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Ahl's bicycles have taken him wherever he wants to go

Ethelyn Pearson

Bicycles have cut a wide swath in the annals of history since 1815. In Germany, a volcanic eruption caused massive crop failures, starving 1800 horses. That's when a company of bicycles were put into action, providing many services. Military bikes came on the scene in both German and French wars about the same time. They were low maintenance and quiet, made of wood and weighed 48 lbs.

Bicycles have long been the choice of many as exercise equipment and for pleasure riding in every country of the world. In 2012, according to a mass media channel, some 39 million Americans rode bicycles, costing in a range of $240 to much more expensive custom models. Riding for pleasure was the most common use, a reasoning with which Kenneth (Ken) Ahl, Wadena, agrees.

Ahl was six years old when he became the proud owner of his first bike. Since the Ahls lived in Bloomington, where his father worked, Ahl learned to cope with traffic early on. As he grew, so did his bikes, from that first single speed to a ten-speed, then on to a 21-speed Diamond Back. Ahl said custom bikes are works of art, with the price the sky's the limit. A custom bike starts with the body, designed to fit its rider. The weights of different metals are discussed, with aluminum most often chosen. In 1817, cast iron frames took the place of wooden ones.

Once the body of the bike is decided, wheels come next. Narrow hard rubber are for city streets and mountains. Wider tires are for dirt roads and country riding. Different styles and pitches of handlebars fill pages as do other accouterments that can be hung on a bike at a price.

Ahl's bicycles have taken him wherever he wanted to go with little or no cost and a minimum of effort. He explains that each rider has a speed particularly right for him, a speed he can maintain and even relax at as he pedals. He likes the feeling of privacy that riding gives him.

After several years of college and working as a salesman for Daytons, health issues that included a stroke while in his forties caught up with him and he spent some time in a nursing home, which encouraged riding a bike.

For women, the bike was a godsend. it was a way women could make their way individually and on their own.

The cabinet member who was out to prove he could ride down the steps in front of the Capitol building nearly broke his neck. Fred Birchmore circled the globe in 1935. He pedaled 25,000 miles, using 93 tires, or seven sets. Ahl has paid more for his bike than he did a car.

One of the latest wrinkles on bikes competing in the Tour de France races are handlebar-mounted shifters. Ahl's favorite events have been the one day, 100-mile bike ride for cerebral palsy and the 150-mile stretch for diabetes, both held in Minneapolis each spring.

In a bike ride, side benefits, other than exercise, is the comradery among others with like minds and helping some worthy cause. One of the biggest hazards for a bike rider is dehydration.

Ahl has two 21-speed bikes waiting for him while he waits for spring.