Pedaling his bicycle or observing the passing scene, Bicycle Johnson was a familiar figure on the streets of New London. "Bike" lived his later years on the east side of Seven Hill Road between the creek and the B&O Railroad. Good natured, quiet, and unassuming, his real name was Claudius C. Thompson. The story behind his change of name was one of the many embellished tales he loved to tell. He explained that in his younger days he had helped the authorities apprehend a gang of criminals. To protect himself against reprisals he assumed the name of Johnson. With the passing of years it became safe to again use his true name. Johnson, however, was the one that stuck.
With only a rare chuckle to betray his serious demeanor, he told of his unsual physical traits. He could hit a bull's eye at four miles. He claimed the bite of snakes had no effect on him. His blood was poisonous to the snakes. He had been bitten by a copperhead, two black vipers, and a spreading adder, and they all died. The adder bit him twice in the ankle, crawled about twenty feet, turned over on its back and expired.
Other stories involved feats of speed on his bicycle. He once raced the 20th Century Limited to Toledo and won. On another occasion while riding east on Route 18 he passed a flock of chickens near Brighton. The wind he created pulled their feathers off and as he approached Wellington the townspeople thought a snowstorm was coming.
Bike claimed to have worked at one time as an end man in a minstrel show. He may have been serious in this contention. He would perform musically when asked and his specialty was playing the "bones". These polished wooden pieces were struck together to produce a sound similar to a castanet. Playing a Sousa march on his ancient phonograph, he would expertly provide a distinctive rhythm accompaniment.
Another story remembered from Bike's collection of tall tales is the time he was riding so fast he could not negotiate a curve. Leaving the roadway he headed into an orchard, hitting an apple tree with such force it was split down the middle. From that day on the tree bore pears on one side and peaches on the other.
Bike no longer entertains with his stories. Listeners' sensibilities are no longer teased by thoughts from his fertile imagination. The world has lost a little of its laughter.
Written by Harold Kirkpatrick
Post Script: Bike passed away in 1971 and is buried in Grove Street Cemetery. We have his bicycle on display in the New London Historical Society Museum.