“I don’t want what everybody else has,” said Bob Swaim, looking over about two dozen of his huge collection of bicycles and bike-like vehicles. “They have to be unique, different, a work of art.”
Unique and different might be an understatement in describing his collection which totals more than 250 human powered vehicles.
“Anybody can ride a regular bike with no hands,” said Swaim, whizzing by our camera, steering a recumbent bicycle with his legs and juggling three balls. “These reclining style bikes with no handles are hard to ride.”
He jokes that his collection is more like an obsession. Most of his vehicles are rarities, each with its own history, gathered from around the world. Swaim, known in his Coopersburg community as The Bike Man, thinks of his eco-friendly bicycles as works of art.
“I’m trying to make people think there is other art out there besides what hangs on the wall,” said Swaim. “This is an interactive piece of art.”
The 69-year-old retired math teacher says physical fitness is a big part of why he collects these kinds of bicycles. A heart attack 18 years ago inspired him to stay active and fit with regular exercise.
At dozens of shows a year, Swaim demonstrates the vehicles, explains their origin and invites others to try them out, including visually impaired in the audience.
“A lot of times with the visually impaired, they don’t get their exercise because it’s harder to move around,” said Swaim, pedaling the back half of a bike that allows a visually impaired rider in front to pedal on his own.
And, as far as Swaim is concerned, any time is a good time to jump on one of his bikes.
“If i can’t sleep, I’ll come down to this park, maybe 5 o’clock in the morning and just ride around.”
Among the units he brought for our demonstration was his show stopper, the “conference bike.” The seven seat, four-wheel vehicle is powered by the efforts of all the passengers. With an umbrella poised atop the table shaped bike, we drew lots of attention as we pedaled up to the drive-through window of a nearby coffee and ice cream shop.
“I’ve never seen anybody ride this without laughing,” said Swaim.