May 21, 2019

At 85 I’m riding a tricycle again! Crazy?


By John Guy LaPlante

With 3 photos

In old age do we go back to the ways of our childhood? Regress, as psychologists call it? If so, well, maybe I am regressing.

Why so? Well, I’ll be hitting 86 next month, starting my 87th year,  here I am, riding a tricycle. Like when I was six! Kind of abnormal, you might think.

Oh, some people are amused to see me pedaling around. Flash me a thumb’s up. But some scowl and shake their heads! I can read their minds. Is that old, old man crazy? Riding a toy like that in this traffic! And—look how hard he’s pedaling! Is he looking for a heart attack?

I say “regressing” because I started riding a tricycle when my folks gave me one for my birthday. I was six, maybe seven. I loved it. What a beauty And so much fun.

Returning home after a nice ride.  That's The Rock, our famous old volcano. Way down behind me is a bit of our beautiful harbor.

Returning home after a nice ride. Most cars pass me most cautiously. That’s The Rock, our old volcano. Way down at rear is a bit of our beautiful harbor. This is winter in Morro Bay. Honest!

I pedaled it in the house, Maman making darn sure I didn’t bang up the furniture. Then in the yard. Then on the sidewalk but just on our block, or she would yell at me. I spent every minute I could wheeling around on it.

At 9, I moved up to a bicycle. Full-size. A Columbia. Brand-new. Again, a beauty. Gold, with brown trim. It had just a single gear, which is so primitive by our standards today. But not a problem.

And with a coaster brake. Remember coaster brakes? My feet could barely reach the pedals. I was scared the first time I got on it. But I got the hang of it.

I rode it and rode it until 10 when I went off to boarding school. Sadly I had to leave it behind. Home for the summer, I couldn’t wait to hop on it. I began riding it all through our city, which was. Pawtucket, R.I. then.

Then I left home to start prep school. Again I had to leave my bike back home. I got caught up in a lot of things in prep school.I forgot about biking.

The years flew by. I was a young married man when I took to biking again. I became as enthusiastic as when I was a kid. Even more. I taught my three kids to ride. They all took to it.

And I organized biking excursions for us. For instance, twice a year, on a nice Saturday in the spring and then the fall, we’d load our bikes on the station wagon and head for Harvard Square in Cambridge. Free parking in a college lot there on weekends. We’d ride around Harvard and MIT, cross the Charles River and head for downtown Boston, explore Kenmore Square, and pedal down to the Common and the Faneuil Hall area and Little Italy. And the harbor front, of course. Wonderful memories!

Well, I continued biking all through my working years, and right into retirement. No long, long rides. Just eight or ten miles after work on a balmy summer evening, maybe fifteen on a Saturday afternoon.

In fact, my longest ride was with Arthur, my oldest–he was twelve or thirteen–on a Sunday to my brother Michael’s house. That was about forty miles. All to win a $50 bet.

Riding a bike was just a simple and very wonderful pleasure. Very little was required. Could fit it in any time. Didn’t cost a dime. Fresh air. Excellent exercise–especially for somebody with a sedentary job like me. So much to see and enjoy.

Well, I got to see and experience all the big technological breakthroughs in bikes. The lighter and stronger frames. The better tires and brakes. And most fantastic, the derailleur!

The dérailleur made it so much easier to get up a big hill. Or really turn on the speed. And so on.

Incredible what the dérailleur made possible. Your bike would have two chain sprockets in the front and five or six in the back. Maybe even more. A chain connected the front and back sprockets, of course. And the dérailleur would shift the chain from one sprocket to an adjoining one. On the front sprocket assembly or the rear one, or on both. You’d make this happen by working two little levers. What a huge difference that would make.

When I first heard about it, I just couldn’t imagine how you could shift that steel chain to the left and right like that, as needed. I couldn’t wait to see one. And when I did, I was so amazed by the brilliance of it. It wasn’t long before I got myself a dérailleur bike, believe me. Now they’re commonplace.

When I retired and bought my little VW camper and started traveling solo, I put a rack on the front and slipped my bike into it.

I traveled all over the United States that way. With my bike slung above the front bumper. I also made two very long trips through Mexico, yes, alone. I rode up into Canada on both its eastern and western sides. And nearly all the time, my bike was with me–as important as my sleeping bag and my camping stove.

Not only was taking it along so much fun. It was so practical.

One example. If I wanted to go sightseeing in downtown Seattle or Phoenix or San Diego, I’d find it a nightmare to locate a safe parking space for a few hours. And the parking meters would swallow lots and lots of quarters.

So, I’d find a safe and free parking spot on the edge of downtown. Then would ride my bike around. It was easy to park and lock it and explore an interesting store or museum or stroll through a park or shopping center.

I wrote many articles about all those trips and all those adventures.

One time I flew to San Diego for a solo vacation. I carried my bike along in a cardboard bike box. At the airport there, I rode it downtown to my hotel. Then rode it every day through that exciting city. And Balboa Park! Then flew home with my bike. My bike made my vacation so wonderful.

