Is this remarkable world bicycle traveler the first “Fred”?

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Deep in the bowels of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History — surrounded by 3 million other national treasures — sits a bicycle.

It’s a German-made Reinhardt. The single-speed, 42-pound brute found its way here after traveling 25,000 miles around the world in the mid-1930s as the main conveyance of Fred Birchmore.

Some people say he’s the original “Fred.” It’s possible, depending on which definition of the term you use.

A “Fred” can be a do-it-yourselfer or independent-minded cyclist who doesn’t follow the cycling styles or conventions pushed by advertisers. However, it also has evolved to describe a neophyte bicycle enthusiast who buys all the latest gear without having much ability. That second definition doesn’t seem to portray Birchmore at all. [See Wikipedia for the many types of “Freds”.]

Names bicycle

The Georgian nicknamed his bicycle Bucephalus after Alexander the Great’s horse. Beginning in 1935, it carried Birchmore and his light traveling gear throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Although several around-the-world cyclists had gone before him, his trip is still remarkable, even by today’s standards.

His remarkable life came to an end on April 15, 2012, when he died at his home in Athens, Georgia, at age 100. [Birchmore obituary] He was still active in his later years and exercised on a stationary bicycle at the local Y.

[Residents celebrated Birchmore’s 100th birthday a little early at the 4th Annual Fred Birchmore Run for Fun 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run, a fund-raiser for the Athens Kiwanis Club.]

Birchmore’s adventure

Bicycle historian David Herlihy (“The Bicycle” and “The Lost Cyclist”) recently wrote about Birchmore’s adventures at “Fred Birchmore’s Amazing Bicycle Trip Around the World.”

He started his bicycle travels when he bought Bucephalus at a bike shop in Germany. He’d gone there to study international law after earning a law degree at the University of Georgia.

After completing his first semester, he took off on his Bucephalus through Yugoslavia, Greece, then Egypt.

He was robbed near the Suez as he slept on the beach (that still happens today). After receiving a new passport, he resumed his travels to Damascus and Baghdad, finally arriving in Tehran emaciated by his poor diet and strenuous activity.

Recovering, he continued through Afghanistan, India and across Southeast Asia. Setting off from the Philippines by boat, he expected to ride his bicycle the final 3,000 miles to home. Instead, his parents surprised him at the dock in San Pedro, California.

Tips to longevity

Birchmore might have gained some insight on longevity when he traveled through India. Herlihy quotes from Birchmore’s book “Around the World on a Bicycle”:

“No wonder Indians who escape cholera and tuberculosis live so long. They eat sparingly only twice a day and average fifteen hours of
sleep. … Americans eat too much, sleep too little, work too
hard, and travel too fast to live to a ripe old age.”

That might be the rule he followed to make it to a “ripe old age.” Let’s hope he has many more years to remind us that we can make each day count.

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