Worcester, Mass.
August 9, 1998

Classic bikes are easy to love

By Lynne Tolman

   Jim Huntington of Palmer falls in love easily, but he is fickle. He'll be reminiscing about some classic curves, and then a flash of chrome will turn his head.
   The latest object of his adoration is a ladies' Lozier, circa 1896-98, with a hickory rear rim, front spoon brake, a laced-on wooden fender and a wooden chain guard to keep the bike rider's petticoats clean.
   Huntington is a dealer of antique and classic bicycles, and his revolving inventory of 200 to 300 bikes and assorted spare parts forms a dusty, rusty history textbook on wheels.
   He has some of the earliest pedal-powered "boneshakers," and precarious high-wheelers, and 1890s "safeties" -- with equal-sized 30-inch wheels and a seat that "wasn't so far to fall off of." Sturdy balloon-tired steeds and souped-up motorcycle look-alikes and sleek 10-speed racers hang from their front wheels or stand handlebar-to-handlebar in Huntington's cramped storefront at 1005 Central St., Palmer.
   "Every bike tells a story, of how its owner rode it," said Huntington, 46. He conjures up suffragists sporting bloomers, youths delivering groceries, kids popping wheelies, Olympians sprinting for a gold medal.
   Huntington used to refurnish oak furniture and sell it at the Brimfield antiques shows. One time, in an attic-ful of old furniture he bought, there was an old bike that reminded him of his childhood, of the cool Whizzer bike his big brother had and wouldn't let him ride.
   "I cleaned it up and had fun doing it, and it sold right away. So the next time I saw a bike I grabbed it, and I put a high price on it so it wouldn't sell, and it sold anyway," he said. "Oak dressers got to be more work, less fun, and bicycles became real enjoyment for me. So I got infected with bicycles."
   Motorcycles followed, for their development was intertwined with the evolution of bicycles. Huntington has restored a few antique bikes, motorized and pedal-powered, including a 1934 Elgin Blackhawk bicycle that he worked on with Fitchburg State College professor Luther Tabor. Another Blackhawk that Huntington restored is in the Columbia bicycle museum collection in Westfield.
   Huntington will put several of his bikes on display from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. next Sunday at the Larz Anderson Bicycle Show and Swap, an annual exhibition and swap meet at the Larz Anderson Museum of Transportation, 15 Newton St., Brookline (617-522-6547, Ext. 208). Admission is $5, $3 for students, children and seniors. The theme this year is bicycle manufacturing in New England, so Huntington plans to show off the Lozier, made in Westfield.
   He'll also display the balloon-tire Buck Rogers concept bike that adorns his shop window. "This one here is just way too cool," Huntington said. "People want to buy it, until they find out it's a creation, not an antique."
   Ex-racer John Illenye of Passaic, N.J., built the bike from scratch, starting with a 1930s toddlers toy in the shape of a dirigible. He used the toy, upside down, for the bike's tank (the motorcycle look was hot), then custom-built a frame and added headlights and a horn. He put a toolbox in the tank, like the 1930s Elgin Bluebird bikes had, and "watched all the Buck Rogers videos" to pick up vintage sci-fi touches such as axle wings made from a 1930s vacuum cleaner exhaust. Huntington is asking $2,000 for it.
   At the Larz Anderson show, trophies will be awarded for "people's choice" winners in several categories: antique bicycles, balloon-tire bicycles, crate bikes, pre-war track racers, vintage lightweights, custom, and high-tech. In the vintage lightweight category, Bicycle Classics of Medfield will award additional prizes in a juried competition, including $200 each for the best pre-1987 Colnago and the best pre-1987 Hetchins. More information about the show is available from organizer Peter Naiman (617-469-4581) or from Michael Kone at Bicycle Classics (508-359-1941).
   There will be bike rides to the Larz Anderson show at 9:45 a.m. and noon from GEAR, an annual rally of the League of American Bicyclists. GEAR is bringing about 1,000 cyclists from all over the country to Babson College in Wellesley next weekend for four days of bike rides, workshops and exhibits, hosted by the Charles River Wheelmen.
   Day trippers to GEAR may register at Sorenson Center for the Arts on the Babson campus, on Forest Street off Route 16, Wellesley; a $25 packet good for all four days, Friday-Monday, contains event schedules and maps of all the rides.
   TIP OF THE HELMET to Saturn racer Frank McCormack of Leicester, overall winner of the Motorola International Cycling Classic, also known as Superweek, a 10-stage race in Wisconsin in July. McCormack won two stages, both 100-kilometer criteriums.

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