2005-09-03 / Top News

Island Ideal for High Wheelmen Visit

By Jessica Delaney

The Wheelmen line up by twos for their 10-mile ride through town. The ride began just outside Fort Mackinac and ended at Mission Point, after a full circuit of the Island. 
The Wheelmen line up by twos for their 10-mile ride through town. The ride began just outside Fort Mackinac and ended at Mission Point, after a full circuit of the Island.

Nothing says “family” like a high wheel bicycle for Arielle Mueller of Minneapolis, Minnesota. She spent the weekend on the Island with five members of her family participating in the Michigan state meet for the Antique Wheelmen Association.

“It’s lots of fun,” said Ms. Mueller. “I started with high wheels in about fifth grade.”

Ms. Mueller especially enjoys the meet on Mackinac because she loves the ride along the water and the shopping.

From left, Scott Chamlee of Southgate, Randy Oleynik of Carlton, Charlie Harper of Muscatine, Iowa, and Bill Smith of Westland are suited up for the century ride. Bikers dressed in contemporary clothing and wore helmets for the 100-mile ride around the Island.
From left, Scott Chamlee of Southgate, Randy Oleynik of Carlton, Charlie Harper of Muscatine, Iowa, and Bill Smith of Westland are suited up for the century ride. Bikers dressed in contemporary clothing and wore helmets for the 100-mile ride around the Island. Many other families joined the Muellers, and solo cyclists did, too. They began arriving on the Island Thursday, August 11, and stayed through Sunday, and while here, they toured the Island, held a bicycle game show, and went on an evening lantern ride. Some took a “century ride.”

The century ride is the biggest event of a state meet, a 100-mile ride which, on Mackinac, is 12 laps around the perimeter road, M-185. Riders who find 100 miles to be too rigorous can complete a quarter century ride.

Tom Linley of Easton, Connecticut, opted for a quarter century ride.

“Part of the reward for riding laps around the Island is a quarter pound of fudge,” he pointed out. “You only need to do three laps to get the fudge.”

Neither the Mueller family nor Mr. Linley are members of the Michigan chapter of the Wheelmen, but they were drawn to the Michigan state meet owing to the high acclaim and recognition it has garnered over the years.

“Michigan usually has the most members and has bigger state meets and they’re a lot of fun,” said Mr. Linley. “And Mackinac is so pretty. Maybe just because this is an island, it’s beautiful all the way around.”

The majority of high wheelmen on the Island rode original bikes made prior to 1918, which is the official cutoff for bikes allowed in the association. A few rode reproductions. Mr. Linley’s bike, however, had a somewhat unique story to it.

He purchased his high wheel from a family that specializes in making parts for old bikes. One year, the eight members of the family decided to build 24 antique bikes to sell. Mr. Linley’s bike was the 25th made, assembled from parts left over from the other bikes.

“Mine’s a little crookeder, it wobbles a little,” said Mr. Linley. “And there’s no brake.”

According to several high wheelmen, however, learning to ride the bikes without a brake can be beneficial. In emergency situations, even the most equipped of the bikes are difficult to stop, requiring backpedaling. The best way to stop a bike in a dangerous situation is to jump off the back and grab onto the frame - a feat which Mr. Linley has mastered out of necessity.

After practice, the maneuver is safe, and it an important skill among wheelmen. Safety is an important theme to the bicyclists, most of whom made sure to wear a helmet during the century ride, although helmets are not required by the association.

The morning of Saturday, August 13, wheelmen lined up two by two along Main Street for the requisite 10 mile ride. All cyclists dressed in authentic late-19th century outfits to bike around the Island. Since helmets were not part of the dress back then, cyclists did not wear them here. Randy Oleynik, captain of the Michigan state chapter, said helmets are not as necessary for the slower, 10 mile ride.

“We ride a lot slower, we ride in a big group so we can control how it goes better,” said Mr. Oleynik. “It’s a big enough procession that everyone sees us and gets out of the way.”

It was smooth sailing for cyclists on the Island. After a bit of rain Saturday morning, skies were clear and temperatures cool. Getting the antique bikes to the Island, however, was not necessarily as easy as biking along the scenic pathways.

Some cyclists are able to fit their bikes into the back of a truck, but many have to make special hitches for a car, resembling those for a normal mountain bike, but specifically engineered for a high wheel. Luckily, mechanical know-how seems to go along with the hobby.

“A lot of the guys are mechanics, or mechanically minded,” said Mr. Linley. “We’ll meet up later at car festivals, and antique car shows.”

There were, of course, no cars to be seen during the state meet. The meet is held every two years, traditionally on Mackinac Island.

The Wheelmen is a national, nonprofit organization. They are dedicated to remembering and teaching the heritage of American cycling and to restoring and riding early cycles.

Their official Web site is thewheelmen.org.

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