About the Author, Frank Berto

I was born in Vancouver, B.C., in 1929. When I was about five years old, I was given a small Meccano (British Erector) set. It was my favorite toy, and building Meccano models was my inoculation for mechanical engineering. I got my first bike, a black second hand Hercules, when I was eleven years old and I rode it to elementary and high school. I stopped cycling when I got my driver's license and permission to drive the family car. My next 20 years were bicycle free.
I graduated in mechanical engineering, went to work for an oil company, married Connie, and we had five children -- two girls and three boys. As the children grew up, second-hand bicycles were purchased so that they could pedal to school. The "Bike Boom" was in progress, so the bikes had three-speed hubs or derailleur gears. I bought a second-hand Schwinn Varsity in 1971, and I became involved in Boy Scouts with my sons.
The first Boy Scout bike trip included a long winding hill. I shifted to low gear (38 inches on a Varsity). Halfway up, I got off and walked while the troop pedaled past. My sons said, "Are you OK, Dad?" The mechanical engineer thought, "If I had a bigger sprocket on the back, I could pedal up this lousy hill." Little did I realize it then that this was the beginning of my lifetime  fascination with bicycle gearing. The next Saturday, I pedaled to the nearby bike store and bought a 14 to 34 SunTour freewheel and a SunTour VGT Derailleur.  I have to laugh now because at the time I didn't have the skills to install them.  It turned out that neither did the local bike shop. They said the components simply weren't compatible, and upgrading the bike would cost more than it was worth. The project of going from a 38-inch to a 27-inch took more than a year. The bicycling books in the local library were not helpful. (Eugene Sloane's book recommended a 39-inch Low.) Using the experience I gained from these gearing experiments I wrote a short magazine article on low gears that was published in Bike World in 1973. I wrote that the Japanese SunTour and Shimano derailleurs shifted better and cost less than the derailleurs made by Campagnolo, Huret, and Simplex. This was heresy to the other bicycle experts of the day. Bike World didn't pay for articles but there was an unexpected side benefit. I got letters from SunTour and Shimano asking if I planned any more articles and would I like components for test purposes. This led to a second article that was published in Bicycling.
I noticed that few bicycle companies bothered to specify the correct sprocket-and-chainwheel combinations, resulting in ten-speeds but only six or seven useful gears. Over the next decade, I embarked on a crusade to allow riders to choose gearing to suit their needs. It was a "learn as you earn" process and by attending the annual bike shows, I met most of the experts on bicycle technology. Fred DeLong was particularly generous with advice.
Writing about the engineering side of bicycles became my hobby. Between 1975 and 1990, I wrote more than 100 articles for "Bicycling," magazine. When I took a "golden handshake" from Chevron in 1986, I became engineering editor of Bicycling. This was an educational period, and I made factory visits and met the experts. "Bicycling" provided me with all the latest components as soon as they were available. In 1986 wrote my first cycling book, Bicycling  Magazines Complete Guide For Upgrading Your Bike,
Coincidentally I happened to live in the area where mountain bikes were developing.  Prior to the "Mountain Bike" I was approached by a gentleman to help develop gearing for the pedal delivery boys who were struggling to ride up the steep hills in nearby San Francisco.  My experience with climbing hills myself led to gearing that was satisfactory for this application. It wasn't long before the sport of mountain biking began. I knew everyone involved and thought at first that it would be just another California fad that would soon pass. In 1988 it was clear that mountain bikes were here to stay and I wrote a paper on the invention of the mountain bike led to my second book,  The Birth Of Dirt: Origins of Mountain Biking. I ceased writing for "Bicycling" in 1991, when they de-emphasized technical articles. Since then, I've written for a dozen different magazines and  have been involved as an expert witness in bicycle patent lawsuits.
In addition to bicycles I have had a life long interest in woodworking and cabinet building and I spend many evenings puttering about in my home workshop. I also have developed a keen mechanical interest in Steam Powered Tractors, and operate one at my son's ranch. 
Frank operates a 1912 Case Steam Driver My international oil-industry experience has convinced me that we will have a serious oil shortage in this decade. My concerns have prompted me to add a Toyota Prius hybrid car to my stable of bicycles, my current favorite being a Moulton NS bicycle.
The 23rd edition of "The Dancing Chain" should come out about the time of my 80th birthday. I hope you enjoy it.
Gears 2 U, Frank Berto


Copyright 2000/09 The Dancing Chain.com Last modified: February 07, 2009

 


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