Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Homage to Sheldon Brown


In the annals of single name stars, cycling has had nearly as many as rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve had Eddy, Greg, Lance, Mario and Eki. But for those of us who have cared about the operation of the bicycle itself we’ve had our own star: Sheldon.

His contribution to cycling cannot be overstated. From his glossary of bicycle terminology to his articles on fixed gear cycling and do-it-yourselfing, Sheldon was the consummate cycling geek. He was in and of himself a compendium. I can think of no higher compliment to pay someone’s intelligence than to say it was encyclopedic. His site was and is the Encyclopedia Britannica of cycling; I can't recall how many times I said, "I'm sure it's on Sheldon's site."

To the IRS, Sheldon was a bike shop employee. From my limited understanding, the folks at Harris Cyclery thought of him as much more; his value would be best described as treasure.

His career at Harris Cyclery was an unassuming backdrop to his contribution to the cycling community. Reading through the links to the volumes of articles he wrote for beginner cyclists, one cannot help but remark, “I wish I had been able to read that when I was starting out.”

That Sheldon compiled all of this information so devoid of desire for personal glory, so stubbornly without remuneration was far more than modest, it was selfless. That he didn't make his living as a bike magazine editor bears an ironic twist--he deserved to make his living as a writer, but had he done so, his thousands of pages of text would be buried deep within magazine back issues rather than searchable on the Internet. His sacrifice was our gain.

It is unsurprising that such an original thinker would credit the works of Robert A. Heinlein, Martin Luther King and Bertrand Russell as sources of inspiration.

Sheldon leaves behind a wife, Harriet, and two children: a daughter, Tova, and a son, George, both of whom are Ph.D. candidates in mathematics.

For my part, I met Sheldon only once, at Interbike. I told him it was a pleasure to meet him and how important a resource his work has been to me. He seemed genuinely delighted to be paid the compliment and I was pleased to think I might have brightened his day.

Sheldon, your passing is a loss to a community larger than you know.

Picture of Sheldon from his site was pilfered without his family's permission. We hope they won't mind.

20 comments:

Adam said...

wow. I lived in Boston and had single speed built out at Harris. It had a funky chain length/ drop out issue. Sheldon solved it, no problem. He was great and his early website was and is amazing. Sheldon, Thank you for the contributions to and for cyclist from all over.

Anonymous said...

I am sad to hear of Sheldon's passing. I never met him, but visited his site often. Thank you, Sheldon.

spokejunky said...

His site was a goldmine for anything cycling related. He helped me improve my power efficiency by 83% through using his POWerwheels. The man was a genius. Rubber side down, Sheldon.

Jason said...

This is sad. Oddly, I'v been doing some research to try to figure out a compact crank issue I'm having and I must have come upon a hundred links with info provided by Sheldon Brown. He did a hell of a job preaching the 2 Wheeled Gospel.

brent said...

what a kick in the gut. i just e-mailed him last week to ask a question about sram. he replied and said "force came out after i was too crippled to ride". i didn't know what the ailment was and just kind of left it alone. shit, i wish i would have replied and at least wished him to get well... just another reminder that life is a microrganism and not to hold anything back.

Frenchy aka Bike Boy said...

My heart goes out to the Brown family and friends who knew him like a brother, father, friend and lover.

We are slightly less for his passing.

I am stunned.

PEANUT said...

His site is amazing. I've even referenced it in articles i've written. He will surely be missed by more people than we can even imagine! THanks for writing about him on your site.

bikesgonewild said...

...i've been affected by everything i've read, posted myself or had in conversation w/ folks about sheldon's passing...

...but, padraig, your tribute literally had chills running up & down my spine...

...thank you for sharing your appreciation of an amazingly erudite & generous man...

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate enough to have this website available to me when I got into cycling. I would stay up for hours sucked into article after article on thread standards, fixed gear bikes, cassette compatibility etc. His explanation on wheel building has helped me build several sets of wheels which are still being ridden today. The site was the be all end all for cycling tech with such a great sense of humor.

Mr. Brown you will be missed.

jared said...

i wouldnt be the bike mechanic i am today without Sheldon. My fixed gear would not exist without his help.

God Bless Sheldon

mathias_d said...

I don't know what to say. I had been keeping up on his health problems and genuinely felt quite sad for the guy...I will definitely go to Wright Bros. in Fremont and try to get Charles to drink an homage to him. Sheldon deserves it from everyone who considers themselves a true fan of cycling and diy mechanics.

My sincerest condolences to his wife, children and family.

Ron said...

I hear there's a memorial ride going on this or next week.

Ari said...

Thanks for the comments. Sheldon will never be forgotten and I hope his pages will always be available.
Ari

Da' Square Wheelman, said...

I didn't know The Bike G-d personally but we exchanged emails on the various technological challenges of restoring/repairing 3speed Steeds. It will be lonely without him.

Ron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PeAK said...

There will be a Memorial Ride on Sunday March 2, 2008.

Harriet Fell organized this ride about a month after his funeral in order to allow those to gather. A Sunday Service will follow. I'm sure if you look up, the sky will be blue and billowy as Sheldon observes it from his perch high above.

Anonymous said...

Sheldon Brown left the world in a better state than he found it. I am a better person as a result of his having been on the planet

paperfrog said...

Oh, no: I hadn't heard. A great resource and a great cyclist. Irreplaceable. Tailwinds, Sheldon!

Anonymous said...

Im sorry to hear that. this is the first I've heard of his passing away. I learned how to build wheels from sheldon's site!

Anonymous said...

I didn't know he had passed until I read your post. There are many who owe Sheldon Brown a debt of some sort; mine is an interest in collecting old English bicycles that was inspired by Brown's website articles. He was a good man who touched many lives.