2009-08-08 / Top News

Wheelman Visit Island To Demonstrate Their Skills on Antique Bicycles

By Kerri Jo Molitor

The Wheelmen rolled into town on their antique bicycles Thursday, August 6, for their 2009 Mackinac Island Meet, which includes the 100-mile Century Ride the morning of Friday, August 7.

The Wheelmen, a world-wide, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the heritage of American cycling, come to Mackinac Island every other year for the Century Ride and other games, said the captain of the Michigan Wheelmen Division Gary Childs. More than 100 children and adults are attending this year's meet, coming from all over the United States.

The Wheelmen have divisions all over the world, including Canada, Ireland, England, and the main part of Europe. The organization travels to perform in many parades and other bicycle related events, such as tours and demonstrations.

The Century Ride, which is 12 laps around the Island, is not a race and safety is paramount, Mr. Childs said. Because of safety concerns, some people will not be dressed in typical Wheelmen period-appropriate clothing. Some will also only be riding the Quarter Century Ride, which is 25 miles. The ride ends at 9 p.m. Friday.

Saturday morning the Wheelmen will meet at 8:30 for a group photograph in Marquette Park, and at 9 a.m. is the Official High Wheel Tour. At this event, participants will be dressed in pre-World War I period clothing and will demonstrate their skills on antique bicycles. The people in the Wheelmen organization love to talk about their bicycles, Mr. Childs said, and will gladly educate any curious passersby.

At 1:30 p.m., there will be casual games behind the Mackinac Island Public School on the basketball court. The games, Mr. Child said, include attempting to ride the most slowly through a rectangle taped on the ground.

"The slower you go," he said, "the more chance you have of falling. It sounds easy, but these aren't the most stable of bikes."

The riders do wear helmets and have spotters for the games. There will also be a game where the cyclists must attempt to ride in a straight line between two pieces of tape. A few riders will demonstrate their exceptional ability to ride the bikes without hands or legs, quite an accomplishment on an antique cycle, Mr. Childs said.

"The crowd just goes crazy," he said.

Many different types of bicycles will be on the Island, including the distinctive High Wheeler, which has one large wheel and one small wheel. Other bikes include the Bone Shaker, which can be heard coming from far away, an adult tricycle, and safety bikes, which have wheels that are the same size.

The challenge of owning and riding an antique bicycle is the lack of available parts, Mr. Childs said. Most of the bikes have wooden wheels and other parts that aren't found in a catalogue. Despite the challenges in owning the bikes, he said finds them more interesting than modern day bikes. In fact, many modern bicycles are being styled after antique cycles.

"It's kind of something fun to do," Mr. Childs said.

The Wheelmen will be on the Island until Sunday, August 9.

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