Being There: The Lenape Scorcher 2017
All photos are courtesy of Mike Maney Photography. Be sure to check out his work; he is a fellow cyclist in the Bucks County cycling community with multiple KOMs to his name.
(2017) In case it isn’t obvious by now, the weekend of the 26th Doylestown Arts Festival, surrounded on Sunday by the Bucks County Classic, was a showcase of cycling. The day started with the departure of the Thompson cyclosportif ride that wound its way around most of the central and northern parts of Bucks County. It was immediately followed by the men’s amateur category 2/3 race using the same course as the pros. Kid’s races up the front stretch followed that race. The pro men and women would take to the course later in the afternoon. But in between the kid’s races and the pro laps, Doylestown’s vintage scene reignited for nearly an hour in the second running of the Lenape Scorcher.
There are only two events in all of the United States that officially host those elevated beasts of yesteryear’s. Frederick, Maryland, hosts the National Clustered Spires High Wheel Race each year. Local riders Dan Turner and Chris Hayes made the trip to that throwback competition. The style could have stayed there for a spell, but Doylestown has embraced that old racing format.
In the past year I have learned much about the Penny Farthing bike. Crank length and wheel size make a huge difference. Since there is no gearing option, those are the two adjustments to make a wheelman ride more efficiently. Pick too big a wheel and the rider will fly down descents but have to dismount going up minor hills. Pick a pedal length too short and the wheelman’s boom-boom will bounce out of the seat as others pass him by. Here I thought a wheelman simply stole a dram of whiskey to up his courage, place a foot on the step, and take the leap of courage onto the saddle to mount. Oh, by the way. The direct drive means each down stroke of the pedal dictates where the wheel will go. A high wheel doesn’t track straight; it wiggles. Being five feet in the air? That’s a concern. Have a bike that flops back and forth? Completely normal in the realm of Penny Farthings.
As I walked up to the Penny Farthing race, it was a shock to see pilots zoom by above the height of the crowd. Wheelmen blurred down the descent of the front stretch of the criterium course. This year the run-off was extended to allow riders a comfortable U-turn. Some chose to stand on the step of the frame during the descent. It was of no use to remain seated during such a downhill excursion. It is a tactic for riders to pull their legs off of the pedals when going downhill; there’s only so much control one has on such a temperamental steed.
Last year’s race was short by distance and time standards. This year the race was lengthened considerably in time and marginally in distance. Could it be the monsters of the past are making a comeback? In the grand style of the opening of the twentieth century, Dan Turner crossed the line the winner of the 2017 Lenape Scorcher. Not too far behind him was his coworker at Doylestown Bike Works, Chris Hayes. (Anonymous sources wanted me to point out that someone coasting while he pedaled passed Chris on the downhill.)
The Lenape Scorcher is a race stuck in time. Billy Pilgrim came unstuck in time but those elevated beasts of a lost generation can still be found. What’s interesting is that each lap the Lenape Scorcher completed on the Thompson Bucks County Classic course they passed a tent of historic bikes from an even earlier period. Think velocipedes and the like. Each lap the absurd-sized bikes paid homage to its roots; they were hardly recognizable to each other. With those machines manipulated by wheelmen (and women) brave enough to get past the top step, getting to the finish is more than a remarkable accomplishment. It’s something riders have been striving for for over a century.