RALEIGH — They call him Chrome Dome or Bicycle Man – affectionate nicknames for the rider in the gray sweatsuit, the mystery man pedaling down Leesville Road under a shiny silver helmet.
He’s out there almost every day on a white paperboy’s bike, chugging along at about 5 mph. Half the time he has no sidewalk, so he straddles the edge of the asphalt, undaunted by the cars that whizz past.
In a day, he logs at least 30 miles: Interstate 540 to downtown and back, all with a Honey Bun cake and a protein drink in a plastic grocery bag – a picnic lunch he keeps dangling from the handlebars.
“You should wave sometime,” he said, offering an invitation to the city.
At age 53, Richard Falco has unintentionally ridden into minor stardom as Chrome Dome the Leesville Road cyclist, slowly developing into one of Raleigh’s top curiosities.
He has grown so recognizable that this year, one fan dressed like him for a Halloween party, detailed down to the bike fenders and the shopping bag.
There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to Chrome Dome sightings, showing Falco in the same kind of blurry, shot-through-the-car-window photos you might find on a bigfoot tracker’s site.
He often turns up on Twitter, too: “Just saw Chrome Dome,” goes one tweet. “I must be back in Raleigh,” as well as on online discussion boards where people swap theories and raves.
“Dude, I’ve seen that guy a ton of times,” wrote Sparky on thewolfweb.com. “His helmet is AWESOME.”
“He could probably sell that thing to a hipster and make enough to get a nice modern bike,” wrote BigMan157.
Meeting Chrome Dome
For almost a year, I’ve fielded calls about the guy on a bike in North Raleigh. One woman called me for weeks, breathlessly reporting his whereabouts.
To hear the callers tell it, he sometimes brings a transistor radio along; and if you ask nicely, he’ll even let you ride his bike.
So on Friday, I finally drove out there and spotted him near Country Trail, a distant shimmer in the southbound lane. I flagged him down from the curb, looking like a maniac. I mean, would you stop your bike for a random stranger and his notepad? But Falco pulled over with a smile, waving politely.
I explained that I work for the newspaper.
“You’re lucky to be working,” Falco told me, and he was very, very right.
I further explained that people both notice and appreciate him, that he’s become a Raleigh icon, and that I’d spent the year taking calls from his fans.
“You should stop answering the phone,” he advised.
Falco told me a few biographical tidbits while the cars rushed past. He’s unemployed at the moment. He followed his parents down to Raleigh from New York, where he did factory work. They live together nearby, and Falco switches back and forth between north and south.
He rides Leesville and its spotty sidewalks because that’s the quickest route downtown. He makes the daily trip “just to get out of the house.”
Later on, I stopped by Falco’s house and met his very friendly dad, who seemed surprised and pleased that his son is so well-known. Without getting into too much personal detail, he told me Richard can get skittish around other people, but he’s a very nice guy once you get to know him. It’s a description that fits a lot of the world’s more interesting people.
Let me say, I have something of a history with iconic Raleigh cyclists, and I’m glad to have met a new one. Some of you may remember Rodney Hines, the No-Hand King, who rode wheelies on South Person Street; or Russell “Sho Nuff” Lee, who wore a leather vest and matching beret, and rode a leopard-spotted bike decorated with black tassels.
To me, these three cyclists qualify as monuments in Raleigh just as much as the statues on the Capitol lawn. They add to our identity and provide us with scenery to point out to visitors – polka-dots on our beige background.
Take care as you pass Falco, and give him a wave. He’s out there being himself, doing what he must to get through the day.
Shaffer: firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-829-4818