“It’s a very unique collection, there are some items here you will never see anywhere else,” Ryan Long, museum coordinator, said. “If you are a fan of history or a bicycle enthusiast, this is a great place to come spend an afternoon.”
May is National Bike Month, a perfect time to learn more about the evolution of the bicycle and its impact. The first floor of the museum focuses on early origins.
The earliest two-wheeled invention, an 1816 draisienne invented by Karl Drais, was the first true bicycle according the museum and is among the artifacts on display.
Drais, a German land surveyor and inventor, designed the human propelled vehicle.
The rider would straddle a beam and push it along with his feet while leaning forward to steer — the first known example of placing two wheels in tandem and using momentum to create balance.
The high-wheel bicycle, a popular but dangerous ride, transitioned to the “safety” bicycle in the 1880s ushering in an era when everyone was taking up bike riding.
“Bicycles in the 1890s were like cell phones are today,” Long said. “The 1890s were huge in bike manufacturers trying to outdo one another. There were as many as 4,000 bicycle manufacturers worldwide during the 1890s so you can imagine how much competition there was.”
The two-wheeled contraptions were a “utilitarian tool for the human experience and an equalizer for women,” Long said. Bicycles began to be designed so a woman could sit low and not reveal her ankles or get her skirt caught up in the spokes.
Susan B. Anthony, one of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, acknowledged the power the bicycle offered women.
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling,” she said. “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…”
The New Bremen museum’s collection has bicycles created for art, ridden on circus highwires and used for military transport and sport.
A rare 1896 “Zimmy” bicycle, named after Arthur Augustus Zimmerman, may be the only one in existence.
Zimmerman was one of the first American cyclists to achieve international success, winning more than 1,000 races in his nine-year career. He was known for his pedaling speed estimated to be 160 to 180 rotations per minute, according to museum research.
At the first International Cycling Association World Championship in 1893 he won two gold medals making him the first official world champion in cycling.
One of the whimsical artifacts in the museum’s collection is a 1953 Schwinn DX, one of 10 used in the 1985 classic movie, “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.”
The red and white bike is customized with a propeller on the front fender, a fin on the back and a lion’s head on the handlebars.
“I think folks resonate with the bike because they like the movie and it’s a cool bike with great features on it,” Long said.
A ballroom on the third floor is filled with bicycles that evoke childhood memories.
Balloon tires, vintage style and names like Black Phantom, and Spaceliner adorn bike designs of the 1950s and 1960s.
For kids in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a Schwinn Sting-Ray Krate bike was the coolest ride around. Nearly a dozen Krates are on display in a variety of colors including “Grey Ghost,” “Lemon Peeler” yellow and “Pea Picker” green.
With a banana seat, extended handlebars, a five-speed shift and a spring suspension fork, the bike was made for popping wheelies.
Dayton and its history of bicycle innovation are well represented.
Among the artifacts are a replica of the 1896 Wright brothers St. Clair airfoil test bicycle and a 1900 Dayton women’s bike made by the Davis Sewing Machine Company which would eventually become the Huffy Corporation.
Long says people travel to New Bremen from around the world to see the one-of-a-kind collection.
“If you have any interest in history or bicycles, it’s really amazing to see all the areas the bicycle has touched history,” he said.
HOW TO GO:
WHAT: Bicycle Museum of America
WHERE: 7 W. Monroe St., New Bremen
HOURS: Monday – Friday, noon to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
ADMISSION: $3 for adults, $2 for seniors 60 and over, $1 for students and free for children 5 and under.
INFORMATION: bicyclemuseum.com | Facebook