They saw gardens in Federal Hill, renovated homes in Canton, barges in Locust Point, Little Italy, Fort McHenry, Patterson Park.
More than 2,100 early-risers bicycled through Baltimore neighborhoods in yesterday morning's Tour du Port, taking in city sights in a way they say would be impossible if pedaling alone in traffic or zipping along in a car.
"It sounds silly, but it's three-dimensional now. We'd come down here, we'd come to the Inner Harbor. You kind of forget there is a city behind it -- a nice city," said Don Connolly, 47, a Wilmington, Del., engineer, who was biking with his family.
From pricey new bicycles to dusty hand-me-downs, from racers to tandems, rainbows of bikes and their helmeted riders wound through south and southeast Baltimore, starting at the Inner Harbor's Rash Field and ending back there -- 22.1 miles later -- with lunch and music. Some did a shorter course of about 9 miles.
"I've done it every year -- I love Baltimore," said shipper Jim Hopkins, 31, of Glen Burnie, who pulled a trailer that held his 2-year-old daughter, Lexi, one of hundreds of tots who rode effortlessly with parents. "Seeing all the people, it's amazing, that's probably the best part."
In its sixth year, Tour du Port was run this year for the first time by the BikEvents Group, a fledgling corporation that organizes bicycle-related events, with Mike Levengood, 49, of Westminster at the helm and 100 volunteers from the Baltimore Bicycling Club.
Levengood said proceeds could reach close to $10,000, benefiting the Women's Housing Coalition, the Police Athletic League and the Bicycle Education Association of Maryland.
Cyclists focused on their delight of a noncompetitive, not-too-chal- lenging ride on a morning that seemed made for family and friends cycling -- not too hot, not too windy, not too sunny and not too traffic-laden.
"You get to see all the Halloween decorations in Highlandtown and Fells Point. It's fun, it's art, it's nice weather, it's friendly people and good food," said Betty Kilchenstein, 66, of Salisbury, as she ate a sandwich by the water.
She rode with her nephew, Pete Kaufman, 53, a heavy-equipment operator from Fallston. They soon were joined by two women, who saw Kaufman's T-shirt that featured a Carroll County bike ride held in May and inquired about the difficulty of that ride.
Their conversation was like many others the riders had as they relaxed and chatted about what they saw and liked in the past few hours, about other rides and about equipment.
The ride may be a boon for businesses on the bike route. Many riders made mental lists of where they want to return, as a shop window piqued their interest or a sign beckoned them to a restaurant. Dozens of riders vowed to mark street maps in coming days.
"I don't get to ride around the city," said Brigid Butler, 37, of Rodgers Forge. Though she's lived in the Baltimore area for nearly a decade, she said she's "hit the big spots" but has not taken a closer look at the city. "It makes for a different relationship with the city."
Pub Date: 10/18/99