Every day around 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., bikers appear on the streets of Clinton Mobile Home Park in Tiffin. Horns start blowing and the group increases in number as more bikes join in to make their way around the park. But there is nothing sinister about the two dozen peddlers on three-wheeled cycles. Ranging in age from 43 to 83, their common goals are friendships and fitness.
The movement started modestly.
Cal Overmyer was the first resident to ride a three-wheeler in the park about five years ago. Shortly after that, Henry Bentz got one. When Ken and Betty Breidenbach moved in this year, they also bought bikes.
After that, more people started asking where to get the cycles, so Ken started looking for them and fixing them as needed.
Kay Dixon had been riding before she and her husband, Lenny, moved in at Clinton.
"I've had mine for three years, but my husband didn't have one. Ken came down and said (to Lenny), 'Are you busy this afternoon at 5? We've got to go to Findlay and get you a bike.'" Kay said. "When I moved here, there were only two other people with 3-wheel bikes. Now we're up to 25."
Kay said Ruth and Henry Bentz and the Breidenbachs are "the leaders of the pack." Ken has made many shopping trips "all over the place" to purchase the three-wheelers. He fixes them and sells them to the park residents at low prices.
Kay Dixon said a new three-wheeler would cost about $400. For Ken, the cost of a used bike is determined by how far he must travel to get it. He has three more he is working on for other people.
"I just got another bicycle this morning. I've got people waiting on them," Ken said. "I run all over the place. I've been up to Toledo a couple times, Michigan, Findlay, Van Wert, Wooster. ... I go where I find them."
"He looks on the computer, and he goes on Tradio sometimes in Tiffin, Marion and Findlay," Betty said. "We found this one for a handicapped girl, in Michigan."
That "girl" is Wendy Thome, 43.
On Craig's List, Ken located a recumbent cycle that is low to the ground so Thome can step into it and sit on a seat with a back support. Bunky's Bike Shop in Tiffin helped him find parts and make repairs.
Usually, Thome's mother, Peg Spitler, rides with the group, but her daughter could not manage riding without falling. She needed a special bike.
"Wendy broke my heart. She always watched everybody riding the bikes. ... she asked her mom 'Could you strap me to your bike so I can go for a ride?'" Ken said.
He had bought another bicycle frame two teachers at Sentinel were going to cut down for Thome, but it might not be ready to ride until spring. Then, Ken found one in Michigan. Ben and Betty made the four-hour trip and brought it home.
Ken said it was worth the effort to see how delighted Thome was. She paid the couple $3 for the bike out of her earnings at the Opportunity Center workshop.
"He painted it and everything, because it was for Wendy," Spitler said. "I went on the 'Net to see what it was. It's a Trailmate Special Needs Easy Rider - $673 for a new one."
Most likely, another rider will be able to use the first bike Ken found for Thome. Spitler said after Thome paid Ken for the cycle, she asked her supervisor for a job with more pay.
Thome has acquired a new nickname - "Hot Rod Wendy." Spitler said her daughter has lost four pounds since she started biking a few weeks ago. She also has learned some bike safety rules, such as riding on the right-hand side of the street.
Thome also enjoys coasting down the hill on one side of the park. Now the trick is keeping her off the cycle. Because of a kneecap disorder, her doctor says she should not ride every day. They do skip Wednesday nights because Spitler has another commitment. During the school year, Thome can't ride in the morning.
"I wait for a school bus every morning, but if we have a fog delay, I ride," she said.
The distance around the mobile home park is about a mile. The regular riders usually go at least four times around, twice a day. Some of the people only go out once a day, depending on their schedules.
Helen Swartzmiller, who had a recent knee replacement, only rides as long as she has the energy.
"Somebody will start out and then we'll get to a house and blow our horns. Pretty soon, there's a gang of us going," Betty said. "Helen's trying to get her knee working, and she can only make it two times around."
"She's getting better. It's really good for these people," Ken said.
The pedaling action enhances flexibility for all the riders, no matter what their condition.
Henry Bentz said he had two knee replacements about 18 years ago, but he has no difficulties cycling.
Bonnie Daniel said riding serves as her daily exercise.
Annaliese Rochester has back problems, but cycling has given her a way to get some exercise and lose a few pounds. A neighbor bought her a "vanity" bike license plate bearing her first name.
"I had major back surgery. I can't ride on a regular bike. I've got eight screws back in there. But with this, I stay up straight and use my legs and thighs. ... this is really good exercise," Rochester said. "... I've met a lot more people. I've been out here six years and I've met more people in the last year."
Rochester said she learned to ride a two-wheeler at age 6, but the three-wheeler handles a bit differently. At first, she "went from one ditch to the next" because she was used to leaning. She learned to turn just the handlebars of the tricycle to change direction.
Betty Overmyer said she is content to watch her husband but has no desire to ride herself.
"The first time I rode one of these bikes was Florida, and I got on and ran into the neighbor's house and through the screen door. It was my first and last time," she said.
Ken Breidenbach said several riders entertain their grandchildren during the summer. The children can bring their own smaller bicycles and keep up with the adults' leisurely pace in the park's private streets where traffic moves slowly. A few riders also take their dogs.
When Brenda Runion takes her bike out, her dog Chiquita rides along in a basket.
"I'm not allowed to leave without her. She can sit in here with no leash or anything. She won't try to jump out. She likes to go 'bye bye,'" Runion said. "The ones who don't have dogs, they put stuffed animals in. Like Kenny, he has Scooby Doo, and Ruth has one in her basket."
Ken had been carrying a stuffed Scooby Doo on his bike, but Thome wanted to adopt Scooby with her cycle. Len Dixon also transports his dog, Chance. Unlike the quiet Chiquita, Chance is an attention seeker.
"He loves to ride," Len said.
Ed Furlong was carrying tools in his bike basket, just in case. So far, he hasn't needed to use them.
Since Thome has joined the group in her recumbent bike, the rest of the riders keep an eye out for cars. When they spot one, everyone surrounds Thome and stops until it goes past.
Rochester said Thome tends to take her cue from what the other riders do, so she also stops.
After everyone finishes the rounds, the Breidenbachs and Bentz often keep riding beyond the private roads in the park and go out into the surrounding neighborhood.
Ken said they don't have a party after the ride, but he might have "a beer or two."
Laura Talbot, one of the more recent members, said, "I love joining this thing and meeting all the other people."
"At least it gets everybody out and about," Len Dixon added.