While memories of my childhood have largely faded, some especially vivd experiences seem indelible. Among the most entertaining and remembered were visits to museums. Sure, other trips and occasions rated up there but there was something about museums that touched me.
For a little boy in the SF Bay Area places like the Steinhart Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences, Morrison Planetarium, and the Exploratorium were wonderlands of the unexpected and entertaining. What is it about 3D artifacts and diorama’s that can be so transformative? However, the bicycle was rarely represented. Cycling is enjoying seemingly permanent, worldwide growth. The history spans most of the Industrial Revolution and spill-overs to and from other sports and technology are everywhere. Why so little museum presence?
To be fair, there are rare cycling displays in US museums. The Franklin in Philadelphia, the Ford in Dearborn, the Smithsonian in DC, but few other permanent collections. Chicago’s Museum of Science and Technology is hosting a 5 year exhibit, wow! Some bike shops carry the mantel of sharing the colorful variety and history of cycling. In my area, Classic Cycles on Bainbridge maintains phenomenal displays. And so does Elliott Bay Cycles in the wise hands of Bob Freeman and Bill Davidson. Still, around the world the total seems small compared to the size of our scene, and inaccessible for many of our youth.
I puzzle over this and conclude that these days museums are up against huge obstacles. The investments and upkeep are prohibitive. The few that have survived or begun have endowments like universities or teams of billionaire backers. It’s darned tough to start or sustain one in any subject area. Cycling suffers no prejudice in this regard compared to other stories and histories. This brings to mind recent news that the magnificent Ghisallo Museum of Cycling is closing. I wrote about it in 2007, shortly after the opening. A spectacular location, a bicycle-crazy country, next to the famous Ghisallo Sanctuary, and Italian cycling legend Firoenzo Magni as principle advocate; what a winning combination. But Maestro Magni died this year and his influence is missing.
Jan Heine (of Bicycle Quarterly fame) writes of it here, and Simon Crisp remembers his visit here. Thankfully, important Italian cycling personalities like Ernesto Colnago have indicated their concern and hopes for a re-opening, as Cyclingnews reports here. However, the danger is great that this international treasure will be dismantled. The US Bicycle Hall of Fame (Davis, CA) is under serious financial pressure despite non-stop programs and activity. The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame has languished, not in spirit but in presentation, now plans to move to Fairfax, CA in 2014 to begin a new era of celebration.
Do not forget the youth who seek inspiration and vision. Museums fulfill a crucial role alongside advocacy, racing, and access in growing and strengthening our scene. Put some thought to the opportunities near you. In 1999, curator of the Oakland Museum, Phil Linhares, approached me to participate in their awesome, four month exhibit, “Amazing Bikes: Two Centuries on Two Wheels,” built largely around Pryor Dodge’s famous collection. What an exciting time. How perfect if it had become permanent! San Francisco and Portland airports and SF’s Moscone Center have hosted memorable exhibits. They come but they go. While the World’s cycling museums struggle, today is a special moment. We have such a great story to tell, so many participants with whom to share, and such rich and vital opportunities for the future. Make sure to hug a museum soon and lend a hand if a cycling display becomes a possibility near you.