Notice the details: rugged construction, big seat, big basket. Also my helmet (mandated by my family, and I'm smart enough to agree)..

Notice the details: rugged construction, big tires,  big seat, big basket. Also my helmet (mandated by my family, and I’m smart enough to go along).

I continued my bike riding even after I settled down in Deep River. Year after year. One day when I was 70, I took a bad spill. No broken bones but a big scare. I gave up my bike. For good. A sad day.

Last year, when I moved to California to be closer to my daughter Monique and found a place of my own in a very nice mobile home park, I found an old fellow there riding a trike. In his late 80’s! An adult trike. Ever see one? What a pleasure to watch him enjoy it.

Then I noticed. He had a little motor on it. He’d turn it on as needed. Gosh!

Well, I bought one. But without a motor. I made a promise to myself. No motor till I turn 90!

Morro Bay is a pretty and interesting little city. Beautiful harbor with lots of boats. A fine downtown with a good selection of stores, restaurants and services. And I live on the very edge of downtown. Perfect!

That trike has been wonderful. Walking is getting difficult for me. And with my right ear totally deaf, I’m developing a balance problem. My new trike has been a transforming experience. Yes, transforming. Has made my life so much better.

With three wheels and heftier tubing, it’s heavier than a bike. It has three gears. Not with a dérailleur, but in the rear hub, as in an English bike, if that means something to you. And both a handlebar brake and a coaster brake—yes, a coaster brake like on my very first bicycle, that nifty Columbia!

Well, on a flat, my tricycle is wonderful, and downhill, sensational. But going up a grade, wow! Quite embarrassing to be seen walking the trike up a hill!

What to do? I went to see a good bike mechanic, Dave Shultz, with his own bike shop. Sorry, but he told me there wasn’t much he could do.

An inspiration, I called the factory where it was made in New York City, Worksman Cycles, and was able to talk to its top engineer, a great fellow, Al Venditti.

He scratched his head, too. My trike was a stock model. They all came the same way. I believe nobody had ever asked him for something different or better. Then he saw how important this was to me. “Call me back tomorrow,” he said.

I did. He told me he could provide me with a smaller front sprocket with fewer teeth, and he would put together a special chain for me. “I think that would help you,” he said.

I put in the order, he shipped me the new sprocket and  chain, and Dave here installed them.

Yes, the new set-up helped a lot. But some slopes were still very hard. One thing I don’t need is a heart attack.

Charging up the hill. I'm on Morro Bay Blvd., my street. I'll be home in less than 10 minutes. Wonderful the way my stamina is improving.

Charging up the hill. I’m on Morro Bay Boulevard, my street. I’ll be home in 7 or 8 minutes. Wonderful the way my stamina is improving.

I called Al Venditti again. He made another suggestion, for a still smaller sprocket with fewer teeth, but which he could not supply. “Might work,” he said.

Mechanic Dave talked me out of that.  Impractical, he said.

Ah, shucks.

Well, guess what? When faced with little choice, we adjust, don’t we? One way I have adjusted is by locating some routes around town that are easier than others. That’s been very nice. It has made a big difference.

And I’ve remembered strategies from my bicycling days.

Here’s one. When pedaling up a long hill, part way I’ll turn left or right on a side street, pedal a hundred yards, then make a U-turn and return to the hill. That lets me catch my wind. I might do that another time, even three times,  to make  it to the top.

Here’s another. On a long upgrade like that, if there’s little traffic, I’ll zigzag my way up. Go from one side of the road to the other—watching the traffic, for sure. That zigzagging makes a big difference.

And of course, I don’t tackle severe hills.

But! Here’s my big news. My legs, strong from years of biking, are getting into shape again. And so are my lungs. So, I’m finding some of the slopes easier. I’m so pleased. And quite proud. There’s hope!

The bottom line: My trike is a great convenience (even saves me a bit of gas). It is terrifically good exercise. And what fun!

More than once I’ve thought back to the happy times when I was having fun on my trike as a little kid.

If that’s regressing, I’m all for it. And recommend it!

A word about Worksman Cycles. They deserve it.  They are an American company, the only big one left in the bike business.  Founded by Morris Worksman in New York City more than 100 years ago and still there. He started making cycles for one  reason–to help neighbor tradesmen carry on the work of their business–those who couldn’t afford a horse and wagon. Maintaining a horse was  expensive.

The company is now operating out of an ultra-modern factory. It’s a rare thing, an American factory  that hasn’t gone off to China. They design all their cycles, and what a line-up they have, made for every purpose imaginable, recreational, commercial, industrial.  Some parts are imported because they have no choice; all the American makers are gone.Their website is most interesting—

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  1. jim davis says:

    used to ride a very substantial tricycle with a large front basket delivering newspapers as a boy. almost impossible to fall off. glad you sport a helmet. better sprocket teeth than no teeth. looks like your rear wheels could be a bit wider. well, maybe ninety. jim

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