Friday, October 12, 2007

New Bremen, Ohio

Friends: The CEO of Crown Fork Lift, a Fortune 500 company, headquartered in New Bremen, Ohio rescued the majority of the Schwinn bicycle collection that was auctioned off at Sotheby's in Chicago over a decade ago and installed it at a museum he established in this small town of 3,000 near the Indiana border in central Ohio. It made for a nice three-day, 260-mile bike ride through rural middle-America from Chicago.

Jim Dickey spent nearly one million dollars at the auction and has spent quite a lot more since building up the collection to some 350 bikes. His most expensive acquisition was a Schwinn tandem from the 1890s that cost him $108,000 at another auction. It was accompanied by a photo of Schwinn founder Ignacz and his wife astride it along with a child on a baby seat. Dickey named his museum The Bicycle Museum of America. It is housed on three floors of a building that dates to 1891 in the heart of New Bremen.

Less than half of the museum's collection of bikes came from the Schwinn collection, not all of which were Schwinns, but there is a heavy emphasis on Schwinn throughout the museum, even Chicago street signs from around the Schwinn factory--Kildare, Wabanasia, Cortland, Kostner. There is a collection of Schwinn videos, including one of a company outing in 1952 to the Riverview Amusement Park, and assorted others from over the years meant for dealers. One of the prized bikes from the initial auction was the one millionth Orange Crate off the assembly line. Along with it was a photo of a couple dozen Schwinn employees celebrating the occasion.

The museum traces the bike's lineage from the bike's precursor, the 1816 Draisine from Germany, to a 2007 version of a Biria, also of Germany. There is a room full of "Collapsables," also known as fold-up bikes. There are two Bike Fridays. There is a room of trikes. There are two rare, highly sought after Bowden Spacelanders, a futuristic fiber-glass bike from 1960 designed by automobile engineer Ben Bowden. Only a few hundred were ever manufactured. There is a Lance exhibit featuring a local teen-aged boy who recovered from cancer and was befriended by Lance.

There was a tribute to Bikecentennial and the 4,000 cyclists who rode the coast-to-coast route it established in 1976 to celebrate the Bicentennial. The Bicycle Cow from Chicago's Cow Summer hangs from the ceiling of one of the larger rooms. There was a scrapbook with dozens of newspaper clippings documenting Raymond Bryan's record-setting coast-to-coast ride, New York to San Francisco, in 1940 sponsored by the American Bicycle League. The 20-year old was hoping to do it in 20 days. It took him 27 days and 11 hours, a record that stood for ten years.

Among the many exhibits and quotes celebrating and promoting the bicycle was Susan B. Anthony's: "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance." The museum's vast library of books wasn't accessible, as the building housing them is being renovated. One of the main rooms was being set up for a luncheon to be attended by 42 tomorrow. The museum has even hosted weddings. Didi Senft, the German who masquerades as the Devil at the Tour de France, was acknowledged as the inventor of the largest known bike, 7.8 meters long and 3.7 meters high.

I would gladly return to the museum to see it all again and to see what may have slipped my attention. And I may have a chance in a couple weeks as I swing back this way after visiting friends in Oberlin, 200 miles away up by Cleveland, and then bike 500 miles south to other friends in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It will end up being a nice 2,000 mile fall trip. Its not as exotic as last fall's 4,000 miles around Japan, but it is always a happy time to be off on the bike, and in my tent night after night.

Later, George

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