01 February 2019

What Did Dr. Graves and Mr. Rhodes Have In Common?

I recall reading that people were always astonished to see Dr. Clifford L. Graves, a renowned surgeon, arriving on his bicycle.  Doctors of any sort were expected to show up for surgery or visits with patients in a Cadillac--the luxury car of choice at that time--or something like it.  

Consternation at seeing him on two wheels instead of four was not alleviated by the fact that he wasn't riding just any old bike:  He rode custom bikes, including a Rene Herse. Of course, most Americans at that time didn't know the Cadillac of bicycles, if you will, from the VW Beetles of the two-wheeled world.

Then again, in those days, almost any adult riding a bicycle in the US would raise eyebrows.  A few, like Dr. Graves, pedaled by choice.  But more often than not, an adult rode a bicycle because he or she couldn't drive a car, for whatever reasons.  And that was (and still is ) a source of shame in America.

Whether the cyclist was a doctor or drifter, the adult cyclist in the States was seen as, if nothing else, an eccentric.  As often as not, they were:  Dr. Graves had a number of interests that ranged far from cycling or surgery.  As an example, he was an accomplished classical pianist and founding President of the La Jolla Symphony Association.

Floyd Rhodes, a.k.a. Bicycle Charlie

Floyd Rhodes' musical tastes, on the other hand, ran more toward country and blues.  And he played guitar, mainly for people who knew him.  As for a career, he wasn't a surgeon or doctor of any sort.  Rather, he supported himself through odd jobs and collecting leftover food from Safeway and W.T. Grant's Bradford Room restaurant.  

He moved to Waynesboro, Virginia with his family in 1916, when he was five years old. Previously, they'd lived in Covington, about 85 miles away.  While the work and bicycle tours of Dr. Graves, born five years before Rhodes, took him all over the world, Rhodes never seems to have ventured much beyond Waynesboro, where he lived in a trailer by the river.

Still, in his own way, he seemed to have garnered respect, and even affection, from his community. When they called him "Bicycle Charlie," it wasn't a taunt or joke:  While they didn't understand his lifestyle, they admired him for his sense of himself.  He was also said to be gentle and generous with everyone.

These two men who lived by their bicycles could hardly have died in different ways.  On the night of 24 July 1981, Rhodes attended a concert near Waynesboro.  After it ended, he rode along Route 250.  A teenager driving along that road struck what he thought was a mailbox.  He continued home and told his father about the accident.  They went to the scene and found, not a mailbox, but a crumpled bicycle.  Not long after, they found "Bicycle Charlie's" broken body in a nearby ditch.

Dr. Clifford Graves

Graves, on the other hand, died on 7 December 1985, after a bout with pancreatic cancer.  Just three days earlier, he'd written a letter to members of the International Bicycle Touring Society, which he'd founded, saying that he had "six weeks to six months" of life left.

In the end, these two very different men had a common legacy:  They reached the corners of their worlds, and other people's lives, on their bicycles.  For as long as they are remembered, they will be remembered for that.


  1. Strange how users of one of humanities greatest inventions can be considered strange!

  2. Voyage—Well, in auto-centric places, we are the exceptions.