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Monday Morning Brief | Bicycles on stamps: a history full of spins

July 10, 2017 08:00 AM

Scott catalog new-issues editor Marty Frankevicz takes us on a whirlwind tour of bicycles on stamps: from the draisine, forerunner to the modern bicycle, to the aerodynamic, ultrafast racing bikes in the Tour de France. He also talks about another bike tour — one that involves donuts.

Full Video Transcript:

Good morning and welcome to the Monday Morning Brief for July 10, 2017.

On July 13, Germany will issue a €0.70 stamp honoring an invention made by Karl Drais. Drais was a rather prolific inventor, creating a typewriter with a keyboard, as well as a meat grinder. But it is his draisine that the stamp honors.

What’s a draisine, you ask? The forerunner to the bicycle. It is believed that Drais came up with his invention after his horse died in the year without a summer, 1816, which resulted from an immense Indonesian volcanic eruption in 1815.

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The draisine had two wheels, albeit heavy iron, attached to a frame similar to a bike, and it even had a rear wheel brake. It had a steering mechanism that looked much like a modern handlebar, and a saddle on the frame upon which one sat.

To make the thing go, the rider, while astride the frame with gluteus maximus on the seat, ran. And the painful reality of hitting a bump is why pedal- and chain-drives were invented, though some decades later.

But rider safety wasn’t the first priority in the development of the modern bicycle – speed was. And penny-farthing bicycles, with the huge front wheel and small rear wheels, became popular in the 1870s. Faster, yes, but undoubtedly more dangerous. Indeed, it took many years before the modern bicycle came to be.

And the modern bicycle and its speed is celebrated throughout July, as the Tour de France is run. It’s still a big deal in France and neighboring countries. Twenty-two races have started outside of France, with the 2017 edition kicking off in Germany July 1.

Luxembourg issued a stamp July 4 to note that stage 4 of the Tour would start in Mondorf-les-Bains. OK, the riders zipped through the entire length of Luxembourg without stopping July 3, going from Belgium to France, but at least they returned to give Mondorf a day in the headlines.

To be sure, this great bicycle race has, in recent years, seen its reputation shredded with so many scandals. And the fourth stage that started in Mondorf, ended in France with another controversy.

While sprinting toward the finish line, Peter Sagan, in a way that would make a hockey player wince, elbowed another rider, Mark Cavendish, as Cavendish attempted to pass him. Cavendish fell, breaking his shoulder blade, and other riders took frightening tumbles over him at high speed.

The injuries forced the popular Cavendish out of the Tour, but race officials also disqualified the equally popular Sagan from the Tour for his dangerous move.

For those who like biking competitions, but would prefer them to be a tad safer, there is an alternative that has sprung up in a few towns around America. It’s called the Tour de Donut.

It’s a fixed-length race where speed counts, but riders can reduce their final time by five minutes for each donut they eat. It’s the kind of competition Homer Simpson could fall in love with.

The Tour de Donut was first held in Staunton, Illinois, in 1989, and since then has been held in towns in California, Texas, Utah, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. Who needs blood doping when donuts will do?

For Linn’s Stamp News and the Scott Catalogues, I’m Marty Frankevicz. Enjoy your week in stamps.