Thousands of bicyclists passing through Chehalis, Washington, this past weekend on the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic rode bicycles sporting high-tech materials and components unheard of just a few years ago.
Their route passed within 20 miles of tiny Pe Ell. That's where the rusting frame of a bicycle that employed cutting-edge technology for 1902 was recently re-discovered.
The find unlocked a dark family secret and prompted descendant Alfred Duane Tietjen to write a book, “Restoration,” about the bike and his efforts to restore it. It's interesting how a piece of rusting junk can reveal so much.
That bicycle, the Hill-Climber, is believed to be the first production model in the US to boast multiple-speed gear ratios. The three-speed, built about 1902, also sported a shaft drive, instead of a chain.
In the book and a website, “Riding the Hill-Climber Bicycle Again,” Tietjen writes about how the bicycle was found — just a rusting frame with the shaft and gear mechanism attached — and his efforts to research and restore the bicycle.
grandfather’s life and times, piqued my interest in the restoration of
this old skeleton and its story, both of which were crumbling into the
dust of family and bicycle lore.”
Tietjen's grandfather was a major investor in the Hill-Climber, invented and produced by Peter Scharbach. The grandfather apparently convinced others in his community to invest also, and they all lost money when the business failed in 1904.
The grandfather never spoke of it again.
The remaining relic of that bicycle was a rusting frame. It had sat on a farm junk pile for many years, until it was mounted on a wall. Tietjen gained possession of it about six years ago and began the restoration. He found some of the parts in the rubbish in the corner of the crawlspace under the garage.
The bicycle is scheduled to be on display at the 32nd Annual LeMay Auto Collection show on August 29 near Tacoma. See details at the LeMay Museum website.
Tietjen notes that some manufacturers are again producing chainless bicycles that use a shaft propulsion system. In fact, the patent for Shimano's 8-speed shaft-drive mechanism references Scharbach's 1902 patent. Dynamic Bicycles using that system on its drive-shaft bikes, he writes.