Event – Clustered Spires High Wheel Race

When you live in or near a big city, it can be hard to know which activities are worth spending your time on, especially on weekends when leisure time is precious.  I feel constantly overwhelmed, and often find myself having scheduled one activity, only to discover that something else is happening, and having to negotiate “Yes this, no to this, we’ll try to do this again another time.”  It’s hard.  I am nearly always overwhelmed and feeling guilty about being able to say yes to doing X with friend 1, only to have to say no to doing Y with friend 2.  It’s a tricky business.  It’s why I’m so devoted to my google calendar, and do my very best to keep it updated and accurate.

One event I’ve been attempting to fit into my schedule for YEARS now is the National Clustered Spires High Wheel Race, in Frederick, Maryland.  I used to work with one of the organizers, so I’ve known about it since it’s inception, but it’s always fallen on a bad weekend for me, but not this year.  The race is the only one of it’s kind in the US – racers ride antique or modern high wheel bicycles – the kind with the very large front wheel and teensy little back wheel.  There are no gears, just riders working super hard to move themselves forward and keep themselves upright.  It’s a race based on laps – whoever finishes the most in a set period of time.  This year there were two qualifying heats, followed by a championship round.

We arrived just as the racers were being introduced, and used the opportunity to find a good spot to watch.  The course is only 0.4 miles total around 4 city blocks in downtown Frederick, so while the course may take a while for the racers to do, once the pack starts to spread out, it’s a near constant flow of racers.  It’s also a very casual environment if you’re not at the start/end line.  The main block is a zoo, with lots of people in stands watching, at the sponsoring Brewers Alley eating a meal and watching the race out of big windows.  For the first two heats we sat on 2nd Street between Court and Market and were in a good position to hear the announcers, but also had room to spread out and make sure we would be in a shaded area.

When I first proposed the outing, the Boy was on board.  The girls were a little more skeptical.  I think it helped that we promised to take them to Noodles and Co. for lunch beforehand.  But once we had settled into our spots and the race began, everyone was excited!  Some of the racers were in costume, which was fun to see in an old-fashioned context.  Others had dressed up thematically, either in one color, or with stripes, or in their university’s colors.  There was a range in ages of racers – young to old.  Some of the racers had funny mustaches that seemed particularly apt.  There were a couple women racing as well.  As we sat and watched, E turned to me at one point and said, “Surprisingly, this is a LOT less boring than I expected it to be”.  The Boy and I took this as a ringing endorsement.  I used to work with a couple of the racers, so it was nice for our family to be able to point out specific people and say, “That’s So and So” or “That’s this person” and to be able to cheer them on by name.

But even beyond knowing a couple people in the event, everyone had a fun time cheering on racers, and trying to figure out who was winning.  This particular task was difficult because if you weren’t at the starting line or keeping track, you couldn’t know who had crossed when and it was easy to lose track.  At one point during the championship race, we walked a block from our seats (this time on Church Street) back to 2nd Street where we could be closer to a bakery to get a sweet snack once the race had ended.  By the time we walked that single internal block, the lead pack had shifted.  The group of 4 or 5 that had led for the bulk of the race was spread thin, and a single leader was blowing everyone else out of the water.  It was thrilling to watch and to cheer with other spectators as Per-Olof Kippel – dressed ostentatiously in Swedish colors – seemed to pick up speed at the end of the race and nearly lap those who had been in the lead pack with him earlier in the race!

All in all it was a great time.  It’s not a particularly long event, so makes for a good afternoon activity, and could be part of a fun whole-day trip up to Frederick.  It does get busy along Market Street, so if you plan on watching from there, be sure to have either a plan on where to meet up with kids, or else hold their hands.  If it’s just adults, it could still be easy to lose a buddy, so make sure everyone is on the same page.  But if you’re on any of the other three blocks, find a shady spot, get a cold beverage and a snack from one of the nearby businesses, and prepare to have yourself a rollicking old-fashioned exciting afternoon!

Has anyone else ever been to this race?  Or done one of the vintage-themed bicycle rides in DC or similar?

Details: National Clustered Spires High Wheel Race, annually – likely happening again in August 2018

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