Friday, March 12

1895-6 Keating Wheel Company Bicycle

This is a rare opportunity for you to see a very desirable example of a distinctive machine from the "high art" period of American bicycle manufacturing. Constructed in 1896 +/- a year, this Keating bicycle was constructed by the "Keating Wheel Co, Middletown Conn, USA". During a period on cycle manufacturing that necessarily because of a natural convergence of technology saw a homogenization in design and features among the various manufacturers, some sought out ways in which to distinguish themselves from the crowd. Keating accomplished this quite effectively in two significant ways. The proprietary frame, components and wheels on a Keating were beyond compare. The Keating frame is distinctive in that the designers incorporated a forward raking seat tube which not only created a stylish symmetry in the frame which was aesthetically pleasing but also a very easily identified feature that made a Keating unique. In his book "Collecting and Restoring Antique Bicycles" an early bible of the hobby, G.Donald Adams observed that this made a Keating easy to identify. This was surprisingly important and is a practice of design engineering to this day. One look at the frame makes it obvious that the engineers wanted to create the geometric symmetry with the lines of the raking seat tube so closely following the lines of the head tube and the rake of the front fork. Keating claimed a strength advantage, but what is certain is that the design is distinctive. Finally, the are constructed of tubing with a "D" profile. The engineers were thinking too about how to improve wheel building. The most common source of failure in a bicycle wheel is spoke breakage and that most often at the bend near the spoke head where it passes through the hub flange. The Keating engineers solved this by scrapping the idea of using flanged hubs and in doing so created the most bomb-proof wheels ever seen on bikes of this vintage. Instead of flanges they created a hub using studs which allow the use of straight spokes in a familiar tangential lacing pattern thereby eliminating the source of almost all wheel failure. These hubs incorporate some of the most complex machining imaginable. The second consideration Keating made in the improvement of their wheels involved the elimination of a secondary failure source which was the points at which the spokes cross. They knew that as a wheel rotates and the loads on spokes in tension and in compression change, the spokes rub and this creates not only weak points but corrosion points creating further weakness. their solution? Tying and soldering which involves wrapping each crossing with a couple strands of delicate wire and soldering. This practice not only eliminates a source of weakness but also adds an incredible amount of strength and rigidity to a set of wheels which was very important particularly in construction of wheels with wood rims which necessitated using lower spoke tension than we are accustomed to today. Tied and soldered wheels can still be found today in very demanding use and on the track. lastly rather that choosing to equip this bike with the much cheaper one piece wooden rims, Keating opted for the much superior laminated construction. Additional features include reversible adjustable handlebars allowing the same set of bars to be used in a racing or scorcher configuration as they were when I acquired this bike many years ago or in an upright touring position. The stem uses an internal expander for height adjustment and a clamp for angle adjustment. Bars include cork grips. The saddle is a padded leather hammock design that has an adjustment for tension of the leather. High quality block chain. Mounting step on rear hub. Overall, the designers and builders of the Keating bicycle hit a home run in being able to deliver such a beautiful, machine that is equally well -engineered and did so while keeping this all steel machine at a featherweight 20 pounds.


Unknown said...

Nice piece on Robert M. Keating -- his wheels were truely state-of-the-art. He was driven to innovate and perfect; alas, but not to run a business. From the Keating Manufacturing Company in Westfield, MA, to the Keating Wheel Company in Holyoke, MA to Keating Wheel and Automobile Company in Middletown, CT, his flashes of genius would take form and then too quickly burn out as industrial business practices eluded him -- or just didn't interest him. He was the quintessential modern American inventor. We believe that RMK develop the first working motorcycle in America -- the quest to prove it is on. RMK succssfully sued Harley for patent infringement and a case against Hendee (Indian) was made as well.

In 1886, RMK invented the rubberized home plate now used in baseball and, just before his death in 1922, he invented the flush valve for toilets. They don't make men like RMK anymore. Thanks for sharing the info on the Keating wheel.

Rob Keating

Prufrock said...

My---a real living family member of the Keatings. I am honored !

Anonymous said...

Hi Rob Keating :)

I remember a Greenhouse in Springfield with maybe 30 plus kwc bikes.. just gotta remember which of my fathers cousins owned the greenhouse...

~Ken Keating

Rob Keating said...

Prufrock -- Is there any way you can connect me with the Ken Keating of 12-26-11? I would really like to follow up with him. Thanks

Rob Keating