Bike museums, exhibitions offering history, activities more

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Spring has arrived and bikes are starting to emerge from hibernation and their traditional winter habitats under piles of old tarps and gardening tools in garages across the country.

A great way to renew the enthusiasm for cycling, which can also be drowsy after a long winter siesta, is to visit one of the great bike museums or exhibitions nearby.

Visitors may not want to cycle there, at least not yet, but the sites are all easily accessible by car for a day or night from central Ohio.

Indiana State Museum exhibit on Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor

A new exhibit at the Indiana State Museum (www.indianamuseum.org) in Indianapolis focuses on one of the first African Americans to win a sports championship of any kind.

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“Major Taylor: Fastest Cyclist in the World”, examines the life and accomplishments of Marshall “Major” Taylor, an Indianapolis native born in 1878 who won the world cycling sprint championships in 1899 and 1900 and established numerous records throughout his career.

marshal "Major" Taylor, one of the first African Americans to win a sports championship, is currently featured in an exhibit at the Indiana State Museum.

“It has an amazing story,” said Kisha Tandy, the museum’s social history curator.

Taylor started working for bike shops in Indianapolis and giving riding lessons before she started racing, Tandy said.

But racism in Indianapolis, including a “whites only” policy on the area’s bike paths, prompted Taylor to move to Massachusetts when he was just 17, Tandy said.

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Despite experiencing horrific racism throughout his career, Taylor won over 100 races and went on to write an autobiography, “The World’s Fastest Cyclist”.

The interactive exhibit offers visitors the chance to test their skills and times on stationary bikes, DIY bike parts, and design and tour a cycling “training room”. The exhibit, which also includes extensive information and memorabilia from the museum’s extensive collection of Taylor letters, scrapbooks and trophies, runs through October 23.

The original location of one of the Wright Brothers' cycle stores is preserved at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

The Wright Brothers’ Contributions to Cycling Featured at the Dayton Exposition

Before taking flight, Orville and Wilbur Wright built bikes, a fact not overlooked in their hometown of Dayton.

The brothers operated bicycle shops at several locations in Dayton. The only one still standing has been preserved as part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park (www.nps.gov/daav). Visitors learn about the Wright Brothers’ involvement in the bicycle craze that swept America in the late 19th century.

Dayton's historic Carillon Park includes a recreation of a Wright Cycle Co. store and displays rare Wright-built bicycles.

Dayton Carillon Historical Park (www.daytonhistory.org) also pays homage to the Wright brothers’ cycling roots with a reproduction of a Wright cycle shop and a collection of historic bicycles, including two rare original bicycles built by Orville and Wilbur.

The Bicycle Museum of America in New Bremen exhibits beautifully restored bicycles from all eras.

Bike Museum of America

Some of the oldest and rarest bicycles in existence can be found in the Bicycle Museum of America (www.bikemuseum.com) in New Bremen in Auglaize County.

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The museum, in a historic building in pretty downtown New Bremen, contains a beautifully curated display of around 150 bicycles (out of a collection of over 800), most of them beautifully restored.

Bicycles range from an early two-wheeled wooden “rolling machine” built in 1816, to iconic high-wheelers of the 1870s and 1880s, and one of many famous accessory bicycles co-starred in the cult film by 1985 “Pee-wee is the great adventure.

This exhibit at the Bicycle Museum of America features bicycles built in Ohio.

Cycling paradise

Another (and possibly the only other) of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure accessory bikes is on display at Bicycle Heaven (www.bicycleheaven.org) in Pittsburgh, which bills itself as the largest bicycle museum in the world. For my part, I am ready to believe the assertion.

With over 6,500 bikes on display, Bicycle Heaven is a glorious, gleaming maze of chrome and color. Several of the bikes have been featured in movies or on TV, including a bike built for four that the Monkees once used on their 1960s TV show.

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Although the museum contains bicycles from all eras, it specializes in colorful chrome beauties from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s – or so it seems for visitors of a certain age whose childhood dreams are filled with it. (And there are “banana” seats everywhere.)

Bicycle Heaven is a maze of chrome and color.

Like many of the country’s great private museums, Bicycle Heaven is a tribute to what a person with a passion – some might say “maniacal” – for collecting can accomplish.

Owner Craig Morrow said he started his collection with “a bike that I pulled from a junk pile 35 years ago”.

Morrow opened the museum 11 years ago and the collection has continued to grow.

Moreover, Bicycle Heaven is not only a museum, but also a bicycle repair, retail and rental shop. So if you see a dreamy vision of childhood that you covet, you can probably make an offer.

Steve Stephens is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Email him at [email protected].

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