The Adventures of a Fixed Gear Bicyclist
#1: 1957--1991 My First Fixed Gear Cycles
by James Allen

Most modern cyclists can't relate to fixed gears, but they aren't so hard to understand. Just cast your mind back to early childhood...

In 1957, when I was seven years old, my father brought home a used tricycle. I was the last of seven children and the first in our family to have a tricycle. The tricycle had a 20 inch front wheel with pedals that connected right onto the axle. I thought it was really fast.

For some kids, a tricycle was just a toy to be ridden on the sidewalk or in the backyard. But for me, the tricycle was freedom. It was a workout appliance and a tool for exploration. It was a way to the little country store, an oasis for a country boy, where a bottle of coke was 10 cents and a candy bar was 5.

I remember my first big ride. It was an August afternoon and my parents had gone to town. They'd left me in the care of my three older sisters. I knew they were no problem. I could sneak out anytime. They'd never miss me.

We lived on a gravel road three-fourths of a mile from the state asphalt highway. One-half mile east on the highway was the store.

I fetched twenty-five cents from my bank, got on my tricycle and headed out. The trip was a breeze. I arrived at the store, to find my dream come true--a coke, a candy bar and 10 cents left over. But the older couple who ran the store asked a lot of questions. They wanted to know all about what I was doing and whether anyone knew where I was. I tried to stall them, but with every word I must have made it clear that I had no permission to be there.

Then a neighbor came in and offered to see that I got to the gravel road safely. He tied one end of a rope to my tricycle and the other to his tractor, then pulled me slowly back so I wouldn't get run over on the highway.

I was in big trouble. That was my first and last tricycle trip to the store.

Thirty years later, in 1987 to be precise, I purchased my first direct drive bicycle. It was a 48 inch reproduction highwheel bicycle, built by M-Z Engineering of St. Louis, MO. I learned to ride highwheel and gradually progressed up to continuous thirteen mile training rides. Word gets around when you ride a highwheeler, and I started hearing stories of an organization called the Wheelmen.

The Wheelmen were dedicated to pre-1918 bicycles. They held an annual meet at which they raced the old bikes--sometimes over a full century!

Even better, some Wheelmen were riding reproduction bikes like mine. A century on a highwheel bicycle sounded like fun, even though twenty miles was my all-time record.

In 1991 we joined the Wheelmen and our family headed to Findlay, Ohio to our first annual Wheelmen Meet. I was dreaming of completing a century ride on my highwheeler. I felt just like I did when I was seven years old, riding my tricycle to the country store.

Continued in forthcoming editions

James Allen has dropped out of contact. readers are agog to hear the next part of his story. Anyone know where to reach him?

v1.0 written January 2003

The Wheelmen have their own site.
Urban highwheel high jinks from Erik F. on this site.