I have to admit, when I first passed by this bike I had written it off in my head as another “show” bike, something built just for the show to create something that is visually stunning, but not very practical. “Heck…”, I thought, “this thing barely even LOOKS like a bicycle.” Oh how wrong I was.
It was only later, when two people told me to be sure to check out the “whippet”, that it’s importance started to sink in. One of those people was none other than Mountain Bike Hall of Famer Scot Nicol, mastermind of Ibis Bicycles. The other was our very own Vintage/Retro/Classic discussion forum moderator “girlonbike”. Both of whom possess bike knowledge worlds above my own. So, with camera in hand, I went to find this amazing bicycle.
At first, I mistakenly thought the A. Homer Hilson Rivendell in the booth next door, was the much desired ride. It looked like a really old bike. My ignorance lead my astray. It wasn’t until later in the day, that I realized the creation I had so easily dismissed as a piece of “flair” was in fact a significant piece of bicycle history.
What stood before me was The Whippet. This particular Whippet is a hand made model built by Paul Brodie, who teaches Frame Building 101 at the University of the Fraser Valley (http://www.ufv.ca/) located in Abbotsford, BC, Canada. I’d never heard of the University of the Fraser Valley, but as a mountain biker, I had heard of the company that bears his name: Brodie Bikes. Turns out, Paul is also a Mountain Bike Hall of Famer! Paul built this Whippet with only a line drawing and a photo of another Whippet in a museum 3000 miles away to go off of.
The original Whippets were hand made in London by C.M. Linley and J. Biggs and were quite the rage from 1885 to 1888, until the invention of the Dunlop pneumatic tire. With the shock absorption features of the air filled rubber tire, the Whippet became outdated. The unique design incorporated seven(!) pivot points in its suspension design and was clearly ahead of its time. According to the posted info on the Whippet, it did have one big design flaw:
“…adjusting the chain caused the two head tubes to slowly become increasingly misaligned, resulting in the front ‘scissor linkage’ gradually unable to work when the bars were turned.”
Design flaw or not, the Whippet has some interesting specs:
- Wheelbase: 43.5″
- Weight: 44 lbs
- Tire diameter: 30″ (some Whippets had 27″ rear tires)
- Final drive: Block chain and sprockets
- Brake: Rear spoon brake
- Pedals: Adjustable from 5.75 to 6.5″ (crank length)
And if you’re wondering what it’s like to ride a Whippet, Paul had the following information:
“I’m told it was a terrible bike to ride, first of all, solid rubber tires and the suspension had one spring with ZERO dampening, so everytime you pedaled, it “bobbed”. Finally, the seat was mounted on a big coil spring, so you were bobbing on a seat that was bobbing on a frame. Yahoo!”
With less than ten Whippets surviving today (mostly in museums and private collections), Whippets are extremely rare. What I had thought was a modern day show piece turned out to be a 124 year old precursor to today’s full suspension mountain bikes. Thank you NAHBS for providing a show in which to feature this amazing, vintage ride and thank you, Paul Brodie, for building it!
For more info about Paul’s course go to: www.ufv.ca/bicycleframe