Sheldon Brown: 1944 – 2008

Among a whole hell of a lot of things, the one thing that I am never going to understand is why people have to leave this world before their time. Sheldon Brown, one of cycling’s most respected authorities; a man who literally knew everything there was to know about a bike, passed on Sunday at the age of 63.

Sheldon was a man whose sense of minimalism, utility, and generosity shined brightly through his exhaustive catalog of technical bicycle documentation, posted online for the world to exploit. And did I ever.

It didn’t matter if I was looking for chainrings, or fenders, or singlespeed information – I always ended up at Sheldon’s site. And it was never a quick trip. Every time I would find myself lured into some tangent topic, absorbing as much as possible, soon forgetting the issue that brought me to the site in the first place. Sheldon created an encyclopedia of knowledge that was thorough and authoritative, and that made it compelling. His gearing calculations have propelled me up Mount Washington and Mount Kearsarge again and again, and without his help, climbing any hill would just plain take a hell of a lot longer.

There was a point last year when I was shopping for a new bike, and I decided that Sheldon was the man to help me figure out what it is that I’m looking for. It was the first time I had ever corresponded with Sheldon, and it was like speaking with nobility. I couldn’t believe I was actually communicating with him. To me, he was a celebrity. And to trade email with a celebrity was just beyond my comprehension. Why I didn’t take his advice is baffling, even today. He recommended I hook up with a steel machine from Surly. I went ahead and bought a carbon Bianchi, which I took on two rides, and then promptly sold on eBay. Shows what I know.

Over the past several years, Sheldon developed Multiple Sclerosis; an affliction which he documented, in candor, on his website. It was simultaneously fascinating and heartbreaking to read his accounts.

For someone with such a passion for something in life, where there are so many others just tripping along, unsure of their purpose – prime example, myself – I am never going to figure out why they leave us the way they do. Call it unfair, call it a higher purpose – no matter what, it confuses the hell out of me sometimes.

I had so many more things to ask Sheldon. I wanted to visit his shop, and I wanted to meet him, even just once, and thank him in person for what he has given to all of us.

As time goes on, I have to keep reminding myself of the concept of lost opportunity. I am someone who, with amazing regularity, passes on something, only to realize too late that I shouldn’t have done so. Over the past few years, I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress in that department, but clearly, I still have a lot of work to do.

This year’s for you, Sheldon.

Sheldon’s Wikipedia entry

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