From: Tom Dalton <email@example.com>
".... Around the same time a friend of mine told me that he was thinking about trying to develop an electromagnetic vavle system for the internal combustion engine... at the time I wasn't certain that it had been tried before, but my intuition said it had. Of course, certain F1 teams have revived this idea, but I have little doubt that it was first tried within two decades of the invention of the Otto cycle engine."
I know that my employeer, a major manufacturer of diesel engines, has spent a lot of money in the last 8 years pursuing such a device (known as a "camless engine"). It's a bit of a holy grail, providing incredible versatility in controlling just when gases go in and out of the engine. A company called Aura, I think, has done this with a gasoline engine. The trick to the whole thing is finding some means of moving the valves incredibly quickly and precisely. Like many great ideas, coming up with the idea is easy. Finding a way to implement it is the hard part.
I always assumed that this is why the safety bike arrived when it did. The materials just weren't available to make a good chain! Look at the awful chains used on some of the high wheelers that used a chain system to allow higher gears. They look like some of the crude chains I've seen on old farm equipment (square loops of metal form each link, with another piece of metal bent into a "c" to join adjacent links). The same applies to good steel frames, which borrowed the metalurgical advances provided by the aviation industry of WW II. Oddly, the same is true of aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber, I think. What are the odds that our derailleur and brake cable technology were originally developed for aircraft too?
Just to bring this directly back to Classic bikes, I'll add that I did a time trial with some friends tonight; me on my '82 Olmo with NR parts and sew-ups, and them on recent ti and alu bikes (one equipped with carbon cranks). I had the pleasure, or random luck, to beat their times by a small margin! I just chalk it up to the motor, the pleasant and comfortable steel frame, and maybe the Richard Sachs jersey and socks. :-)