirque du Cyclisme, where Sheldon was honored with an award for his many contributions to vintage bicycle lore and wisdom. Incidentally he tripped and fell while leaving the banquet with his award, which he later said was one of the first signs of his incipient MS.

Earlier that day, we'd attended some afternoon seminars on bike history at the Lewis Recreation Center, adjacent to Country Park. I had brought my skates and was planning to skate the Country Park loop when they had ended, but Sheldon apparently picked me out at random and, in a gracious and good-natured way, drafted me into giving him a ride back to his hotel. Of course I thanked him right off for his web pages which have helped me so much. He deflected the thanks by commenting that he originally started putting stuff up because he could never remember all of those details himself, and that he probably looked things up on his own website as often as anyone else.

We had quite a fine conversation in the car on topics ranging from literature to history to music to politics to computers, and of course bicycles. And we had some extra time for talking since I got mixed up about where his hotel was located and drove about five miles out of the way, which he laughed about and half-jokingly thanked me for giving him the chance to see more of the city.

Interestingly, Sheldon was never a fan of organized charity bike rides, writing:

"Bike-a-thons" grew out of "walk-a-thons." The idea of walk-a-thons is that the participants demonstrate their concern for the selected cause by undergoing the painful ordeal of a long walk, with the understanding that each mile they walk will enlarge the contribution given by the donors who they have signed up. The donors, in turn, get to feel that their contribution has been "earned" by the suffering of the participant who has sacrificed time and comfort for the sake of the cause.

The problem with translating the "walk-a-thon" into the "bike-a-thon" is the application of the concepts of "sacrifice" and "suffering" from walking to cycling. Cycling shouldn't be seen as a painful ordeal; cycling is fun! [...] Although "thons" do get people out on their bikes, and maybe even bring some people into cycling in a serious way, I believe that they send a message that cycling is a painful, unpleasant chore that you should do because it is good for you, or because it benefits some charitable organization.

But you have to hand it to someone who had a webpage titled "The Bright Side of MS", saying, "As nasty, rare, incurable diseases go, it's one of the better ones. If you must acquire a nasty, rare, incurable disease, MS is one of the best things going!" describing his condition as "not so much a "tragedy" as a Really Major Inconvenience."

Although I love skating, I really think that cycling is one of the best things in the world. It's recreation, it's exercise, it's practical transportation, and it's undeniably great for the environment (except perhaps for driving 100 miles each way with a bike strapped on top of your car to do a charity ride!) And Sheldon was a major positive factor in helping people to keep good old bikes on the road and to enjoy riding them.

The cycling world has lost a true giant. He was absolutely one of a kind, and as the outpouring of memorials and tributes this week shows, there's no way to begin to count the number of lives that he touched with his wit, his good nature, and his great generosity.

A Boston Globe story remembering him can be found here.

roadskater's picture

Misunderstood Again! (When Gasping for Oxygen)

I was climbing baseball hill in Country Park when gasping out this, so I certainly may have misspoken, but my recollection was that someone else had described Sheldon thus, and I couldn't remember who. To my memory I never had the pleasure of actually speaking with him, unless I did so without connecting his face and name with his web while I was focused on looking at bikes, maybe. A quick search indicates two articles that are indexed for "crotchety bike mechanic": the one from The Washington Post and your original piece http://roadskater.net/index.php?q=fix-your-bike-even-if-it-aint-broke from here (and soon, perhaps, this page?). I regret not having had a ride in the car with such a man, so obviously engaged in human power and mechanical advantage and exuberant life! Here's the search... http://www.google.com/search?q=%22crotchety+bike+mechanic%22 Thanks for your rememberance of Captain Bike. We should all be so prolific!
eebee's picture

Charity rides

Thank you for writing about this fellow. However, sorry to say that as with John Lennon and Daniel Pearl, I didn't find out about his existence, passions and life until he died. Sounds like he lived and shared a very animated and dynamic life.

I guess he was ahead of the exercise-a-thon backlash curve in 1998! Although from the article Timv linked to, it sounds like Sheldon was talking about events that don't support the participating athletes through training programs in advance. But while reading that article, Sheldon's viewpoint reminds me - albeit in a different way - of my own awkwardness in asking friends for donations to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, or the National MS Society. Don't get me wrong, I love being able to donate funds to such worthy causes. But comparing the 'hardship' of skate-training 8 hours a week out in the glorious sunshine, to the incumberance and fearful uncertainty of suffering a life-threatening disease could well insult someone. I don't wanna insult anybody with serious illness. I wanna donate money for them. When plagiarizing some previously successful fundraiser's begging letter, I always left the sentence out that even vaguely compared the joy of muscle-hangover, as the Germans so eloquently put it, to limb numbness, chemo-needle pain, or outright sick fatigue. I'm sorry! I don't want anybody to have to go through that.

The way I explain my participation in organized charity 'rides' requiring more than a token $30 entry fee, is by telling folks if they want to help out people with MS they can do so through me and T2T. Obviously collecting more than the $200 or $1,500 minimum would benefit those afflicted, so I don't necessarily quit at that amount. I'm reminded of fellow skater that stunned us in to silence at an A2A Leukemia fundraising garage-sale back in 2001. When three of us tried to decide how to divide up the garage-sale earnings, someone suggested giving most of it to the person with the most money left to raise, rather than encouraging everyone to try to raise their funds themselves, potentially producing more money for Leukemia sufferers. Atlanta-turned-Manhattan skater Kyle Milliken spouted "How much money is enough for a cancer-patient?".

Back to Sheldon...funny that he put 'other Sheldon Browns' links up on his page! Cool that Tim got to spend extra minutes with him.

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