Before the Wright Brothers mastered the air they were accomplished bike builders and competitive cyclists. All this was brought to my attention this Spring when on assignment for Air & Space magazine, I traveled for seven days by bike exploring the history of aviation in and around Dayton, the Wright’s hometown. You can read the full story here.
Now, little more than a century later, we barely think twice about getting on an airplane on one side of the world and arriving on the other. The same cannot be said about biking in the sky. That is why I have a clear recollection of the two times I did just that.
One thing the brothers learned while experimenting with the Wright Flyer was that they could control the plane’s direction up and down, left and right and side to side with movable surfaces on the airplane’s wings and tail. The movement must pivot around the plane’s weight, called the center of gravity.
All summer long a special two-wheeler is perched 15-feet high above the ground on a circular track just outside the main entrance to the museum. Attached to the frame hangs a 8-foot long post at the end of which is a 200 pound weight.
Having the weight suspended so far below the rider lowers the center of gravity. It looks frighteningly unstable but its just not possible to tip the bike very far left or right because the center of gravity is so far below the rider.
Physics lesson or afternoon joy ride? Well, this is one museum exhibit that can legitimately claim to be both.
The High Rail bike goes round in a circle. For the ambitious rider who wants a good stretch of the legs, I’d recommend this;
2,900 miles directly across the North American continent, from Seattle to Sutton, Quebec. After resting up from the 244-hour journey by bike, a very different riding experience awaits.
The VéloVolant aerial cycle is suspended in the trees on the sunny side of Mt. Sutton in Canada’s Eastern Territories, practically on the border where Canada meets Vermont. The ride is owned by Au Diable Vert, a 356 acre eco-resort offering all sorts of outdoor activities including fishing, kayaking and hiking. Those are pretty conventional. But here is the only place in Canada where you’ll be able to lean back and ride a recumbent bike through the trees.
My visit to Au Diable Vert in 2016, came at the perfect time, it was late August and in this part of the country, the leaves are already starting to turn colors. That’s always a treat, but imagine seeing the start of autumn while riding through the canopy silently and under your own power. The very improbability of that, plus the view above roads and creeks, eye level with the birds makes this 45-minute ride memorable.
After my week cycling through the places were aviation sprang from the imaginations of bike builders, I can tell you, these are adventures even the Wright Brothers couldn’t have imagined.
Author of The New York Times bestseller, The Crash Detectives, I am also a journalist, public speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.