The Wheelmen celebrate the history of the bicycle in style

ByTom Kretschmer Localish logo
Wednesday, May 17, 2023
The Wheelmen celebrate the history of the bicycle in style
The Wheelmen is a nation-wide, antique bicycling club whose mission is to celebrate the early days of bicycling.

NORRISTOWN, Pa, -- The Wheelmen is an antique bicycle club that began when men in the Philadelphia area gathered to honor and preserve the history of the world's first attempts at bicycling.

The men and women of the club are antique aficionados, collectors, historians and great storytellers.

They ride, restore and collect mostly replicas of antique bicycles from the very first bikes like the Ordinary, High Wheel or Penny Farthing all the way up to bikes in 1932.

And they show them off at parades and gatherings.

Bill Soloway is the Captain of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey chapter of the national club.

"We have a nickname for these bikes. They're called smile makers. Every time we ride it draws a crowd and brings a smile to their faces," Soloway says.

David Gray, the treasure of the Pennsylvania Chapter was once the national commander.

"We enjoy the history of the bike," Gray says. "We enjoy trying to decipher who made them, what style was ridden and where they were built."

The history of American bikes has Philly roots, too.

One of the first bicycles from Great Britain was shown off at America's Centennial exposition held in Philadelphia in 1876.

An American saw the display and started his own bicycle company called the Columbian Bicycle.

He improved on the design then just like the design is evolving even today.

Eric Knight explains where the giant wheel of the High Wheeler originated.

"It really was the first really practical bicycle," Knight says. "Nowadays, it's really obvious to use a chain but back then in the 1880s, chains were big and industrial. So the only way to make a bicycle go faster and farther is to use a bigger wheel."

"There's a lot of ways to get down from the bike and some of them are intentional."

You can find them at parades, meetups, or just cruising around town.

And each time they're very approachable and love talking about their hobby.

Soloway adds: "It's kind of like a time machine, right? Takes them back to those simpler days a time when biking was the main form of transportation. It's fun to keep this living history museum, this heritage alive."

It's that approachability and outreach that make this club so much fun to be around.

They truly are riding high with their High Wheelers.

To learn more about The Wheelmen you can visit them at The Wheelmen.

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