Memmott: Electric bikes arrive and I'm feeling left behind

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As always, the world is passing me by. There go people I know, gliding up hills, not breathing hard, letting their electric bikes do the work.

They stop. We talk. Mostly about batteries and disc brakes and the joys of not having to pedal hard, if at all. “You’ve got to get one,” they say with missionary zeal. “You’ve got to get one.”

Maybe. I do have a bike, a non-electric bike. I haven’t ridden in a while. I worry I’ll fall off. That’s the thing with getting older. You loop back to when you were a kid about to ride without training wheels.

Eventually, you got the hang of things then, and it was heaven. If you fell off, you got back on. Kids do that.

E-bikes: They are affordable, practical and good for the planet. But is America ready for these speedy cycles?

Memmott: Thanks to golf, Rochester has bragging rights in upstate NY. At least for a few days.

Our granddaughter Franny, who is 6, has ditched the training wheels on her bike. She dons her helmet, hops on her bike, does loop-de-loops in the driveway. The other day, she rode a relatively short way to a friend’s house, on her own, arriving to cheers.

I think Franny feels liberated. The bike did that for women at the end of the 19th century, too.

Emily Andrews, one of my students two years ago at the University of Rochester, wrote how bicycles freed up women to go off on their own, independent of men.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the suffragist leaders, backed the bicyclists.

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling,” Anthony said. “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.”

Rochester's Elsa Von Blumen was a competitive cyclist in the 1880s, an era when the bicycle was just beginning to capture America's attention.
Rochester's Elsa Von Blumen was a competitive cyclist in the 1880s, an era when the bicycle was just beginning to capture America's attention.

Elsa Von Blumen, one of the notables on our list of Remarkable Rochesterians, made a name for herself riding bikes with a high front wheel. In 1881 on her bike, she defeated some horses in a race. In 1886, she rode 367 miles in 51 hours on an indoor track.

About this time, the “safety bike” was becoming popular. It had two wheels of the same size and was chain-driven like today’s bikes. Von Blumen remained loyal to the high-wheeled bike.

I suspect Von Blumen would turn up her nose at the electric bike, were she alive today. But electric bikers would probably just give her a wave and ride by.

Keith Walters, a photographer in Geneseo, has a slick electric cargo bike with a roomy box in the front where kids can sit, or where he can carry groceries or camping equipment. Keith looks like he’s sitting on top of the world when he goes along.

I sense that Keith and all the other electric bikers are onto something, that a few years from now, electric bikes (and electric cars, too) will have become commonplace.

Electrically liberated cyclists will be gliding up hills, pedaling into the future without me, one revolution at a time.

Remarkable Rochesterians

At 1 p.m. June 17 at Otto Henderberg Square Park, 4 Sycamore St. in Rochester, the Swillburg Neighborhood Association, will dedicate a sculpture designed by artist Stacey Mrva in honor of Blanche Calloway. The pioneering singer and band leader who was born in Rochester and lived in the Swillburg neighborhood. A monument and plaque honoring her younger brother, Cab Calloway, also a band leader, is already at the park.

Blanche Calloway
Blanche Calloway

As suggested by the Rev. Judy Lee Hay, a Remarkable Rochesterian and the former pastor at Calvary St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, let’s add the name of Blanche Calloway to the list of Remarkable Rochesterians that can be found at:

Blanche Calloway (1902-1978): A singer and band leader, she was born in Rochester and lived there for at least 10 years before her family moved to Baltimore. An influence and inspiration upon her younger brother, Cab Calloway, who went on to fame as a musician and band leader, she launched her career as a jazz singer in Baltimore, moved on to Chicago and at a time when few women took on this role, especially Black women, began leading bands, including Blanche Calloway and the Joy Boys. While living in Florida, she became active in the NAACP and other civil rights organizations and is said to be the first Black woman to vote in Miami, in 1958.

From his home in Geneseo, Livingston County, retired senior editor Jim Memmott, writes Remarkable Rochester, who we were, who we are. He can be reached at or write Box 274, Geneseo, NY 14454.

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Electric bikes are more common but I'm sitting out this revolution