An exotic bicycle museum

Columbus discovered USA and since then it has become a land of opportunities for many. This mystic land is also the world’s largest tourist destination. The most popular tourist destinations in the US are of course the magical Disneyland, Universal Studios, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York.

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But in 2008 when I went for a month-long expedition as a Rotary Group Study Exchange team leader to Ohio State, I was mesmerised by the Midwest. We stayed with local families, visited several unseen places and met many interesting people. We had a local Rotarian as a guide/mentor and learnt a lot about vocations, culture, dining as well as fashion and etiquette.

One fine day, after a breakfast Rotary meeting at Mansfield, our host volunteered to take us to visit a bicycle museum nearby. Initially I was not very keen; what is there to see in bicycles was my natural reaction. But when he told me that this museum has the largest private collection of bicycles in the world, I got curious and interested.

Bicycles were not just playthings or toys for the rich. Throughout history they were used for commercial purposes ranging from delivering messages and parcels, to being used as hired transportation and carrying policemen on patrol. They also saw military service during World War I.

According to the curator at the museum, Jim Dicke, founder of Crown Equipment, during a meeting, asked his colleagues, “What could we do to bring people to this small town of New England; make it more liveable and a tourist destination?”

With this thought in mind, he bought Schwinn’s private collection when they went out of business in the 1990s. The Schwinn collection — and many more bikes since then — is now kept at the Bicycle Museum of America in New Bremen.

The collection is housed in a beautiful old gingerbread storefront, and visitors to the museum are greeted with friendly staff eager to share the stories of the hundreds of bicycles on display. The visit begins with a short video on the museum and the different types of bicycles included in the collection. From there, visitors can explore two floors of beautiful bicycles and see hundreds of examples of antique bicycle club badges, bicycle safety equipment and bikes that will both delight and amaze.

The museum houses elegant antique bicycles from the 19th century, balloon tyre classics of the 1940s and 1950s and even the banana seat high-rise handle bar bikes of the 1960s. It proudly houses the world’s largest high-wheeled bike. This museum has on display over 300 bicycles and contains over 1,000 in its collection. Here you will see everything from primitive bikes with appropriate names like the Boneshaker, high-wheeled bicycles that the older generation enjoyed, to modern carbon frame bicycles that one can lift with a single finger.

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Here you will find everything from wooden bikes and Harley bicycles to unicycles. It’s just a small little place, but packed with so much entertainment and information! There are bikes here one can ride, bikes you can touch and videos you can watch. If you are a museum lover who loves to amass information, then you’ll get plenty to read, plenty to ogle and laugh at (not every bike invention was a success). We finished our tour in two hours, but avid two-wheeler fans can spend an entire day here. The curator-cum-guide at this place is very helpful and has many stories to tell.

Bicycle racing has been a popular sport ever since the first rider climbed on board and challenged the next guy to come along, and the museum’s racing bicycles range from an 1898 Wright Brothers St Claire that Wilbur Wright won many medals with, to the 2004 Trek Madone SL that helped Lance Armstrong win his sixth Tour de France victory.

The oldest bicycle in the collection is an 1816 Draissine, which consisted of two wooden wheels connected to a wooden beam. The rider straddled the beam and propelled himself with his feet against the ground, steering with the front wheel while leaning his forearms on an upholstered balancing board to maintain equilibrium. A brake on the rear wheel could be activated by pulling a leather cord attached to the balancing board. The Drassine was more a nobleman’s folly than a serious mode of transportation, but it was one of a long line of inventions that eventually led to the modern bicycle.

But the most prominent amongst this collection is a bicycle with a 64-inch front wheel. This bicycle has appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest bicycle.

The Bicycle Museum of America is located at 7 West Monroe Street in New Bremen and is open Monday through Friday from 11 am to 5 pm and Saturday from 11 am to 2 pm.

More information on the museum is available on http://www.bicyclemuseum.com.

The writer is a PDG from RID 3131.

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