Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

16 February 2017

Ice Bikes For Parkinson's In The City Of Light

Sometimes it's hard to believe we're in the same state.

I'm talking about New York City--my hometown--and Buffalo.

While The Big Apple is known for its Bright Lights on Broadway, the Queen City of the Great Lakes was once called--without irony or sarcasm--America's City of Light.

That was the image it tried to portray at the Pan-American Exposition it hosted  in 1901.  At that time, Buffalo was the nation's eighth-largest city, just edging out San Francisco and well ahead of Pittsburgh and Washington DC.  Two decades earlier, it had become the nation's first electrified city; the city fathers wanted to use the Expostion to show that the Nickel City was ready to take its position as an industrial powerhouse to rival Birmingham or Manchester, a center of commerce like London or New York and a mecca of beacon of culture akin to Paris. (The Exposition featured a dazzling display of electrically-illuminated buildings called "The City of Light".) 

"The City of Light":  The Pan American Exhibition, Buffalo, 1901

Well, a number of things conspired against Buffalo becoming a world-class city.  The first was the Exposition itself:  For all of its dazzling displays, it was also widely panned for exhibits that were, frankly, hokey or simply racist and imperialist. (Yes, people levelled such charges even in those decidedly-less-PC times!)  Also, on the night of 6 July, a powerful thunderstorm knocked out transmission lines and flooded the power station as well as other cities.  In other words, the biggest attraction of the Exposition--its electricity--was short-circuited by an electrical storm!

But the "nail in the coffin", so to speak, was the assassination of President William McKinley on the Fairgrounds.  The Exposition ended a few weeks later and most of its structures were quickly razed.  Today there is scarcely a trace of the fair.  On the other hand, the Unisphere, fountains and other monuments of the 1964-65 and 1939-40 Worlds' Fairs in New York have been preserved.

Today, Buffalo seems to be known for two things:  spicy chicken wings and weather--specifically, winter weather.  Even as New York City winters become less winter-like by the year, Buffalo never seems to escape the months between Halloween and Easter without at least a couple of major snowstorms.  And, as cold as the waters of the East and Hudson Rivers may be, they rarely form ice, and then only along the edges.  At the other end of the Empire State, Lakes Erie and Ontario, which are really inland freshwater seas with their own tidal systems, routinely freeze over.

That last climatic characteristic has actually been a blessing for some.  I'm not talking about ice fishermen.  Rather, I'm referring to a group of people you might not expect:  sufferers of Parkinson's Disease.

How's that?, you ask.  Well, since this is a cycling blog, you probably have surmised that it has something to do with bicycles.  And it does.

For the past three years, the National Parkinson Foundation of Western New York has held ice bike events at Canalside.  "Bicycling has been discovered to be very, very good therapy for Parkinsons," says Chris Jamele of NPFWNY.  He explains that cycling provides the low-impact exercise people with Parkinson's need.  But riding an ice bike has one distinctive advantage, he adds:  It's very difficult to tip over.

Hmm...There's a bit of technology to be developed: A bicycle like the ice bike that can be ridden on other kinds of surfaces.  That would be an innovation as revolutionary as any shown in the Pan-American Exhibit!  Could ice bikes make Buffalo rise again?


  1. Arrrrrrgh! Did you see that idiot presenter!? Or perhaps I missed a new fad for running front wheels and bars backwards...

  2. Coline--I have long ceased to expect much of television newscasters, at least here in the US. At least the story is better than the presenter.