Foot-powered vehicles have been making history in Ohio even before the Wright brothers built them at their Wright Cycle Company shop in Dayton, back before Orville and Wilbur turned their attention to the skies.
Not far from Dayton, the Bicycle Museum of America in New Bremen showcases the history of pedal-powered transportation, from a one-of-a-kind 1816 German model (that actually doesn’t have pedals) to a Schwinn Stingray that looks remarkably similar to one that stole my heart circa 1974.
The museum was founded by local businessman and philanthropist Jim Dicke II, owner of Crowne Equipment Corporation. The museum began when Dicke purchased the Schwinn Bicycle collection in Chicago and moved it to a beautiful old building in the center of New Bremen.
Ohio manufacturers have produced several popular bicycle brands, including Huffy, Roadmaster and Murray, all amply represented in the collection. But some of the museum’s most fascinating bicycles are one-of-a-kind or rare antiques such as that 1816 German "Draisine" or "running machine," one of the earliest bicycles, propelled by the rider pushing his feet on the ground.
Visitors will also see dozens of other 19th- and early 20th-century beauties with designs that range from innovative to eccentric and borderline crazy, as inventors worked to advance the new technology (and perhaps make their fortune).
Unusual models include a two-speed 1904 Terrot with a low gear engaged when pedaling backward; the 1898 Orient Chainless propelled by a driveshaft instead of a chain; and the 1891 Victor Racquet Frame, a beautiful design with a tennis-racquet shaped frame to keep the bike from flexing.
The collection includes meticulously restored high-wheelers, military bicycles, trikes and quad-cycles and many specialty ladies’ models designed with elaborate skirt guards and other concessions to 19th-century feminine liberation and mobility.
Visitors of a certain age, though, will probably linger, nostalgically, at the display of bicycles of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, many tricked out with paint, chrome and fancy gear-shifters like foot-powered muscle cars.
Other cool items include a 1900 British bicycle-race arcade game (the winner got his penny back) and one of the prop bicycles used as the bike famously pursued by Pee-wee Herman in the movie "Pee-wee’s Big Adventure."
Visitors also will find several other attractions that make New Bremen a delightful day-trip for regional travelers.
A terrific little restaurant, 17 West, shares the building with the bicycle museum. Lunch entrees, such as the citrus-soy salmon with butternut squash, are delicious and surprisingly affordable.
The museum is adjacent to the historic Miami and Erie Canal Lock No. 1. The lock has been restored along with the old lock-keeper’s house, which now serves as the home of the Miami and Erie Canal Heritage Center. Several other historic canal sites are within easy driving distance, including Johnston Farm and Indian Agency historic site, where visitors can ride the replica canal boat "General Harrison," powered not by feet, but by (mule) hooves.
For more information about the Bicycle Museum of America, call 419-629-9249 or visit bicyclemuseum.com.
Steve Stephens can be reached at email@example.com.