Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chain Drive Mug from Hawaii

Bicycle-themed handmade chain drive coffee delivery device, courtesy of The Flat Tire

Harry John Lawson, an English engineer, modified his Safety Bicycle to use a chain drive in 1879, apparently taking the idea from chain drive tricycles. His version didn't catch on, but in 1885, John Kemp Starley produced his version of a chain-drive safety bicycle called the Rover, which eventually became successful. (source: Wikipedia). The chain drive, as readers will already know, was an alternative to the direct-drive, pedals attached to the hub arrangement, of the high wheeled penny farthing. Other drive arrangements were also tried, like the treadles of Lawson's first diamond frame Safety Bike, but once people got used to tooling around on a chain drive diamond frame bike with a big cog up front and a smaller one out back, the advantages of the design became obvious. Since then, no other bicycle drive arrangement has offered any serious competition, because this combination is simple, safe, and efficient.

limom at The Flat Tire sent me the mug above to try out. Probably unconsciously, he somewhat mirrored the history of bicycle drive systems by also producing some direct-drive mugs with wheels for handles. He asked me to test drive the chain mug and post a review. A task where I get to drink coffee out of a beautiful handmade mug and blog about it? I'm in!

The chain handle really grabs your attention, doesn't it? You can see this mug in the making on his blog, which is super-cool, and illustrates the level of effort required to fabricate a mug handle that resembles a bicycle chain. The details are amazing, and just make you pick up the mug to examine it closely, which is the reason I love this object: the person who made this demonstrated a fanatical level of attention to detail in trying to realize an idea, and the mug itself tells you that when you pick it up, hold it, and look at it. The shape of the cogs. The amount of glaze put on so that you can still see the horizontal striations made by hands on clay spinning around on a wheel (I think). The weight of it: for some reason it seems a little bit lighter than you expect it to be when you pick it up, for me anyway, very similar to hefting a light road bike: whoa! Lighter than expected. 

On the other hand, a chain handle coffee mug also raises obvious questions of durability and practicality. Will it hold up under regular use? I think it will for me, because I am not a handle-holder. I always grasp cups around the body, and use the handle (and in the case of the chain mug, the raised cogs) as grip-aids. I don't plan to hang this mug on a mug tree by the handle, though, and I don't think I would run it through the dishwasher, either. When considered together with the pain-in-the-ass it was to fabricate it, you may have considerable doubts about the viability of a chain-drive coffee mug design. The Maker has said as much. 

Allow me to present an alternate view, or challenge, against those doubts: the chain-drive mug design is a winner for the simple reason that any cyclist who is also a coffee drinker will experience a sense of recognition (heh-heh-heh) at seeing it, and want to pick it up, and probably get one for themselves. The wheel handle alternate design may have the same effect, too, so I am not suggesting that the chain drive is superior in that sense, but I think each has its merits, and may appeal to different people for different reasons.

In my imagination, I went back in time and set this blue chain mug on the desk in front of Harry John Lawson and John Kemp Starley, with no other explanation beyond telling them that this mug was made in Hawaii, by hand, 125 years after their chain drive bicycles hit the streets. I imagine them picking up this mug with delight, and filling it with a strong brew of English tea, then sitting beside the fire to argue the relative merits of various chain designs. To me, the delight of an English engineer is reason enough to love the chain mugs.

I think if I could change anything about this particular example, I would want it to be a bit bigger. It's not a strong criticism, though, more like a preference. This one holds about 8 oz of coffee, about midway between the espresso cup and the large, 16 oz mug pictured below. It's a decent amount of coffee, particularly if you go for quality over quantity, but I find myself wishing it held just a little more. Other than that, though, it's my new favorite coffee mug. Thanks to limom for sending it to me to review! This is a mug that recommends itself to a cyclist. Very good for pre-ride caffeination. Get up. Go ride.

Size comparison: espresso cup, chain mug, 16 oz coffee mug


  1. Wow, thanks for the shout out and great review!
    I have to say, I've never seen a humongasoid 16 oz'er before.
    You sir, are a serious coffee imbiber!
    Thanks again!

  2. limom you're welcome. The 16ers roll over bumps better, and have less drinking resistance. Combined with an ultra-stiff handle bracket, they give a very compliant drink.

  3. I'm a handle holder and so far the handle is proving to be a winner. It's my favorite part of the mug. The blue mug looks pretty good.

  4. Rat Trap I like the the one you got, too. Check out his review if you haven't already, y'all.


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