Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Friday, September 9, 2011

Butch Cassidy

and the Sundance Bicycle?  What goes through the mind of a person who spends too much time thinking about bicycles...

In the classic film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) with the ever wonderful Paul Newman and Robert Redford, there is, besides shoot outs and daredevil horseback riding, a bicycle scene.  Most of the attention it gets derives from Catherine Ross as Etta Place being perched on the handlebars of the bicycle... but that is not my reason for writing this.

There are a number of people who are very dear to me who love to point out historical inaccuracies in films. And so I endeavored to discover how accurate is this bicycle?  And so a casual observer deduction follows...

As near as a I can figure from the literature, this film is supposed to take place in the late 1890s. So should this bicycle have a fixed cog (as most all early, rear-drive train bicycles did)?  When watching as Paul Newman does his own bicycle stunts! One would of course notice this bicycle has a freewheel (he doesn't have to pedal constantly).  When were freewheels invented?  As best as I can ascertain, the early 1890s.  How quickly did the freewheel spread to the Americas?  Quite quickly (according to some vague statements on Wikipedia and not very thorough sources)... and backward pedal brakes followed shortly after.  (Caliper brakes came years later.)  The bicycle in the film has the proper sort of geometry for the time, to my amateur eye.  It has no handlebar brakes.  Even the saddle looks like the nightmarish contraptions that passed for a saddle back in the day.  As far as I can tell, set design person and prop master: job well done!

Where did this post come from??  The seed of an idea: There was a well known screen writer doing an event at my place of employment this week.  He asked me on one of the rainy mornings earlier this week what made me laugh or smile that day?  I told him about riding my bicycle in the pouring rain in my father's old blue raincoat and feeling, in general, like a blue whale due to all the gear (and of course, Charlie is blue too).  And laughing at myself.  He said that would make an excellent scene in a film, and then proceeded to regale me with a tale of an interview he did with Paul Newman, specifically about this scene.

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Tour de What You Will by Jessie Calkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License