Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

10 August 2015

Nonpareil: Nothing Like It, Ever

For many years, my favorite candy was the chocolate nonpareil.  During my childhood, they usually came on waxed-paper sheets.  I think part of the appeal (pun intended) of the nonpareil was peeling it off the sheet.  It was sort of like pulling a button off a shirt.

I haven't eaten those candies in years.  Now I see they're sold in little bags for about five dollars.  I'd probably like them if they were made from really good dark chocolate, which would be a nice counterpoint to the sugar pearls that coat them.

(I've often wondered whether I'd like some of my other favorites from childhood--like Nestle's Crunch and Kit Kat--if they were made with high-quality dark chocolate. The dark-chocolate Kit Kat that's sometimes sold in the US seems to be just a Hershey bittersweet bar with wafers in it.)

Back when my grandmother was bringing those sheets of nonpareils, I didn't know any French.  Later, I'd learn that "nonpareil" means "without parallel"--or, if you like, "There's nothing like it", which is how I probably described my favorite candy at one time or another.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that this is also called "nonpareil":

 

The Classic Cycle website describes it as "the missing link in the evolution of the bicycle".  Apparently, it was built around 1890, after bike makers moved away from the "hobby horse" design and had been making "penny farthings" (high-wheelers) for a decade or so.  

The Nonpareil seems to have been one of the first bikes with wheels of equal size.  Most likely, it's also one of the first chain-driven bikes.  I must say, though, there's nothing remotely like its chain on modern bikes:

 

For that matter, there's nothing like that frame, either.  Given that everything that's been done (in bike design, anyway) gets done again,  I have to wonder whether someone's designing a frame with a single tube that slopes from the front to the rear stays.  It eliminates the top or down tube, depending on how you look at it.  Can you imagine how much weight that saves?  I'd bet that, rendered in carbon fiber, such a frame could be built into a complete bike that weighs less than 5 kilograms.

Of course, unless the UCI changes its rules, no racer could use such a bike in competition.  But someone would want it anyway just because it's, well, nonpareil.

 

P.S.  I'd love to find the oil lamp that fit on the fork.  There's definitely nothing like it made today! 

2 comments:

  1. A Scot, Graham Obree held the world one hour twice on a bike he built famously using the family washing machine main bearing in the bottom bracket. That bike had the single frame member and yes the UCI hated him and threw a tantrum every time he rode, once pulling him in after a few laps of a one hour attempt because they claimed they could not see air between his arms and body, they hated his handlebars and even his saddle!

    Useless, Completely Intransigent, UCI.

    His bicycle is now in the collection of the Royal Scottish Museum, Chambers Street Edinburgh.

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  2. Coline--It's hard not to think of the words "useless" or "unscrupulous" when thinking about the UCI.

    I don't want to see the racer with the best technology capturing all the races, so I can understand regulations about equipment. But I really think the UCI has more important things to worry about.

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