Few people today know what the term, “penny-farthing” refers to. A few more may know what a “high wheel” is. Both are terms for a bicycle popular in the 1880s that had a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel.
Residents and visitors to Frederick will get an up-close look at this type of bicycle this weekend, during the annual Frederick Clustered Spires High Wheel Race, set for Saturday, August 16th.
As odd as they look today, when first introduced, these two-wheeled specimens were a drastic improvement over previous attempts at such conveyances. (Consider the ominous sounding “boneshaker.”) These bicycles were, in fact, the first machines actually called “bicycles.” As such they are sometimes referred to as “originals” as well.
Seeing a high-wheel bike often conjures up thoughts of leisurely Sunday rides. While that image may be applicable, the bike was not just for casual, upper class recreation. Knock down, drag out races were common during the bike’s heyday.
Frederick’s race should prove to be somewhere in between. Known as a criterium, this type of race consists of short laps completed over the course of a predetermined time. The cyclist that completes the most laps within an hour is the winner. Last year’s winner in the men’s competition completed 40 laps of the 0.4-mile course; the women’s winner completed 38 laps.
As part of the spirit of the event, riders wear traditional riding costumes that would, in most cases, look right at home in the late 19th century. Several bikers compete on authentic antiques, others will run the race on fully functioning replicas.
The Clustered Spires High Wheel Race debuted in 2011 with 20 riders and hundreds of spectators; the 2013 event had more than 40 contestants, and even more spectators.
Events begin on Friday evening, when cyclists will participate in a Meet the Racers event from 6-7:30 p.m., at Westview Promenade, 5223 Buckeystown Pike, Frederick. On Saturday, displays and live music begin outside Frederick’s City Hall at 3 p.m. The race begins at 4 p.m., with the starting and finish line in front of Brewer’s Alley Restaurant at 124 N. Market St., Frederick.
Clustered Spires High Wheel Race