Big-wheeler gets looks when he rides his bike

November 01, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

HAGERSTOWN -- He's "that guy on the bike."

Cruising through Hagerstown neighborhoods, Brian Caron often gets a second look from people when he passes by.

That's because he is atop a so-called high-wheeler, a bicycle design used before automobiles became popular.

Caron is a fan of all sorts of bikes, including a Columbia "safety bike" that was made in 1898.

Caron refurbished that bike -- unique because of its "chainless" design -- and it sat displayed in Caron's Sunset Avenue house near City Park on Sunday.

Then Caron set his sights on a high-wheeler.

Through eBay, Caron found a man who had a high-wheeler, and after some discussions, he was able to strike a deal.


Now Caron rides through town, leaving wonderment in his wake.

People mowing their lawns crane their necks, and people gaze out from porches and traffic stops, Caron said.

Caron recalled one day when he was riding the bike along Halfway Boulevard and cars stopped as he passed by.

Caron said he rode the bike to Boonsboro once and as he passed through Funkstown, a curious woman stopped him. She wanted to snap a picture of him with the bike.

"There's a lot of people into them, but not in any one town," said Caron, 37, who works at Tri-State Printing Inc.

High-wheelers were the first bicycle design in the United States, Caron said. In the late 1800s, bicycles were a popular form of transportation, especially for people who did not have a horse and carriage, Caron said. They were also referred to as "ordinary" or "penny-farthing" bicycles.

"Tons of them are made," Caron said.

But the bicycles became rare, partly because many were melted down, Caron said.

The big wheel at the front of the bike determines how fast it will go, Caron said. The bigger, the faster, he said.

Sizes of the front tire ranged from 48 inches to 64 inches; Caron's has a 52-inch wheel.

Mounting such a contraption might seem daunting, but Caron said riders get used to it.

He first steps up to a short peg above the smaller rear wheel. Caron then shoves the bike ahead with the other foot -- much like a skateboarder does -- and climbs up on the seat.

To stop, Caron squeezes a brake on the handlebar, which shoves a plate onto the big wheel and it "slows you down a little bit," he said. He also has to put backward pressure on the pedals.

Besides his interest in old bikes, Caron runs a BMX track at Fairgrounds Park and organized a car show last summer to raise money for a club that runs BMX events.

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