PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Dateline 1889. One thing I adore about this little burg we call Portsmouth is that we love to blur the lines between present and past.
And what better way to time travel on a warm November day than perched atop a contraption whose front wheel stands no less than 4 feet tall and whose back wheel is a sporty 17 inches? Oh, did I mention my old-fashioned high-wheeler no brakes?
The social cycling event of the season, this was the inaugural Portsmouth Tweed Ride.
Hosted by the Swell Society and Old as Adam — the folks who brought you the Gatsby on the Isles gathering this summer — the ride attracted several dozen distinguished gentlemen clad in tweed jackets, caps and knickers and stylish ladies dazzling onlookers in their Gatsby-era garb.
The two-state spree started at Papa Wheelies bike shop on Islington Street and featured hospitality stops along the way at White Heron Tea & Coffee and the Book & Bar in Market Square before a scheduled wrap-up at the Press Room, with proceeds benefiting the Portsmouth Historical Society and the John Paul Jones House.
We pushed off from Papa Wheelies, stopping traffic with the utmost courtesy and ringing of handlebar bells.
Ah, nothing like rolling through time on an old-fashioned high-wheel bike — gasoline-powered horseless carriages whizzing by as we traversed the cracked, gray macadam of Islington Street.
Camaraderie was the order of the day, as our procession caused much turning of heads and encouraging exhortations from the periphery.
Down to Strawbery Banke and the South End, across the new Memorial Bridge into Kittery, Maine, and back to gather for a team daguerreotype at the North Church. Unfortunately, I had to return to the present in order to write this column and help get this news sheet to the presses.
My new ultimate role model is Bob Sawyer of Bedford, a member in good standing of The Wheelmen bicycle club since 1971. Bob is an international cyclist who spoke of riding from Holland to Switzerland on a 1901 Cleveland and from Berlin to Prague on an 1899 Orient.
Decked out in his old-timey garb and a sweet newfangled hearing aid, he said he has logged an estimated 125,000 bicycle miles over the years. Bob turns 92 this month.
Of course, local bicycle legend Elwood “Zip” Zamarchi was there. He rolled in from Eliot, Maine, with a dozen or so of his spectacularly interesting vintage velocipedes. Zip’ll be 75 this month.
Leading our quaint cavalcade of cycle enthusiasts was Adam Irish, a dashing young local haberdasher and ranking member of the Swell Society who is the proprietor of Old As Adam on Ceres Street.
“I love living in the past,” said he.
Me too, say I.
— John Breneman
Spokesperson for two-wheeled time travel
(Portsmouth Herald: Nov. 3, 2013)