Some Observations of the Bike Amish

I just spent a few days driving around visiting relatives in the bucolic agricultural areas around Mifflinburg, PA. Most of the farms in this area are operated by Amish and / or Mennonite families, and so I had a lot of opportunities to observe the way they set up their bicycles.

The Buggy-Only parking area at the local supermarket

The typical Amish person seems to ride a mid to low-end mountain bike, but I did see a few riding around with drop bars and I even saw one riding a high-zoot bike with a carbon fork and STI controls. It was somewhat bizarre seeing such a bike operated by a man in blue jeans wearing a wide-brimmed hat.

I didn’t see any suspension forks at all.

A typical Amish Bicycle

All the bikes (even the racy road bikes) have what appears to be a Pletscher rear rack, with a cardboard box attached by the spring-loaded arm.

I’m not sure about this, but it seems to me that if you’re Amish, you only ride a bicycle until you get married and have a family, and after that, you use a horse-drawn buggy for transport. I saw several buggies with what appeared to be parents and infant children inside, with the older children following the buggy on bicycles. Buggies seem to have a top speed of around 12mph, which the bicycles can easily match.

I also got the chance to drive my car on unlit farm roads at night, and I was able to check out how they equip their bikes for night-time travel.

All they do is put a red LED blinker on @the back, and what appeared to be a cateye EL-530 on the handlebars.

Cateye EL-530

Brightly colored clothing is taboo or whatever, and so they are damned hard to see at night, especially from behind.

I was also amazed at how much of a difference pedal reflectors make. I came up on bikes both with an without pedal reflectors, and I will never ride without them again. Pedal reflectors make a HUGE difference to a driver coming up from behind. Without them, a cyclist is a single point of red light; blinking away in the darkness. With them, it is obvious that the thing in front of you is a bicycle, and you get an immediate idea of how wide it is, how fast it’s moving, etc.

Pedal Reflectors. Get some.

Also kind of interesting is how groups of cyclists clump together. They ride two-abreast in a kind of peloton. People with headlights in the front, people with taillights in the back, and masses of unlit bikes in between.

Even though it is winter, nobody wore exotic, cold-weather bicycle clothing. The men were wearing the same Carhart-style jackets they probably wear to milk the cows in the morning, and the ladies wore sweatpants under their skirts (I make an effort to see what’s going on under Amish ladies’ skirts every chance I get.).

I got the distinct impression, that these are not the sort of people who spend endless hours debating the finer points of pneumatic trail, lugs versus TIG welds, “planing,” or any of the other endless sources of bullshit that bicycle people on the internet waste their time discussing. Noneless, they probably log more miles than any of us, and do so with significantly lower cash outlays.

They are “transportation cyclists” every bit as much as the fetishized residents of Copenhagen.

If it weren’t for their objections to being photographed (thou shalt not make graven images), I think an amishize.com or something similar would be a nice counterweight to the fashionista bakfiets brigade.

9 thoughts on “Some Observations of the Bike Amish”

  1. Great observations, and a nice post. I don’t dig the Copenhagen/Amsterdam fetishization. People ride bikes everywhere, just not as stylishly. And since I don’t care about style, and like the open road, that type of cycling has limited appeal to me.

    These bikes appear to be cheap and practical, and you’re right, they don’t spend hours talking about the details. They just use their bikes.

  2. Pedal reflectors are passive blinkies. I absolutely hate having to deal with someone’s coma-inducing blinky light flashing in my face, but pedal reflectors seem to fill exactly the same role without being annoying.

  3. Back in 1978 I rode in the USCF Pennsylvania State Road Championships. It was on country roads near Trexlertown. (I was living out west in Pittsburgh at the time) Many Amish came out to observe us crazy people in tight black wool cycling shorts ride around. Many of them rode out to watch on their bikes. I can’t remember the details, but I remember they all had some type of single speed bike, all were painted black. Some of the Amish men would ride along side us as we passed through the Start/Finish area each lap. Gosh darn if they couldn’t keep our pace on those single speeds for quite a long time in those rolling hills through farm country. I remember being very impressed.

  4. We have family in Selinsgrove so we travel up Rt.15 quite a bit,where the Amish bikers are out enforce. I’m surprised by the number of recumbents that they ride up that way. If you have a chance, pick up Kraybill’s Riddle of Amish Culture. It explains the whole age/status/dress code thing.

  5. Would an Amish or Mennonite consider using a Zigo Leader Carrier Bike for transportation with their kids? I just got back from Lancaster, PA and seems it would be perfect.

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