Monday, June 25, 2007

Over the river and through the woods to Georgie's house we go

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, we were all fully aware of the history of the development of airplanes. Contrary to what you see on North Carolina license plates, Dayton is the true birthplace of aviation, the place the Wright Brothers called home and conducted their research on air transportation.

The Wright Brothers were owners of a bicycle shop called the Wright Bicycle Exchange located on 1005 West Third Street in Dayton. They moved the shop several times and changed the name as the business grew, and they began to manufacture their own bicycles with innovations such as pedals mounted to the crank by threaded posts rather than regular screws, the latter which could easily come undone as the rider pedaled and the former which is still used on bicycles today. However, by the early 1900s, the brothers had become so engaged in the development of airplanes that they sold the company.

In 1902, Orville and Wilbur took turns pedaling down the street with a third wheel attached to the handlebars. It spun freely, with two metal plates on top of it, one which was flat and the other curved, a setup that allowed the Wrights to measure air resistance. Oh yes, bicycles were very instrumental in the invention of the airplane. The drivetrain of a bicycle was used in the development of the propeller. A crushed bicycle box inspired the shape of the wings. The aluminum engine was built by their bike shop mechanic, Charlie Taylor.

The photo above was taken at a point along the Mount Vernon bike trail at National Airport. If I had thought about it more, I would have taken the water bottles and the bag off the bike for a better picture, but as standing at the end of a runway watching planes take off was a bit nervewracking, I only stood around to watch two planes take off, so close I felt like if I lifted my hand, I could touch them. It was a heartpounding experience that I shared with many other cyclists.

The route goes through Old Town Alexandria, which is always a good trip. It's remarkable how preserved it is, while so many places in DC were allowed to crumble. Alexandria still has a colonial feel to it while save a very few places in the District (mostly Georgetown), Washington's older buildings were built in the nineteenth century, so it's interesting to get down to Old Town every now and then. It took me a little over an hour to get there and is a good place to stop for lunch or dinner on the ride, which takes about five hours, give or take twenty minutes either way.

I rode the entire length of the trail from my house to Mount Vernon - more than 40 miles roundtrip. Quite an accomplishment for someone who has only been riding bikes for a month, I think. It's a great ride down the Potomac and through the swamps and the woods leading to George Washington's old mansion. I've never been there and didn't go in yesterday, either. Not for $13.

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