This excerpt comes to you from “How America can Bike and Grow Rich, The National Bicycle Greenway Manifesto” that will be a part of the 2007 Nat Bike Party that Martin Kreig's author tour will engender. It explains why the HIWheel bike has placed recumbents and the gym both of which have been such a huge part of his life, in a holding pattern.
“All right Fred, you made it! And yahoo Phil, this is rockin’,” I said as I started working my way off my tall bike.
“Well Martin you were right, I think we are gonna turn some heads.” Phil observed.
After a few minutes getting everyone introduced, I said, “Yeah, here is where it gets interesting. I remember when we rode this stretch seven years ago and the locals were all cheering Steve Stevens on. They weren’t looking at our high tech recumbents or the tandem trike Larry loaned me from his shop, they were looking at Steve. “
Steve Stevens (no relation to the Thomas Stevens who circumnavigated the globe on a bicycle in 1884), had just completed a ride from San Francisco to Boston on his HIWheel. He had done so in an amazing 29 days, a new world record that still stands today. And unbeknownst to me at the time, seeing all the attention he and his bike were getting, he had planted a seed.
Even though I could now see that the HiWheel created a lot of excitement, the notion of my riding one was easy for me to dismiss. Reasoning that I needed to keep the playing field leveled between myself and cars, there was not going to be any way that I could build one into my world. As a transportation cyclist, I needed to be able to get places fast without a lot of effort. And it was for this application that I knew that the HiWheel was in a word, IMPRACTICAL.
I was closed to the possibility of doing anything more than admiring what is also called a Penny Farthing until two years later when I pedaled a tall wheel for the first time. I had bought a well used, replicated version to bring attention to our booth at the NBG Festivals we used to produce. However when I finally worked up the nerve to try it, even though it was not mechanically sound, the joy of floating above the cars and the rest of the world below forced me to rethink my priorities. The danger of being so high off the ground suddenly paled in comparison to the sudden feeling of magnificence that soon overwhelmed me.
I determined if I could learn how to walk again and do what it took to reverse my paralysis and all of the other complications brought on by my 1977 head injury to ride a traditional bicycle and then a recumbent `across the US, that I could ride a few blocks on a HiWheel bike. Besides, I now did yoga and had been doing so every day since I had completed my last coast-to-coast bike ride. I knew that no matter how bad my bones got shaken out of alignment, that I could still remedy the situation.
I also loved making people smile. The joy riding my HiWheel brought to others told me I had to do what it took to be able to ride it more. But where would I find the time, I wondered.
Soon I determined that if I rode one a few days a week when I was not working out with weights, that I could develop enough expertise to be a able to ride it in a parade or two. However, once I got the bike repaired and it became evident that the longer I rode, the less energy I had for the gym, I asked myself if I could ride more and work out less. When I could see that my body felt and looked as fit as it ever did the more I HiWheeled and the less I pushed iron, I did a very hard thing.
I gave up my gym membership!
I traded in the safety and familiarity of a social world of fellow health seekers sequestered from the rest of the world by walls and windows for asphalt, cars and the fit and the mostly unfit. For 24 years, working out had been a way of life for me. It had gotten me beyond the helplessness of my head injury setback. I had become so accustomed to seeing my body change as I focused on different parts of it with resistance training that I was only minimally aware of the fact that most people only paid attention to their bodies when they were sick.
As such then, I would be using the time I had spent under a health club roof to place the National Bicycle Greenway vision before an America that really needed it. The several hours a day I spent riding to and from the gym, as well as working out in it, I began to spend on my HiWheel bicycle. And just as soon I could see that just by riding the Penny Farthing I was bringing hope to the the young and the old, the overweight and the fit and all the different ethnicities that make up the world around us. All the happiness that resulted pushed me on.
Five years ago, I would have been happy with a couple of blocks worth of pedaling, while being able to ride a parade or two would have tested the limits of my joy. And yet here now, I was on my way across the country on the bicycle where it all began; that forever changed the way man would move about.
Besides connecting me to the people on the street, the HiWheel was also connecting different cyclists to one another. Since even within the ranks of cycling there are different factions all with their own agendas, needs and desires, the HiWheel bike had built in leadership qualities. As I got around on the HiWheel and more and more touring, racing, training, commuting, off-road, recumbent and casual cyclists got a chance to see motorists give me more respect than they were getting, I could see that more and more of them wanted to be a part of my family. And as my family grew, a critical mass of us would be elevating the public consciousness to show how important it is for us to be on the road.
And it is here that I count mountain bike cyclists as an interested party. Even though their preferred riding turf is off road, in getting to the dirt many of them pedal the road. And more of them would travel that way if the streets were safer for them to do so. Nor does any off this account for the fact that studies have shown that most of the off road bikes that are sold today spend most of their time riding not off road, but on road.
And then there are the people who ride recumbent bicycles, a marginalized population of cyclists indeed. They are seen by many of the mostly younger cyclists who ride traditional upright bikes, as being less capable. They dismiss the recumbent rider as being a man or woman who is limited by age, health or weight problems. So the fact that since 1983, I had only been riding recumbents, partly to get attention for the National Bicycle Greenway, seemed to communicate that I had special needs. It was this that served to limit the support I needed for our vision.
I could not wait to return to the speed and the comfort of a recumbent bicycle but for now I was a man on mission. Besides now it wasn’t just going to be one Hi-Wheel biking turning heads through DC, there were _____ of us!!
“What do you say we get moving?” Larry offered. “I don’t want to be late this year and we can’t afford any wrong turns with all these high bikes. All those roads that lead to the Capitol can get so confusing. ”
“That’s why you guys got me. This is pretty much the commute to my shop,” Phil said. “I’m not far from the Mall and that’s pretty much where DC City Hall is. And so what I did is get us on the quiet route and not the route I take when I am hammered. And I’m always hammered. But what I have will be very pleasant. And you’re right, we should get going.”
As Thanksgiving falls upon us, there is one man who reminds us how lucky and blessed all of us here in America really are. A highly regarded engineer for the City of Palo Alto, Tom Kabat uses his free time to show that anyone can build a bike, no matter how few or how many resources any of us may have available to ourselves. As you hear the joy in Tom's voice, you will know why he loves turning other people's discards into transportation that is all about fun.
If you're ready to find yourself laughing with us as you learn what drives the man behind http://woodenbikes.com , listen to the Podcast: