Rider No. 8 wanted redemption.
Brian Caron, of Hagerstown, pumped his fist as the 2014 Frederick Clustered Spires High Wheel Race came to a close. After an hour of circling downtown Frederick, the reigning U.S. champion of tall Victorian-era vehicles had done it again.
With a winning total of 41 laps, Caron broke his own personal record of 40 laps but barely missed the all-time high of 42. Sheryl Kennedy, last year’s top-scoring woman, claimed victory and set a new course record for women at 38 laps.
Thirty cyclists clad in heels, rainbow socks, capes, motorcycle helmets and suspenders faced off in the hourlong fight Saturday to see who could log the most laps around the 0.4-mile loop.
Caron said he felt slower than in 2013 and didn’t know if he was guaranteed a win until the last lap.
His life has revolved around bikes since childhood, friend Mike Spinnler said. The winner’s ride résumé spans mountain biking to road racing to BMX; he also collects and restores classic and antique bikes. Loving the sport means loving its history as well by trying older forms, Caron said: “Working your way backwards so you know where you came from.”
But whether riding a machine from 1888 or 2014, Spinnler said, cycling comes down to beating pain and suffering.
Spinnler described Caron’s interval training to another spectator: Zipping over hills at 22 mph, Spinnler said, “he wanted to win this.” Caron added later that his regimen included cycling hard on city streets and country roads for at least an hour each day.
He bought his bike, an 1882 Columbia, in “rough but rideable condition” in 2009. Fueled by a cheering, mustachioed audience and warm weather, the two made a formidable duo in defending his title.
“This is the best crowd,” he said. “At BMX, it’s only sponsors and girlfriends and wives. Here, you have everybody. ... You feel the energy the whole time.”
He hopes to place high in Frederick again next year, when the local race will serve as a qualifier for a world series. But first on the post-race to-do list was a cold beer with fellow racers.
Their stories are as varied and quirky as their wheels. Take Oscar Bernatsky, a bicycle collector from Uruguay with a family legacy in Olympic cycling. Pennsylvanian Steve Weddles built his own ride last week. Jamie Woodward, of New Hampshire, once completed a 750-mile ride from Detroit to Philadelphia.
Haken Rhoten, 9, rode a high-wheel for the first time last week but logged 27 laps.
“It’s exciting,” he said before receiving his medal. “It’s scary at first because you’re with all the adults.”
Gail Schilling, who stopped by the race during a trip from Florida, praised young and old cyclists alike for their balance and knowledge of their sport. The information makes it interesting, she said; the crowd support makes it fun.
Event organizer Eric Rhodes said energetic riders are key to a successful high-wheel race. Spectators feed off of bikers who are there to have fun, he said, and vice versa.
Rhodes, a member of the Potomac region of the Wheelmen cycling heritage group, began the Clustered Spires competition in 2012. As it grows, he hopes to split it into youth and adult divisions.
He enjoys the simplicity of a high-wheel machine. It’s very retro, Rhodes said, and more difficult to ride without brakes, gears or the ability to coast.
That sentiment of hard work and love may well be shared by the bikers as they headed to an after-party at Brewer’s Alley.
“Every mile you ride, you’ve earned,” Rhodes said.
Follow Rachel S. Karas on Twitter: @rachelkaras.