Say Mr Brown and it might invoke all sorts ofÂ thoughts and memories. Some one you knew in your childhood, a former colleague, a friend, a song by Bob Marley, etc. Maybe it makes you think about lots of those things. Say Sheldon Brown and then you’ve probably narrowed that thinking process to a very specific point. I’m guessing that Sheldon Brown is a fairly unique name. Certainly more unique than John Smith, David Williams or Robert Johnson. Ask a cyclist about Sheldon Brown and you’ll probably get a further polarised answer. If you were in the minority in web-savvy bike world who’d never heard of him, then you can read more at his website.
Sheldon passed away on Monday this week and the chances are that you probably know this already from having read about this sad news on different cycling sites. Sheldon didn’t have a big impact on my life. I can’t say I visited his website very often. Some of the bikes that he featured on his site like this Phil Wood Piss Off were interesting to say the least. Yet none of that really matters. He was a helpful forum regular. His website was a catalogue of facts and information that shop staff could fall back on when facing a difficult question about flange grommet diameters or the internal gearing ratios in a Sturmey Archer three speed hub. The fact that he took time to put this stuff on the web made a difference for a lot of people. His legacy is the kind of Internet work that puts sites like this in their proper context.
So I’ve been a bit slow in paying any homage to Sheldon Brown. BSNYC has said this which covers some of what I think:
Only the strongest personalities can infuse inanimate objects with life, and Sheldon Brown did that. Just go to his website and look at his personal bikes. As much as we all love bikes, I think we all know they’re just things. Sheldon’s bikes are things too, but they have a signature exuberance; they are simultaneously absurd and practical. In a subculture that obsessively categorizes everything, they defy categorization. When you reach a certain familiarity with bicycles they can sometimes speak to you about their owners, and Sheldon’s bikes speak with irreverence. They sing and tell jokes, and they have a Thelonious Monk-like ugly beauty. When you have as much knowledge and creativity as Sheldon did, you can build bikes that follow no template except your own.
There’s little danger that cyclists will forget Sheldon Brown. I doubt that there’s any cyclist who hasn’t consulted his site, or who doesn’t still. And as the architect of the cycling canon he’s done more for cycling than any pro cyclist, or critical mass, or white bike, or orange bike ever has. No matter what you ride, how you ride, how long you ride, or how long you’ve been riding, you’re a fan of Sheldon Brown.
On Monday I wrote elsewhere that I suspect he’s not going to be forgotten about any time soon. He was a legend.