For the past few months, city residents have seen Glenn Amey, 31, and Shannon Black, 30, rolling through the South Side of the city on two old-fashioned bicycles. "People are so happy to see us on these bicycles," Black says. "They honk, they wave, they're just happy."
Amey and Black seem like guys who'd ride mountain bikes, not antiquated contraptions. But both got hooked. Now, they want to find other high-wheel riders to form a club, or perhaps hold a big-wheel rally.
It began about six months ago, when Amey saw a classified ad that simply offered, "High wheel bike. 100 bucks." He had never even seen such a machine before, but he bought the reproduction.
For about a month, Amey says, he didn't dare test it out. But after some practice, he and Black found it was surprisingly easy to get the hang of riding 7 feet in the air.
A few falls were inevitable. "I had one," Black says enthusiastically. His shoelace got caught in the axle of the front wheel and he flipped over the handlebars into the grass. The neighbors sat on their porch and watched his trajectory, he says, then yelled, "Hey, you OK?" Fortunately, he was.
Black bought a high-wheel bike of his own on eBay, and since has researched the history of the machine. "Ordinaries" were made from 1871 to 1892, he says. (The next generation of bicycles was called "safeties," he says "obviously trying to improve some safety issues.") Its inventors believed the bigger the wheel, the faster the bicycle would move. Wheels got as large as human legs would allow up to 63 inches, he says.
Recently, Black and Amey successfully made a 10-mile trip on the bikes. The adventure was fun but not easy, they warn.
"There is no stopping and getting off," Amey says. To cross Semmes Avenue, he rides in circles to keep from falling while he waits for a break in traffic. "It's like 'Frogger,'" he says.
Hills are hard, says Amey, because there are no gears. And the absence of brakes means "downhill is another obstacle."
"That's dynamite, though," Black says, grinning.
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