A high wheel bicycle manufacturer from Sweden took first place for the second year in a row at this year’s high wheel race in downtown Frederick.
Per-Olof Kippel, 51, who became the first international champion when he won first place overall at last year’s race, was elated with his win Saturday and said he was happy to be back in Frederick again this year. While Kippel said he wasn’t as confident this year going up against so many new racers — a total of 37 racers participated this year compared to 27 last year — he vowed to do his best.
“I said to myself, if anybody else was going to win, they were going to suffer because I wasn’t going to make it easy for them,” Kippel said with a laugh as he hoisted a Swedish flag following his victory.
Eric Cameron, a Frederick resident and two-time former champion, made another strong showing this year, again placing second overall behind Kippel. Even though Kippel dethroned Cameron last year, there was nothing but friendship between the two, as Cameron joined Kippel in a visit to meet the Swedish ambassador last week.
Camaraderie is easy to come by at the event, which had its beginnings in 2009 when local high wheel enthusiast Eric Rhodes first started pitching the idea for a race to his friends.
“I remember he said, ‘Do you think anybody would come?’ and I said, ‘Well, you know the five of us will be there,’” said 46-year-old Brian Caron, a Hagerstown resident. “But the only thing you can do is go ahead and try it. If you advertise it, people will come.”
After attending the Knutsford Great Race in England in 2010, Rhodes resolved to put his own race together, holding the first National Clustered Spires High Wheel Race in 2012.
Now in its seventh year, the race remains the only one of its kind for penny farthing bicyclists in the United States.
“I’m usually out there on my own,” said Tom Shattuck, a 55-year-old who drove up from Tennessee to take part in Saturday’s race. “One of the biggest races I go to is the Hotter’N Hell race in Wichita Falls, Texas, and aside from me, there’s maybe six other high wheels there.”
Caron, who won back-to-back races in 2013 and 2014, and Mike Kennedy, another one of Rhodes’ longtime friends, were both shoe-ins for the event, but not everyone was immediately sold on the idea.
Sheryl Kennedy, Mike’s wife, said she only took up high wheel riding about a month before the first race in 2012.
“They kept trying to get me on a bike and I kept saying, no, no, no, and then finally Eric said, ‘Look, if I had a race here, then would you ride?’ and I said yes,” Sheryl said.
Sheryl went on to place first place among female racers in five of the next six races, a rank she won again this year.
The first race pitted 22 participants against one another in a single, hour-long race, but each year the event has grown, forcing Rhodes and his wife, Jeanne, to reorganize the event into two 20-minute heats in order to whittle down the racers into a more manageable group of about 20 bicyclists in the 30-minute final race.
This year once again saw growth, both in terms of the number of racers and the crowd, Rhodes said.
“This is definitely the biggest we’ve seen, and it continues to grow every year,” he said as the tape came down and Frederick police prepared to reopen the streets Saturday afternoon. “I’m just glad the weather held out, because it kept threatening to rain, and last year just as we got the last hay bale up it started raining.”
If this year’s winners are any indication, the race is likely to remain popular, and hotly contested, for years to come.
Even international participants like Kippel, who wasn’t sure if he’d return for this year’s race, seemed committed to return in 2019 if he can.
“I think it’s almost mandatory if you’ve won two in a row,” Kippel said, laughing. “I think I’ll have to.”