The first time some snappy young chap cruised by on his newly invented velocipede, people probably scoffed.

“Look at that man using pedals to propel himself forward on that two-wheeled land vehicle!” they might’ve said. “How ridiculous!”

Locals may have laughed as he passed. Children may have gazed in semi-frightened wonder. And the cynics — always eager to shoot a dream out of the sky — perhaps felt compelled to shake their heads and mumble, “These pedal-driven whatchamajigs will never catch on.”

A few tweaks to the frame and a couple of rubber wheels later, and bicycles are as commonplace as pants.

Likewise, I bet roller skates looked foolish at first. Their clumsy inventor may have rolled uncontrollably through town one morning — his body lurching for balance and his arms circling like windmills at his sides — while his neighbors looked on in befuddled alarm.

But fast-forward a short 250 years later, and junior high students around the world are slow-skating to rock ballads on Thursday nights and learning what “unrequited love” feels like.

Even Segways took the public by confused surprise just a decade ago, and now they’re — well, they’re still weird.

The point is, newfangled contraptions take some getting used to. And what looks strange today might be what transports you to work tomorrow, or at least something that entertains you for an afternoon.

So we should endeavor to be open-minded and supportive of such contrivances, even when they involve a wheel-less bicycle, a pair of pontoons and a spinning, pedal-driven propeller.

Mainers, meet the Hydrobike.

The Hydrobike is the sort of thingamajig that frightens people at first glance. It’s a bicycle, but it doesn’t have wheels. It traverses water, but it isn’t a boat.

The Hydrobike lives in that uncomfortable void between categories, much like the not-quite-a-shirt, not-quite-a-blanket fleece mystery known as the Snuggie.

Freeport cardiologist Lowell Gerber first came across the water-based bicycles a decade ago in Florida. He appreciated the recreational aspects — they’re fun, they’re non-polluting, they’re a simple way to enjoy the water — so he bought a couple.

“You can’t just have one, you know,” he said. “You’ve got to have a friend with you.”

The thought also occurred to Gerber that a Hydrobike would be ideal exercise for his cardiac patients.

Three years ago, Gerber moved to Maine and he brought the bikes with him. Then he bought a few more and worked out a deal with the good folks at Ring’s Marine Service in South Freeport to rent the bikes there.

Gerber hopes the Hydrobikes help get families outside, get them active and get them doing things they’ve never done before. “And riding a bike on water is just fun,” he said.

It’s also the sort of activity that attracts attention. Locals are accustomed to passing luxury yachts and lobster boats. They’re used to clusters of kayakers or a couple in a canoe. But a cyclist on the water? That’s just weird.

“A lot of them are just shocked to see someone riding a bike on the water,” said Gerber.

While the bikes are fairly common in warmer, touristy climes like California and Florida, they’re still surprising folks here in Maine.

But we’re not daunted by the unorthodox. We’re people who skateboard on snow and surf with the wind.

The hydro-curious can rent a bike for themselves at Ring’s Marine. They’re impressively stable, even in the wake of a passing boat, and are easy enough for a child to operate.

They’re also great for expending calories and giving your quadriceps a random what-for.

A three-hour rental costs $49. The life jacket and the perplexed expressions from the lobstermen are free of charge.

And while it might be a while before the Hydrobike replaces the sailboat as a method of long-distance sea transportation, it’s still a novel way to be on the water.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

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