The Rudge Century

My father had a fascination with the bicycle. He loved tinkering with them and he was an active member of the local riding club for many years. As a consequence, he got me involved in recreational touring at a very young age. I rode my first century (100 mile ride) in 1972 when I was 11 years old and I completed fourteen centuries before I turned 15.

Years later, my dad became interested in collecting and restoring antique bicycles, or ‘highwheelers’. For my birthday, he gave me one of his rebuilt machines from the 1880’s called a Rudge.

That old Rudge was a tricky and dangerous thing to ride because it had virtually no braking power and the seat was five feet in the air. When pedaling, my legs were trapped under the handlebars and if the front wheel hit an obstacle, I would be pitched forward in what is called a ‘header’.

The Rudge was also an uncomfortable ride with solid rubber tires and hard leather saddle sending every road bump vibrating up my spine. Since it had only one direct drive gear, it was brutal on climbs and terrifying on descents. It was the perfect gift for a cocky young man.

After we taught ourselves how to ride our old beasts, dad and I joined the Wheelmen, an international club of antique bike enthusiasts. We began riding our highwheelers in small town parades where I enjoyed scaring the kids by riding close to the spectators.

In June 1987, we traveled to Auburn, Indiana with our machines to attend an annual Wheelmen meet. There were hundreds of bizarre and beautifully restored bicycles, tricycles, tandems and velocipedes. There were also costume and memorabilia displays, trick riding contests, and, of course, rides of various lengths around the area. The final event was the Wheelmen Century Run conducted on a six mile loop.

Although my father and I had done some training, we had never gone 100 miles on our antique cycles. However, it was a blast riding with dozens of other cyclists on the open road. Unfortunately, the aid station was poorly stocked with food and we rode most of the way on bananas and sugar cubes. We bonked severely near the end but eventually cranked our way to the finish. As I recall, the ride took about 12 hours because we had to stop for rest breaks on every lap. Luckily, we were able to restore our enery that evening at the final big feed of the meet.

Sadly, that was the last time dad and I rode together. I moved away and he developed (and treated) prostate cancer; making it difficult for him to enjoy his passion. The retired Rudge now collects dust as a living room conversation piece.

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