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Riding a fine line

Mimicking a stunt usually performed only by cartoon characters and circus acts, visitors of all ages teeter-totter across a high wire on a bicycle at the Museum of Science and Industry’s new attraction, the High Wire Bike Ride.

Riders pedal across a 1-inch steel cable, suspended 30 feet in the air and 98 feet in length. The wire is the longest high wire bike ride in a U.S. museum.

The bicycle is counterweighted with 300 pounds, and riders are strapped into a five-point harness system. Along with the counterweight and harness, netting hangs below and helps ease the fear of falling.

David Conley, exhibits director, said that engaging visitors is what MOSI is all about.

“We could have exhibits telling about the center of gravity, but nothing is like actually getting on the bike and feeling it for yourself,” he said.

Although visitors and especially children may not understand the concept of the center of gravity, Conley said, when they learn about it, they would be able to put it together because they will remember the ride at MOSI.

Entech Creative Industries of Orlando designed the exhibit, which opened to the public in the beginning of June. The company is recognized for its interactive exhibits and animatronics, robotic animals often used in theme park rides. Some of the company’s works include the flying pterodactyl in the Flintstones stage show at Universal Studios and the raptor cage found in the Jurassic Park River Adventure ride at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Compared to the intricate webs of roller coasters found at major theme parks, the ride appears to be simple. Instead of the computer-operated roller coasters most have become accustomed to, there is only a bike, a wire, a net and a harness.

Despite safety measures, riders’ palms may begin to sweat as he or she pedals beyond the safety of solid ground support. While on the high wire, there are only two things controlling the ride – the rider and the center of gravity.

The counterweight hangs from the bicycle below the wire and keeps the rider from falling. Once the rider pedals to the middle of the rope, the rider can sway from side to side, testing the center of gravity. Although there is a counterweight holding the person on the bike, it still feels as if the rider will fall. Both the rider and counterweight are dependant on each other.

Beverly Littlejohn, public relations manager, said the new exhibit has been popular since it opened.

“Mostly kids (are) interested in it,” she said. “However, it does appeal to all ages.”

For instance, Carol Doxey, 64, visited MOSI and rode the attraction. “I enjoyed it, and I’m even afraid of heights,” she said. “Now I know what the Great Wallendas (a trapeze family known for high wire pyramid stunts) felt like.”

According to Brittany Griffin, the ride operator, the scariest part of the ride is getting used to the way it feels.

“Once people get used to the way it moves, it isn’t that scary,” she said. “The exhibit is a nice, simple application of physics that visitors can experience instead of getting lost in all the information.”

  • Contact Adria Gannat