Tuesday, November 20, 2018

What's In The Box?!?

Proving that every bike nerd is his or her own unique and precious snowflake, here's something from the Bicycle Museum of America that caused me to geek out mightily, yet most visitors probably never gave it a second look:

If you've already zoomed in on the signage, you're probably asking, "What's so special about a 1913 Shawmut Racing Safety in Crate from Bigelow & Douse Co. in Boston, MA?" Or maybe you've looked at the top of the crate and wondered if Willard C. Spencer of (some illegible town in New Hampshire) is a distant relative of mine.

It's the "In Crate" part. Having unboxed and assembled literally (and I literally mean literally) hundreds of bikes in my brief career as a bike mechanic, I was nerdily fascinated by this example of how bikes were packed for shipping over a century ago. Surprisingly, this early 20th century box job bears some striking resemblances to its late 20th century counterpart. (Having been out of the business for a while, I don't know if the 21st century has brought about some new jetpack-fueled Jetsonian miracle of modern bicycle packaging technology, but I kinda doubt it.)

Your late 20th century bike arrives in a corrugated cardboard box about the same size and shape as this 1913 wooden crate, though it will have its front wheel removed and tucked alongside to reduce the length of the box slightly (I guess UPS drivers weren't so picky in 1913). Its handlebars will be zip-tied to the frame, zip-ties being the Y2K equivalent of the twine holding the 1913 bike's bars (unless you're Grant Petersen, in which case twine is the Y2K equivalent of twine). And finally, all the small, loose parts will be packaged in a separate, smaller cardboard box inside the larger box, just like the wooden cubby in the upper left of the 1913 crate containing what appears to be the saddle, a bell, and a little adjustable wrench (IKEA's got nothing on Bigelow & Douse). In both cases, your bike travels mostly assembled, just waiting for some shop mechanic to set it free via crowbar or boxcutter, finish the assembly, and make the final adjustments. After that, it's New Bike Day for Willard C. Spencer of (unintelligble) New Hampshire!

It does appear that we've become better about protecting paint in the last 100 years, since today's bikes travel with all their tubes swaddled in foam, cardboard, or both. 1913 bikes also didn't have delicate, dangly rear derailleurs to protect in transit. Still, having traveled by plane with a valuable bike in a cardboard box, I'd feel much safer trusting my precious to a crate from 1913... if only to see the TSA guys scratch their heads and go searching for a crowbar.

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