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While reading this Wikipedia article, I noticed some photos of racers, all from the early 20th century, riding bikes with the forks installed backwards. I count at least 3 of them, so it wasn't just a single weirdo doing that. What is the purpose of this configuration? The downside is obvious (it makes the bike harder to control) but they must have had a reason.

piet van nek

  • Is it that hard to control? It’s a great amount of trail so should result in a very stable (maybe too stable) ride. – Michael Oct 13 at 5:51
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    For those who, like me, didn't know what "derny" meant: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/derny . Awesome scrabble word! How do English speakers pronounce this, accent on the first syllable, or on the second as in French? – Ben Crowell Oct 13 at 14:12
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    Is it just me, or does that sweater look like it would be insanely hot for someone involved in a very high intensity workout like motor pacing? – FreeMan Oct 13 at 18:09
  • @BenCrowell thanks for posting that. As an American, I'd say "Der-knee", but since he's a Frenchman, I'd imagine he'd have pronounced it "Dehr-nay". But I could be wrong... :) – FreeMan Oct 13 at 18:11
  • @FreeMan: It looks very breathable ;) – Michael Oct 13 at 19:47
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As already said in the title of the Wikipedia page, these bikes are intended for motorpaced racing on track. The backwards fork allows the rider to stay closer to the derny motorcycle for more efficient drafting. Since the races take place on track, with single riders drafting motorcycles, the handling is not that much a problem, but people have indeed died in accidents in this form of racing.

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  • This is really interesting and not something I was aware of. I found a video of 2 bikes with slight backwards forks in Motorpaced racing I found if you want to see it in action youtube.com/watch?v=JLTf1_SN8MQ – Dean Meehan Oct 13 at 12:21
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Riding with the fork backwards like that results in a geometry with an extreme amount of trail. This tends to make the bike stable in a straight line at high speeds, so it was done for high-speed runs, record attempts, etc. but I don't think it is good for normal purposes.

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