Excerpts from a speech by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©2005 by Paul Niquette, all rights reserved.
BICYCLES ON DISPLAY EXCEPT
64-INCH COLUMBIA, WHICH IS BEHIND A CURTAIN
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?
ROLL OUT THE 64" COLUMBIA EXPERT
Riding the high wheel bicycle has produced countless occurrences which decorate my memory:
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:
"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:
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...
Q AND A
Permit me to complete this talk in 19th Century diction...
|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.
|The Big Bike