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Spare Parts: River view

By Ernie Copper

In its formative years, our country depended on its rivers for commerce, industry and transportation. Most major cities in the Eastern United States are situated on a river way; Pittsburgh has three. On any given summer weekend, a ride near these rivers will offer views of pleasure craft observing wake-speed limits and alcohol-consumption laws while living their interpretation of the good life.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, unless they are fisherman, most of our boat-bound, river-loving brethren are not actually going anyplace. Up and down the river they go and watching them, I feel the same frustration I felt as a kid racing slot cars. They are stuck in the river’s “slots.” I know of only one family in my life that actually traveled down the river in the family boat to go from town to town on an actual excursion. They went from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati—about 500 river miles—on the Ohio River and it took weeks. That would be something to consider, but I think it is the rare boater who dabbles in this kind of extended travel.

I realize there are boat and car rallies just like there are motorcycles rallies. The boat rallies are usually called regattas, while car club rallies are typically called cruises. Go figure. Outside of HotRod Magazine’s Power Tour, most car cruises seem to be a stationary affair. I’m not sure what features make a boat trip a cruise. Maybe it’s the number of days involved, the size of the boat or a combination of the two. It’s not the type of water involved, i.e. river vs. ocean, because there are both riverboat cruises and ocean cruises. We even have hybrid biker-boat cruises. What could go wrong?

Rivers can offer a pleasant diversion to the motorcyclist. Learning about bridges can offer an interesting platform for an ongoing series of rides and enjoyable places to stop and ponder the river crossings and the men who built them.

One of those men, John A. Roebling, a Prussian immigrant, once lived in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania. You may recall that Roebling designed the Brooklyn Bridge. I can assure you that Saxonburg is a lifetime away from Brooklyn, New York, and at least two lifetimes away from Roebling’s Prussian homeland.

As a civil engineer, Roebling became involved in the manufacture of wire rope to replace the expensive and less durable hemp rope used at the time for pulling rail cars up inclines near the rivers. Though it’s still a bit of a stretch from that to designing the Brooklyn Bridge, we can connect the dots.

While some bridges, like the Brooklyn Bridge, soar from bank to bank, others are nestled, nearly hidden, into gorges. About 30 miles from Roebling’s Saxonburg is McConnell’s Mill Covered Bridge; one of only four Howe truss bridges in Pennsylvania. McConnell’s Mill State Park is a great ride destination and is conveniently located a stone’s throw from New Castle Harley-Davidson, just in case.

I wonder why Roebling didn’t build McConnell’s Mills bridge. It’s a lot closer to Saxonburg than Brooklyn and, although on a much smaller scale, just as impressive.

Bikers have an abundance of runs, rallies and reasons to ride. You don’t just ride down the street, turn around and ride back, like the boat in the river, or go ’round in circles like the boat on the lake. You have actual places to go, and in many cases good reason to do so. We have developed into a cause-drive culture ready to ride to support heroes, the sick and afflicted or a fallen brother—all admirable qualities.

But we have always stood for freedom—whatever that might mean to you. For me, it can mean riding to rivers; rivers that transformed over time from representing the essence of transportation in the early years to obstructing transportation as our country expanded westward. Bridges resolved that. I choose to enjoy the river from its edge instead of its depths, and I rarely envy the boaters.

Gristmills, waterfalls and lakes are also great scenic reasons to ride. Throw in lighthouses and oceans, and you could ride forever.

When it’s man vs. water, water always wins. But it’s interesting to see the variety of ways we keep slugging it out with water, knowing all along that it is just a matter of time.


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