Saturday, June 07, 2008

Sprocket Man

I was at Barley John's with some of the other nutters from the Three Speed Tour and there's often a show'n'tell. Many times these are old English bicycle parts of such rarity that I have no idea what they are, other times it's more recent but interesting stuff. I hardly ever have anything, at least since I last modelled my Rainlegs.

This time, though, Juston showed up with a comic book called "Sprocket Man". Here's some of the cover art:
Sprocket Man comic cover from Raleigh Bicycles
This comic book isn't dated, but a close reading says it's probably 1973/74. Old bugger bike guys notice the high-flange front hubs, suicide brake levers, automobile styles, leg lights, lock styles and of course the fashions. This would also be in the midst of the 1970s Bike Boom.

Now, this isn't the weirdest bicycle safety material ever (the undisputed top place has to go to 1963's One Got Fat, sort of Planet of the Apes version of the League of American Bicyclists material and well worth watching) but it must rank right up there. In this comic book, Sprocket Man, complete in superhero outfit, dispenses advice on bicycle safety. Even more than One Got Fat, the material is well-thought out and remarkably relevant even 35 years later. The 1970s Bike Boom was a time when adults were riding bicycles in traffic in the U.S. for the first time in decades, and you'll notice the Right Hook, alternative left turn possibilities, ride with traffic, obey traffic signals, signal your turn, stay off the sidewalk, be courteous to pedestrians on the trails, use lights and reflectors, etc. I borrowed Juston's copy and scanned it in; you can read Sprocket Man here but be warned it runs 12 Meg (it started out at 62 Meg, so I've cut it down for you).

Comic books can be an effective communication tool, combining pictures and text (see the entry on Making Comics in Cool Tools) and Sprocket Man is actually pretty good once you get past the superhero thing. Now people draw on computer, and the pen-and-ink thing looks old, but it's still pretty cool.

Credits: Louis Saekow, Artist; John Troja and Julia Molander, Directors; developed by the Urban Bikeway Design Collaborative, a project of Urban Scientific and Educational Research, Inc., Washington, DC; this copy originally distributed by Pavlak's Pedal Palace, Mt. Clemens, Michigan, a Raleigh and Rampar Bicycles dealer. There is a Stanford Univeristy article from 2002 describing Sprocketman's origins. Finally, the CPSC has its own 24-page Sprocketman comic, apparently much the same material without the glossy cover which takes my PDF to 28 pages. Their copy is a smaller PDF but not as clear as mine; you gotta make choices in life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the NEW AND IMPROVED Sprocket Man comic book can be downloaded in PDF format! What's so new and improved about it, I hear you ask? Not much, but apparently, someone from the CPSC noticed that no one in the original version ever wore a helmet, so the artist decided to go back and pencil one in for every character. Now the mentally handicapped bird watcher can bike just as dangerously as before, but at least he won't mess up his hair the next time he accidentally takes out three mailboxes and a stop sign chasing after a field sparrow