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Pedals from the past

Thanks to the staff at Owls Head Transportation Museum here in Maine, I had the opportunity to check out their relatively new exhibit "Pedaling to Progress: Bicycles from 1800s-1920s." Accompanying me during the after-hours viewing was Assistant Curator Thomas Goodwin.

It was fascinating to gaze at all the bikes on display — from a velocipede to a penny-farthing to late 1800s safety bicycles. I found it hard to believe that anyone could ride such crude creations, especially over rough roads, but it would have been fun trying.

Cruising at Owls Head Transportation Museum in Maine.

"All of these bicycles are part of our existing collection," said Goodwin, which in itself was something I thought was pretty amazing.

Most wheel sizes today are from 26 to 29 inches, while back in the early days some wheels went up to as much as 70 inches. Hence the name high-wheelers. Looking online, you can pick up a penny-farthing (high-wheeler) from $1,000 to $8,500, but unfortunately I have no more room in my basement for bikes. Besides, I would also add one other word in describing them ... dangerous. So I'm sticking with the modern versions.

The exhibit "Pedaling to Progress" is all about cycling and the countless ways that bicycles have influenced the way people travel. It's something I can certainly relate to almost on a daily basis.

'Coppi' a keeper ...

Recently, I mentioned a new book I'd received and was eager to cycle through its 318 pages. The title is "Coppi: Inside the Legend of the Campionissimo" by Herbie Sykes (Rouleur Books, 2012). Well, all I can say is that it's another one of those books where I was disappointed when I reached the end. Why? Because it was very enjoyable to read and I wanted more.

Its contents were full of old black-and-white photographs — gleaned from long searches through several archives — and a collection of narratives describing the iconic cyclist Fausto Coppi. The author interviewed cyclists who had some connection to the Italian great as teammates, rivals, training partners, and the like.

My takeaways from "Coppi"? He was highly respected, he was always polite, he was particularly efficient in his training and in races, he was extremely competitive, and he was a God-like figure in Italy, where cycling is taken very seriously. The whole country was in mourning at the time of his death in 1960 at the age of 40. What brought him to his final finish line? He had come down with malaria following a trip to Africa.

Unlike my all-time favorite book, "Kings of Pain: Masters and Convicts of the Road," which is virtually impossible to find, it's not hard to obtain "Coppi" for that special cyclist you may know. Believe me, they won't be disappointed.

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