Monday, February 04, 2008

The Extra Ordinary Passing of Sheldon Brown

It is with a heavy heart that I post news of the passing of a US cycling luminary--bicycle mechanic Sheldon Brown has died of a heart attack at the age of 63. A longtime technical guru for the Harris Cyclery in Massachusetts, Brown was an early adopter of the internet who transferred his considerable body of accumulated knowledge to the web for the benefit of all. Need to know how to adjust a cone? Curious what Helicomatic hub looks like? Wondering if a Helicomatic hub has adjustable cones? Wondering what the hell a Helicomatic hub even is?! Brown’s site ( can tell you this and much more. From how to ride a bike to how to fix it. New, old. Arcane, mundane. It’s all there. Not too pretty, but it gets the job done...and well.

Though I only met Sheldon only once in person--and very briefly at that--I felt I knew him through his writings and photographs. He was one of those crazy-to-the-core bike nuts-- what with his Lincoln’s beard and plastic bird bedazzled helmet--that made you raise an eyebrow and chuckle only to be bowled over by his encyclopedic bike knowledge. Scholarly and academic but approachable and down-to-earth, I could easily see him as a college professor that even after a couple of decades in the classroom would return year after year with infectious optimism.

I can’t even count the number of times--mid-repair and up to my elbows in grease--that I checked my work against his site only to have Sheldon let me know that, no, I in fact installed everything 100% backwards and needed to start over. You’d think I would have learned to check with him first but I’m slow like that sometimes. I was actually just on his site last week researching my old bikes...and wouldn’t you know it, Sheldon had a link to the info on my old Raleigh Grand Prix that Google didn’t even pick up.

As an industry, a sport, and a culture we are drawn to the glitz and the glamor--for bicycling it’s more-often-than-not the races and the racers. But Sheldon is a reminder of what the bicycle truly is--a simple pleasure with amazing versatility and a bottomless soul. It is truly extra-ordinary. Just. Like. Him.

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