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.