Fatigue Limit – 5

Coventry Rotary in 1879. Chain driven.

I had no regrets about missing out on the highwheeler. I started with a safety bike only a year ago, my father paying a king’s ransom for the machine. Still, I admired the local racers who suffered through their formative days riding highwheelers. They were modern-day essedarii, riding high out of the saddle where a tumble could mean a trip to the infirmary. They made the switch to safeties in a heartbeat once Carl changed over. The mechanical engineer always berated the beastly highwheelers, declaring them an engineering travesty. He pointed out the advantages a chain afforded the Coventry Rotary tricycle and called for a two-wheeler of similar design. It took ten years, but the bicycle industry finally came around to Carl’s way of thinking. Only a handful of professional racers still rode highwheelers. We assumed it was because their sponsors required it of them. They weren’t fools, but they were beholden.

Everyone’s attention turned from Carl to Gary when he rolled up, riding a custom-made Harry S. Roberts, imported from England with the latest lightweight tubing and iron rims, drivetrain on the left. Its new coat of pearlescent paint glistened in the sun. Gary’s blond hair complemented the bike color. He greeted the riders with an expressive smile, slapping hands and wheeling a circle before planting his feet. The riders crowded around, anxious to share a brief moment with the new cycling phenom. Racers worshiped anyone who could outride the pack. The personality wasn’t what mattered, just the leg muscles, the lungs, and the winning spirit. Gary had all of it and the riders wanted a piece of it. They hoped that some of his magic would rub off by following his draft. If only it were that simple. Bike racers need guile to win. Those talents weren’t necessarily God-given. Gary had quick reflexes, feared nothing, and had that unassailable confidence, but he also had cunning. He knew when to strike, when to stay back in the pack. Few racers could do what he did with the same proficiency.

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