This bike hangs on the wall above the counter at First Flight Bicycles as part of the MOMBAT collection. As soon as someone points up, you know what the next question is going to be: “What’s the story behind that huge sprocket?” We’ve gotten pretty good at telling the story, so here goes.
Racycle was the brand name of bicycles produced by the Miami Cycle and Mfg. Company of Middletown, Ohio, starting with the 1896 model year and running through roughly 1924 (this particular bike dates to around 1920). In a move reminiscent of today’s bike industry, Racycle was bought out by Westfield and slowly lost all of their unique features before finally disappearing. Many of the features were similar to other bikes of the era. The frames were nothing out of the ordinary, and the 28 inch wood rims used the standard 28 inch single tube glue-on tires (similar to a modern tubular tire). While not unique to this bike, the Kelly bars are interesting.
The bolt in the center of the bars can be loosened which allows the bars to move up and down resulting in anything from a low aero position to a more relaxed upright riding position.
That leaves the obvious unique feature, the oversized front chain ring. The chain ring has 40 teeth while the rear sprocket has 14 teeth, but they use a 1-inch pitch chain which means the tooth count needs to be doubled to compare it with today’s ½-inch pitch chains.
The gearing would be an 80×28, which would yield a ratio close to a 50×18 combination on a modern drivetrain. For the same gear ratio, the larger sprockets are slightly more efficient, wear less and have less tension on the chain, so there is some science behind the sprocket size. The crank rides on a bottom bracket that places bearings outside the frame, similar to the current external bearing bottom brackets. According to period Racycle advertisements, “It’s all in the Crank Hanger.”
So now when you visit the MOMBAT and someone points to the big sprocket bike, you can tell the story for us.
This bike can be seen at the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology which is housed at First Flight Bicycles in historic downtown Statesville, North Carolina. If you can’t visit in person, check out the collection at www.mombat.org.
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