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Posted on Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 5 a.m.

The gift: Sheldon Brown added to the links that bind bike riders

By Wayne Baker


Sheldon Brown (1944-2008) with a quirky “found” addition to his favorite bike helmet—a plastic eagle that once topped a small flag pole.

From Dr. Baker: Here is Terry Gallagher’s last column in this series — and his 100th column at OurValues! Thank him by sharing news of this series with friends.

You don’t have to be a bicycle fanatic to see the passion that Sheldon Brown put into an utterly comprehensive web-based guide he created as parts manager, tech guru and webmaster at Harris Cyclery in West Newton, Mass.

The funky, improvised design dates from the web’s earliest days, and the tone reflects Brown’s profoundly quirky personality, but the information found there is absolutely invaluable to devotees of classic bicycles.

“If Sheldon Brown had been only an excellent bicycle mechanic, the esteem in which he was held, while great, could not have extended much beyond his native Massachusetts,” the London Times wrote in a worshipful obituary after Brown’s 2008 death. “But because of the selfless use to which he put the internet, regret at this death has been felt across the world.”

The obit — which has been archived online at this site — mentions Brown’s encyclopedic knowledge gained through a life of riding, fixing and modifying bikes.

“Then at 49, he found at his disposal an invention more powerful than anything in a mechanic’s toolbox,” according to the Times. “He quickly saw that the internet could make his expertise available not just to the customers of one bike shop, but to anyone who wanted it, anywhere.”

Brown clearly created the site as a labor of love, a gift he was giving away without thought of profit.

At the end of the day, though, it “was a vindication of the internet freeware credo that putting up free content will bring its own reward,” the obit said. By the time Brown died, his site brought in about half of Harris’s business.

So, what gifts are you giving?

What do you think about the gifts we should be giving?

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