The Ultimate in Exuberance
Excerpts from a speech by Paul Niquette
Internet Version
Copyright ©2005 by Paul Niquette, all rights reserved.


Sixty parades.  It has been my honor to have ridden in sixty parades -- all over the country.  Been grand marshal in two of them.  Heck, there are astronauts who have been to the Moon and back but never been grand marshal in a parade.  And I'm just an ordinary guy.  But I am riding an 'ordinary' bicycle -- the 64-inch Columbia Expert Ordinary, the largest bicycle in the world as listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, would you like to see the largest bicycle in the world?


"I felt it first in the soles of my shoes!" cried a silver-haired man, eyes glistening.

July 4, 1976, The Bicentennial in Philadelphia, my first parade.  The marching band ahead had stopped.  I dismounted and was catching my breath. 

The man stepped out of a cheering crowd.  He spoke with an accent of indefinite origin.  "When equestrians come along, I see horses," he exclaimed.  "The marching band, I hear music -- but you!"  He pointed at me, and the crowd grew quiet.  "I see a man suspended aloft, propelled by his own effort.  I felt first in the soles of my shoes and now here!"  The man thumped his chest with his fist.  "You have made me proud to have lived my life -- as a man!"  He reached out and took my hand in both of his.  "Thank you!"

I was overwhelmed by the manís exuberance.  I cleared my throat. "You're welcome."

The band started up.  I vaulted onto the saddle with a grunt and looked over my shoulder.  The man was gone.

Riding the high wheel bicycle has produced countless occurrences which decorate my memory:

  • Diners bolting out of a restaurant in Boston to stand cheering on the sidewalk.
  • A teenager expressing his approval through a car window in White Plains; "All riiight!"
  • The state trooper in New Haven setting off for home, siren wailing -- to fetch his camera.
  • The man in Manhattan, tossing down his briefcase, beseeching the sky with both arms. "No other city but Noo Yahk! No other city but Noo Yahk!"
Parade or not, I am motivated to dress the part and take the high-wheeled relic out for a ride as often as I can. Not to do so deprives untold persons of a unique life experience.

One morning in Venice, California, I came upon a woman riding her bicycle with her husband and children along the beach. I had pulled my cap low over my brow against the morning sun and set out that day collecting oh-my-god's. Hers would make the tenth. From a furlong away, the high-wheeled apparition stirred the woman to a rhapsodic outburst.

Her words were barely audible, but drawing near, I saw the woman release her grip and lift her hands. She commenced to applaud. Her front wheel suddenly turned.

The woman was still clapping as she hit the ground, bike clattering.

Her husband rushed to her side. She struggled to rise up from the pavement, bruised and bleeding -- never taking her eyes off me. I dismounted the high-wheel and offered the woman my hand.

"Thank you," she said.

I cleared my throat. "You're welcome."

The most extreme case of unrestrained emotional expression occured neither in Philadelphia nor in Venice but in Orange County, California. You might be persuaded to agree, this was the ultimate in exuberance.

The 64-inch Ordinary and I participated in an all-day celebration at Heritage Hill Historical Park. In a Victorian setting, the bicycle attracted more than the usual number of queries from people of all ages. The five most-asked questions are the same everywhere:

  1. How do you get on that thing?
  2. How do you get off that thing?
  3. Why is the wheel so big?
  4. Does that thing have any brakes?
  5. Where did you get that thing?
By mid-day, I had answered these and others countless times. At one point, I stood holding the bike in the middle of a gathering while a man photographed his child perched wide-eyed upon the saddle wearing my cap. At my elbow, stood a woman -- maybe forty, maybe more. She was wearing a sweater.

"Whatever happened to these beautiful high-wheelers?" she asked breathlessly. "Why don't we see them anymore?"

"In the late 1880's, a much improved machine appeared," I said in my best nineteenth century diction. "It enjoyed the advantages of a singular invention, the sprocket-and-chain."

The man with the camera lifted his child down and handed me my cap.

"When they first appeared," I continued, "we called the chain-drive machines 'Safeties'."

For the umpteenth time that day I wondered aloud at how the Ordinary continued in popularity for another twenty years despite the obvious advantage of the Safety. "It is a mystery explainable in one word," I said, pausing for effect. "Machismo: Real men don't ride Safeties."

The group before me found amusement in this revelation, not uncommonly. The woman in the sweater was especially generous with her mirth. I hastened to complete the answer to her question.

"In 1910, at South Hadley Massachusetts, a bicycle race was held in which for the first time the Safety was permitted to race against the Ordinary -- and the Safety won. Thus affording us a lesson from history: The triumph of intellect over dimension."

More laughter now. I waited for silence then continued in muted tones. "Demise of the high-wheel bicycle was assured by The Great War," said I wistfully. "Imagine wagon-loads of tangled spokes and frames, hauled off to make the tools of combat. Scrap iron! Scrap iron for ordnance and artillery."

I doffed my cap. My listeners applauded politely then, deep in thought, drifted away toward other exhibits.

Except for the woman in the sweater -- who engaged me in conversation with growing enthusiasm. Her questions turned to the mechanical attributes of my machine.

Parental discretion is advised.

"Ball bearings," said I, spinning one of the pedals. "Ball bearings were invented for the bicycle, as were tension-spoked wheels."

"Fascinating," she exclaimed.

"Perhaps you noticed the handle-bar?"

She reached up to caress the aged metal, pursing her lips in wonder.

"The arch above the saddle makes room for the rider's legs," I explained. "The downward curve near the grips allows the nineteenth century wheelman to pull upward, with arms extended, exerting thereby a force upon the pedals greater than his own weight." I smiled villainously and twisted the tips of the waxed hair that spans my face. "That shape gave us the term 'handle-bar moustache'."

It was more than she could stand. The woman danced about, clapping her hands and squealing. I could not avoid noticing that she had, at least for today, forgone the benefits of Maidenform's products. I looked around -- for assistance in case she commenced to swoon. No one else was watching. The woman regained her composure and stepped back.

"I want to thank you," she said, fixing my eyes in her gaze, "for making this a special day for me." She crossed her arms at the waist.

There are three ways to remove a sweater:

  1. The one-arm-at-a-time method is not recommended. It can stretch the garment out of shape; so our mothers told us.
  2. Alternatively, one can reach back over both shoulders, take hold of the sweater and pull upward. Think of a rugby player preparing to enter the game from the sidelines. That's probably where we obtained the term "pull-over."
  3. The most sophisticated method is also the most exuberant. It requires coordination. You first cross your arms at the waist, taking hold of the sweater at its lowest extreme. You then straighten your arms toward the sky with abandon.
The woman before me had what I took to be mischief in her smile as she lay hold of her sweater. This would be the ultimate in exuberance. Yet, some will say that her intended grasp did not include the tee-shirt underneath. For an instant, time stood still.

Decorum prevents me from describing what happened next.

I cleared my throat. "You're welcome."


What's that? You say you want me to ride that thing? Here?

It will be my pleasure to do so. Before giving up the microphone, perhaps you have some questions -- this will give me time to work up my nerve...


Permit me to complete this talk in 19th Century diction...

Virtuous Invention
Exerpt from A Certain Bicyclist by Paul Niquette
The bicycle holds primacy among mankind's most virtuous inventions, ranking alongside the loom and the movable-type press. While the former affords bodily raiment, the latter the same save for minds, the bicycle repays mild exertions with swift transport -- the unfettering of our very souls! Yet this most civilized of wheeled conveyances offends neither ear nor nostril and depends not at all on fossils from afar.

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