One year ago, Frederick resident Eric Cameron was sipping a beer in Brewer’s Alley and watching the racers fly by on towering bikes in the Frederick Clustered Spires High Wheel Race.
Little did he know that next year not only would he be sitting atop such a bike, also known as a penny-farthing, but he would win first place in the Saturday downtown race.
Riders win the High Wheel Race, which many say is the only one of its kind in the nation, by looping around the .4 mile-course as many times as possible in the span of an hour. With 41 laps, Cameron matched last year’s champion and took home a custom trophy.
“I’’d like to use this as a springboard to get my wife to buy me a couple of these high-wheel bikes,” he laughed.
Cameron had borrowed his bike from a friend around Independence Day, and with his work commitments, he had only managed to practice for three or so weeks.
“I’d ride every night if I could,” Cameron said.
The sidewalks near Brewer’s Alley were packed Saturday with fans, some scrambling for a slice of shade, others snapping photos and cheering riders, who hailed from Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, even Florida.
“Look at him go!” one bystander called after a 10-year-old boy, the youngest rider of the race.
Launched in 2012, the race continues to blossom, said one organizer, Jeanne Rhodes, who founded the event with her husband Eric.
This year, the High Wheel Race officially partnered with the Tour de Frederick, and together as of Saturday afternoon, brought in a total $160,000 for the Boys & Girls Club of Frederick County, Eric Rhodes announced before the race.
The champion two years running, Brian Caron, stood by his bike, dressed to the nines in a crimson shirt, suspenders and a bow tie. He said in an interview before the race that the others were gunning for his title – like any race, he said, you pace yourself, don’t expend all your energy in the first half-hour.
“The race basically comes in three segments. You have the front-end with the crowd is hyped, and then you turn that corner, you have to climb the hill,” Caron said, gesturing to where the racers turn at Second Street. “When you turn that corner and heading up to Record Street, you really really start feeling that grain.”
The circle runs from North Market, to West Second Street, and past West Church Street.
Another rider, Haig Colter, of Bethesda, milled around at the start line, dazzling in all-silver suit which he said he purchased from a San Francisco store that sells a line of disco-era clothing
He has raced every year since 2012, and usually dons knickers and other Victorian-age garb, but said this year he decided “to bring a little style.”
Colter’s history with bicycles stretches far back to his youth — a bike messenger in college, he had a road bike, a mountain bike, even participated in triathlons, but said he assumed initially his penny-farthing would be decorative.
But Eric Rhodes convinced him to give it a whirl.
“The mount and dismount is the hardest,” Holter said. “Once you’re on the bike, it’s not that much different than riding a normal bike. The mount and dismount is the thing that takes the practice.”
The bikes do appear imposing, with the largest front wheels in this year’s competition coming in at 53 inches.
Jeanne Rhodes said, in an interview prior to the race, that the riders must wear helmets, and more than 60 volunteers are stationed around the course to ensure safety.
This year, however, at least two riders were injured. One racer, Larry Black, was transported to the hospital after he crashed for reasons that were not immediately clear. Eric Rhodes said he was unsure what caused the accident, but said Black suffered a dislocated shoulder and deep gash in his elbow.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Eric Rhodes said in a later phone interview. “But he’s a heck of a cyclist and pretty strong so I’m sure he’ll be back in the saddle soon.”
The second injured rider, Rob Stull, ran into Black, but got up and completed the race.
In addition to Cameron winning first place overall, rider Angela Long, a four-year High Race veteran, placed first out of the women, with 36 laps.
“We obviously just need to thank all the people that came out,” Eric Rhodes said. “We’re really looking forward to next year, and our fifth anniversary.”