Spokesman for bike fanatics

A FIRST BICYCLE is a big event in most children’s lives, but for Ron Miller that rite of passage ignited a passion that would be with him for the rest of his life.

Published October 29, 2007 by The Chronicle-Herald Metro
By Renee Stevens 

MERSEY POINT — A FIRST BICYCLE is a big event in most children’s lives, but for Ron Miller that rite of passage ignited a passion that would be with him for the rest of his life.

He was 10 years old, and with the first push of the pedal he was hooked.

"I rode that bike all the time," Mr. Miller said Saturday at his home in Mersey Point, Queens County.

"Not like most kids rode theirs — I seriously mean all the time. I just loved to ride and I still do."

At the age of 64, the retired mechanical designer can proudly say he still owns and pedals the same bike he first learned to ride in 1952 — and he has dozens of other bicycles, many of them rare.

Mr. Miller has been collecting and restoring antique bicycles since the 1970s, and his enthusiasm and dedication are evident the minute a visitor walks onto his property. There are bicycles in the barn, bicycles in the basement, bicycles hanging as art in the living room.

They’re everywhere, including the bicycle office where he stores his books and does research and the bike shop where he rebuilds and restores his finds.

"It’s the simplicity, the engineering and the fact that you can travel about without hurting the environment or the roads that I truly love about them," Mr. Miller said. "Everyone should have a bike."

He has a lot of bicycles from the 1800s, even some Canadian ones that were made with wooden frames, but his rarest piece is an adult tricycle that was made in 1884. The rear-steering Rover model was only produced for one year, and as far as he knows his is the only one in the world.

"That was an exciting find because it was so rare that I wasn’t even sure when I first saw it what it was," Mr. Miller said. "It’s also neat because I got it in Chester."

Mr. Miller has picked up bikes at antique shops and estates all over the world and while he now does a lot of his shopping on the Internet, he still can’t drive by a yard sale without at least stopping and taking a quick look.

He often gets requests for information, and some of his antiques have been used in movies and television shows. His collection has been shown in museums in Bridgewater, Liverpool and Yarmouth, but he says he mostly acquires the bikes for his own pleasure.

"It’s every collector’s dream, of course, to have a museum but once all the bike collectors come through, that’s pretty much it," he said. "And there’s not that many of us, so I pretty much already know them all."

Mr. Miller said that what keeps collecting enjoyable for him is that he also rides the bicycles. He has been on bike tours all over the world and attends meetings regularly with other antique bike enthusiasts. When he rides these days, there’s only one bicycle for him — the famous penny farthing of the 1800s, with its one big wheel and one small one.

"It took me about a year to learn how to drive one, but it’s really fun once you get the hang of it," he said. "They aren’t as safe as modern bikes and you can’t drive them fast because they don’t brake well, but they’re so much more fun."

Mr. Miller has earned awards for driving his 1882 penny farthing 161 kilometres in one day, and despite a few crashes has no plans to stop riding any time soon — or to stop collecting.

(rstevens@herald.ca)