The inventor Frank Bowden, who founded the Raleigh Bicycle Company in 1888, took the arrangement to the next step. While playing around with alternatives to backpedalling as a means of slowing down, he devised hand brakes that transmitted force to the wheel rims through a set of stainless-steel wires sheathed in hollow tubes. These Bowden cables, as they are called today, offered the advantage of graduated feedback, affording riders greater control over their speed. Bowden cables were subsequently used in early airplanes, for controlling wing flaps, where such feedback is crucial. After the Second World War, Northrop Corporation, the aviation pioneer, put its aeronautical engineers to work on prosthetics and became an early builder of cable-operated arm systems. Cables replaced leather straps, and could be used reasonably well to manipulate spilt hooks, which provide a crude sort of opposable thumb.
Ben McGrath, Muscle Memory, the New Yorker, July 30, 2007.
Bowden Cables, eh? I had no idea.
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