Will B. Rolling

Port Byron’s Iconic Bike Rider

Will To Ben Bike Ride

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Will B. Rolling

*2014 Eddy Award Winner

Meet Will B. Rolling, a rider perched atop his Penny Farthing looking out over the Mississippi River and the Great River Trail. At 30′ tall he has a spectacular view and is a can’t-miss attraction in Port Byron. Erected on November 13, 2013 along the Great River Trail in Port Byron, Will B. Rolling was a gift to the people of Port Byron from former mayor Lawrence Bay and his wife Carol.

Will B. Rolling
Will B. Rolling plaque
Courtesy Barb Ickes – Quad City Times

Barb Ickes has worked for the Quad-City Times as a columnist and Illinois reporter since 1998. She earned a BA from Northern Illinois University and a Master’s Degree from the former Sangamon State University, now the University of Illinois at Springfield.

The giant fiberglass rider atop an equally giant high wheel is a replica of Ben Bikin’ in Sparta, Wis., which the city uses to help market itself as the Bicycle Capital of America. The Gay Nineties-style cyclist arrived on one flatbed-truck Thursday, and his bicycle arrived on another. A team from FAST Corp., which made the statue, raised, welded and secured it on a concrete slab along the Great River Trial during a several-hour assembly process.

It was a gift to the village from former mayor Larry Bay and his wife, Carol, who watched the whole process. Their $60,000 investment is intended to promote the riverfront, the village, cycling and good health. They changed the color scheme from Ben Bikin’s yellow trousers and red jacket to white trousers and a blue jacket (representing the water and sky), spicing it up with John Deere green for his tie and hat band.

“We wanted to create our own attraction, because this is our bike,” Larry Bay said. “It should attract a lot of visitors to Port Byron, and that’s the idea. It’s going to be a landmark.”

In the next couple of weeks, colored lights will be added to simulate the bike wheels turning. The statue base will look like “an old-time brick street,” Larry Bay said.

The Bays already have good reason to think Will B. Rolling will be more to Port Byron than a photo opportunity for visitors.

“We’re already talking about a statue-to-statue bike ride,” Carol Bay said. “It’s possible Sparta will kick off its Butterfest with a bicycle ride from Port Byron.”

The odometer reading in a recent drive from Port Byron to Sparta showed a 201.9-mile trek, the Bays said.

“It would be a modified RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa), if you will,” Carol Bay said. “We think it’s a wonderful idea.”

At least one other Will B. Rolling-themed idea already is kicking off.

At Jimmie Lee’s bar and restaurant across Main Street from the statue, owner Diane DeVoss is adding a Will B. Rolling sandwich to her menu.

“It’s a six-ounce grilled chicken, pressed, then topped with Swiss cheese and shaved ham, then more Swiss cheese on marble rye with lettuce, tomato and honey mustard dressing,” she said. “I wanted to do something healthy that still tastes good, so I went with the grilled chicken.”

Port Byron very nearly went without its new statue.

In late July, just as it was being delivered from Sparta, a resident notified Canadian Pacific Railroad that it was possible the statue was being erected on railroad-owned property. The result was a several-month delay, more expense for the Bays to send it temporarily back to Sparta and, ultimately, a new location, just upriver from the original spot. Rather than going to the village board with her concern, the Bays said, the resident took matters into her own hands, contacting the railroad just hours before the statue was to be set, even though plans had been in the works for a year.

“It came very close to going to another municipality,” Larry Bay said. “It was a shame someone would make such a back-door attempt to put a stop to something intended to help the village.”

In a too-cool-not-to-stop kind of way, the statue no doubt will appear in countless cellphone camera frames and create the kind of spectacle the Bays have hoped and paid for.

Despite the naysayers, the against-everything people and the attempt at sabotage, Will B. Rolling is in his place on the Mississippi River. Long may he ride.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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