2013-08-09 / Top News

Wheelmen Bring Antique Cycles to Mackinac Island

By Noriah Williams

A member of the Wheelmen takes photographs on his phone while riding during the 10-mile Official Highway Tour on Mackinac Island Saturday, August 3.A member of the Wheelmen takes photographs on his phone while riding during the 10-mile Official Highway Tour on Mackinac Island Saturday, August 3.The Wheelmen, a national group of bicycle riders, brought their Victorian-era bicycles for the Mackinac Island Meet Thursday, August 1, through Sunday, August 4. Stationed outside the Murray Hotel on Main Street, antique bicycles, all manufactured or replicas of bicycles made before 1918, drew attention from all those passing by.

“I always wanted to ride a high wheel,” said Mark Pachefky, a group member from Polk, Wisconsin. “As a kid, the first time I saw one I wanted one. My mom said no, they’re way too dangerous, too expensive. In 1996, my wife bought me this for my birthday and I’ve been riding ever since.”

The group has been meeting on Mackinac Island for more than two decades, taking part in cycling rides including the 100- mile Century ride, which took place Friday, August 2, the Official Highway Tour totaling 10 miles Saturday, August 3, and a night lantern ride later Saturday evening.

At left: Wheelmen member Christine Gray with her granddaughter, Erika, in an original late 1890s governess bicycle, which could be pedaled by the child or be pulled by the handle.At left: Wheelmen member Christine Gray with her granddaughter, Erika, in an original late 1890s governess bicycle, which could be pedaled by the child or be pulled by the handle.

A variety of antique bicycle models were on display during the rides. Along with the big wheel bicycles many of the Wheelmen ride, one-speed safety bicycles with two samesize wheels were present, as was the Eagle, a bicycle with a little wheel in front and big wheel in back, which was only made from 1896 to 1898.

Wheel size varies from the typical size today to more than 60 inches. The bicycle’s material, thin metal, also gives them a heavier weight than expected, averaging 60 pounds.

To stay on the bicycle, Mr. Pachefsky suggests keeping your bottom back and remaining dead center on the seat. A peg on the back of the back is used to propel the rider on and off the bike.

“You always see pictures of the old guys riding, and they look so smug sitting there. They’re trying to stay on the bike. If you lean forward too much, you’ll go right over the top. That’s called a header.”

In addition to antique bicycles, many Wheelmen members dress in Victorian-era style clothing. Colored suspenders and socks depict what state the rider is from.

The phrase “crash and burn” is said to originate from early cyclers. The antique bicycles are equipped with kerosene-lit lanterns and during twilight or early evening, if an accident were to occur, kerosene often spilled into the street and caught the wool trousers of the rider on fire.

“Not only did you fall and hurt yourself, now you’re burning,” Mr. Pachefsky. “Another expression that comes from this bicycle is ‘flying by the seat of your pants,’ because when you’re going downhill you couldn’t keep up with the pedals, so you’d be flying by the seat of your pants. No brakes.”

Christine Gray of Rochester Hills designs her own Victorianera costumes, even teaching classes on how to make Victorian era dress patterns after becoming involved with the Wheelmen.

“I absolutely love it here. I usually come dressed every day. I think it’s a great place to do it. I think it’s part of what we are. We are entertaining. I don’t think it’s something we do just for ourselves. We love sharing with other people. They’ll teach people to ride, help them get involved. It’s a great family club.”

The governess, another antique style bicycle, was made to take children around New York’s Central Park. The handle could be flipped backwards so the child could push-pedal themselves and steer, or flipped forward to be pulled.

Mrs. Gray brought a late 1800s original governess bicycle to the meet for her granddaughter to ride. She and her family got involved with antique bicycles by attending antique car shows where the bicycles would often make an appearance. The thrill of the ride caught the attention of her young son.

“His dad bought one for him, but then we couldn’t get Dad off of it. So Dad got one, then we had to get ones for the girls, then I got my tricycle. Next thing you know, we were involved,” said Mrs. Gray.

The Wheelmen’s four-day visit and ride through the Island combined their love of cycling history and Mackinac Island’s nostalgic background, along with providing enjoyment for spectators.

“A lot of people in the group will help you and show you the right way and the safe way. Where to go for parts, whatever you need,” said Mr. Pachefsky. “It’s a great group of people trying to promote antique bicycles.”

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