Bike Belleville returns to town this weekend

News-DemocratOctober 16, 2013 


A black iron penny-farthing, also known as a high-wheeler, will be one of a dozen antique bicycles on display as part of the Bike Belleville ride on Sunday.

The bike is nearly 6 feet tall with a giant front wheel and small back wheel. It was built in the late 1800s by Belleville machinist John C. Born.

The bike was passed down to his son, William Born, William's nephew, Neal Gerfen, and Neal's daughter, Lyn Mudd. She rode it in homecoming parades during high school and belonged to a touring group called the High Wheelers of Highland.

"I tried (to ride it) on Sunday and went about three feet and did a side dismount, which is not advisable," said Mudd, 58, of Swansea. "It wasn't pretty. I hadn't ridden it in a long time. It takes a lot of muscle. I'm 58, and that ship has sailed."

This is the fourth year for Bike Belleville, a recreational ride on the Richland Creek Greenway Trail from North End Park to South Side Park (1.9 miles one way).

It's sponsored by the Optimist Club of Belleville in cooperation with Belleville Parks and Recreation Department, Metro East Park and Recreation District and Allsup Inc. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m.

"It's a family event," said Judy Belleville, co-chair with Charles Mayhew. "(The purpose is) to call attention to the beautiful trails Belleville has and the importance of physical fitness for everyone, children and adults alike."

Admission is free, and no advance registration is necessary. The club is asking everyone to sign up at North End Park for a chance to win prizes, including boy's and girl's bicycles and meals for two at Fischer's, Seven and Pie Pantry.

Other North End Park activities will include a YMCA climbing wall, music by Belleville West Jazz Band and demonstrations by Eagle and Dragon Martial Arts. A Fun Spot portable skating rink will be set up at Rotary Park.

"We're going to give away vanilla wafers, bananas, apples and waters at all the parks (along the route)," Belleville said.

The Optimist Club also will distribute helmets at North End Park to children who don't have them.

South Side Park will be the site of music by Wolf Branch Rock Band and the antique bicycle display, spanning the 1900s to the 1970s. Belleville was thrilled to learn Mudd was willing to bring her penny-farthing.

"The Borns were machinists in the building that is home to the Labor and Industry Museum," said Belleville, its collection coordinator. "We have all their patent records and one of their cutting machines."

The penny-farthing was perhaps most beloved by the late Neal Gerfen, a farmer and Freeburg Township constable. He rode it in area parades.

A 1965 photo shows him in the Belleville sesquicentennial parade, wearing a white shirt, string tie, vest and derby hat.

"He was able to do it because he was tall and thin," said his widow, Betty Gerfen, 84, of Freeburg. "Those bicycles weren't made for fat people. You have a very small back wheel and a very large front wheel, and you sit high on the seat. You had to be in good shape to ride one. They weren't Cannondales."

Gerfen learned about Cannondales from her son, Raymond, an avid cyclist who rode to both coasts. He later was killed by a lightning strike at 33.

"I thought it was so neat that our son was following in the tradition of his great-grandfather (John Born)," Gerfen said.

At a glance

What: Fourth-annual Bike Belleville

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Richland Creek Greenway Trail from North End Park to South Side Park and back (about 1.9 miles one way)

Cost: Free

Registration: At North End Park

Parking: North End Park, Hough Park or South Side Park

Prize drawings: 4 p.m.

Information: Call Judy Belleville at 618-234-7862 or Charles Mayhew at 618-806-5145

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