I saw pee-wee herman's bike yesterday...
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  1. #1
    xxl
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    I saw pee-wee herman's bike yesterday...

    ...also Pete Penseyres' record RAAM ride, and Major Taylor's, too.

    It was an absolute sh!t day yesterday, too much rain and lightning to even think about riding, and I was off-leash for the day, so I decided to kill some time and trek up to see this place:

    THE BICYCLE MUSEUM OF AMERICA

    I've been threatening to do this for some time (it's even become something of a household joke--it's my go-to answer when my wife asks me the dreaded "What should we do today?" question-that's-really-spousal-kode for "Think up something to entertain me!" (she has zero interest in bikes and bike technology).* But I've also hesitated a long time because it's kind of a hike for me, out to the middle of nowhere, and I wasn't sure I'd get there after spending hours in the car, only to find a barn full of dusty rusted beaters and a few old photos. The internet can only show you so much, you know?

    It was awesome.

    It's three floors' worth of bikes, and nearly all of them have been restored to damned-near showroom-clean (or at least as clean as 120-year-old+ bicycles can get). The collection covers the dawn of cycling (they have a draisine--albeit a repro--but also an 1870 boneshaker) to the Bicycle Boom ordinaries and "safety" bicycles of the late 1800s, all the way to current tech. The exhibits are arranged more-or-less chronologically, so one gets a sense of how the river of product development has flowed through the cycling industry, with some interesting side detours (shaft drive? "couples" tandems, anyone?).

    A few things that I knew, but didn't really get until seeing the museum:

    Ordinaries (high-wheelers) were, with fixed gears, solid tires, and "spoon" or "plunge" brakes, suicidal death traps, especially in the pre-"Good Roads" days; I'm not at all sure I'd have had the stones to be a "wheelman," bitd. Can only imagine how intrepid (foolhardy?) early riders must've been out on the open roads of the time. No wonder so many simply went "boulevardiering," or stuck to the track.

    The machining craftsmanship of many of these steeds, particularly those from the late 1800's, was superlative, like fine Swiss watches (until the safety bicycle came along, allowing mass production, they were hand-crafted works of art, and quite expensive; much of the public saw them as toys of the wealthy). There were also a few tech surprises (e.g., early freewheel mechanisms, two-speed machines, and some surprisingly light bikes even in the Nineteenth Century, etc.), also a number of not-actually-two-wheeled rides (pedicycles, trikes, triplets, quadricycles, and more).

    Technological developments swept through the industry fast: Within the span of about two years, the Starley safety bicycle and others had pretty much eliminated the previously-dominant high-wheelers from the marketplace. Not every technological development worked (a plastic--not carbon fiber-- bicycle), or lasted even if it did (beautiful wooden bicycles, built when North America had hardwoods literally to burn), but it's interesting to see them all laid out in a sort of sequence, so you really get a sense of the industry's evolution.

    Larger cultural changes also passed through the industry, such as the "radio bicycle" (it had a working radio built into the crossbar "tank"), the influence of automotive designs of the Forties and Fifties on bicycles (e.g., tanks, tail fins, etc.), later "muscle bikes" (Schwinn sting-rays), and early carbon-fiber efforts, as engineers figured that stuff out.

    I also did not realize I'd seen the collection before, years ago at Navy Pier in Chicago. It was originally accumulated by the Schwinn family, and it's about 170 bikes (like many museums, they have too many exhibits for the facility, so they rotate exhibits). It apparently came to land in New Bremen, Ohio because one of the honchos at Crown Equipment, which is located there, acquired it when the Schwinn company went bankrupt and the collection was sold.

    Anyway, if you are ever in the area of New Bremen, Ohio, steaming up I-75, it's totally worth the side trip.




    *It's a mixed blessing; on one hand, I can't ever really engage in any bike-geek conversations with her, but on the other, I once told her that "after you buy the bike, cycling really isn't a very expensive sport," and she believed me.
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  2. #2
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    Great review, thanks! I'll look it up next time I'm in southern OH.

    Quote Originally Posted by xxl View Post

    *It's a mixed blessing; on one hand, I can't ever really engage in any bike-geek conversations with her, but on the other, I once told her that "after you buy the bike, cycling really isn't a very expensive sport," and she believed me.
    ^this is hilarious...all because it's so believable.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by xxl View Post
    *It's a mixed blessing; on one hand, I can't ever really engage in any bike-geek conversations with her, but on the other, I once told her that "after you buy the bike, cycling really isn't a very expensive sport," and she believed me.
    That's just wrong...... but funny!
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