by Dave Kline, Cyclist, Musician, Writer
I was in my pre-teens when I got hooked on bicycle riding and racing and I got a lot out of my system by organizing and participating in neighborhood bicycle races. I raced my bicycle almost every weekend and on many weeknights in summer too. We’d attach baseball or football cards, or balloons to our wheels with clothespins so that we ended up with a hot-sounding “engine” as we rode around the alleys and pavements that we called our racetracks. We’d race, keep points, crash and get up and race again.
So intense was my desire to ride my bicycle that I set out to buy my first “real” bicycle on my own by collecting, cleaning up and turning in discarded and littered soda bottles. I got two cents per bottle unless it was a quart bottle in which case I got five cents. While I was doing this I also spent Saturday mornings selling soft pretzels. I went to the nearby pretzel manufacturer and bought 100 pretzels a week at wholesale prices and then went door and sold them for a profit. The bicycle I wanted to buy was one of the new models with a stick shift and gears. It had a long, banana seat and a crash bar sticking up high into the air from the rear of the seat. I thought it was the most amazing thing ever. Buying a bicycle that sold for more than a hundred dollars back then was a formidable challenge and I earned my way to it two and five cents and pretzel by pretzel at a time for months on end.
As I grew older I continued to ride and as my earning power increased, so did my investment in better models of bicycles. My first lightweight racing bike, a Schwinn Super Sport with a “chrome-moly” frame served me well and it now resides with one of my daughters who lives and works in Portland, Oregon. I get out there every now and then and I take the bike out for a spin around the trails and roads of Portland. In Portland, this bike, now considered a “vintage, retro bike” is in high demand and folks there who revere their culture of cycling value the fact that the bike is more than 45 years old and still in service.
I won’t bore you with the details for now, but it’s safe to say that over the last 35 years, if there was some sort of bicycle race or event in Berks County, I either had something to do with it or I was in it. At one point in time, if I was riding or driving on a local road and I saw a person on a bicycle, there was a good chance I knew them personally from either riding, racing or touring. This is not bragging. It is my way of conveying a sense of purpose, mission, and consistency for something I fervently believe in. Alternative transportation, fitness, competition and wellness through cycling is a wonderful thing and it has boosted the economies of many cities and regions around the world which have embraced it and worked to create a culture of cycling for residents and tourists.
The results of a recent survey conducted by the Greater Reading Visitors Bureau confirmed that creating a culture of bicycling, along with promoting outdoor recreation in beautiful and historic Reading and Berks County will have a very positive effect on tourism as people make single and multi-day decisions to vacation here. We are surrounded by millions of people in major urban hubs, they want to escape to the countryside and we have it in abundance.
Pennsylvania's Americana Region has a robust history of bicycle racing and manufacturing. For about ten years, from 1890 through 1900, the manufacturing of bicycles was a thriving business. Thousands of bicycles were made here and shipped all over the world. Bicycles were one of the products that gave Reading a manufacturing reputation equal to any other place in the world.
Our county can do a ‘host-boast’ because we have miles and miles of dedicated cycling paths such as the Schuylkill River Trail for riders to enjoy. As you read this, plans are being firmed up for our region to host the Third Annual International Reading 120 Pro Bicycle Road Race, final plans are being made for the annual, international Duryea Downhill Mountain Bike Race and officials are meeting about building the National Cycling Center and Velodrome on the campus of Albright College. We’re also home to many wonderful bicycle sales and repair shops so while riding here, you’re never far from a highly-skilled mechanic.
Whether you visit to ride our mountain or river trails, ride our historic roads, or watch our cycling events, you can be assured that there’s something for every level of cyclist in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region.