From ‘boneshakers’ to BMXs
Chico Museum exhibit is a bicycle lover’s delight
The current exhibit at the Chico Museum, “The Bicycle: Life on Two Wheels,” is everything a bike fan could want—it’s loaded with bicycles old and new, as well as pictures of bicycles and tons of information about bicycles.
From an early “boneshaker” bike, with its 5-foot-high front wheel; to the four-seater quad bike that was used in Hollywood films in the 1940s and ’50s; to the shiny black 1960 Bowden Spacelander (“the bike of the future,” as it was advertised at the time), there’s a whole lot to look at and imagine what it would be like to ride.
One corner of the exhibit is devoted to BMX bikes and BMX lingo (“air” means “the space between bike tires and the ground,” and the verb “bail” means “to jump off in order to avoid an imminent crash”).
Yet another display—an interactive one—features bicycle handlebars and bike parts, as well as useful information on how a bicycle actually works and how to fix a flat.
An 1896 Elliot Hickory bike, made of hickory wood (“lighter than metal, but nearly as strong,” as the accompanying card explains), sits alongside a photograph of an 1864 wood-and-iron Velocipede, the first bicycle to have pedals. Photos of imaginative Burning Man bicycles grace a wall near where an impressive chopper-style bike with a massively wide rear tire and a super cool Schwinn Sting-Ray Orange Krate (with “Stik-Shift”) from the 1960s sit.
“We chose the bike exhibit because Chico is a wonderful biking town,” said museum manager Melinda Rist. “[Many of t]he bikes are from local collectors here in town—I think that’s neat.” Five of the bicycles on exhibit are on loan from the California Bicycle Museum in Davis. Chico Museum curators Heather McCafferty and Audra Hoyt “went down to the bike museum in Davis and looked at all the historic bikes,” said Rist. The boneshaker is one of those five bicycles and “is the oldest one we have,” Rist said.
The “Sociable”—a side-by-side tandem—is another on loan from the Davis museum. “It was really nice—the women could ride them with their long skirts and petticoats and what-not back in the 1800s,” Rist said of Sociable bikes. “They were actually used for dating. The men would pick up the women for dates and go for a bike ride.”
The bicycle “made a huge difference in the lives of Victorian women because they could have transportation on their own,” Rist pointed out. “They didn’t have to hitch up a horse to a wagon or buggy—they could just hop on their bike. In fact, we have a quote in the museum from Susan B. Anthony—she said that the bicycle did more to emancipate women than anything.”
The actual quote, from 1896, reads: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. 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 picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
Rist shared a few of her favorite bicycles in the exhibit. The bicycle-built-for-four, equipped with four bells—one for each rider—is one of those. It was ridden by the Lane sisters in the Warner Bros. film Four Daughters. “The interesting thing about that one is each bell has a different tone, so you would know which [rider] is complaining, which one has to make the potty stop!” she said, chuckling.
Rist also loves the 1951 Rollfast Hopalong Cassidy bike, complete with gun in holster and black-leather fringed mudflap on the rear fender. “We had a gentleman, a professor at Chico State, who came in [to the museum], and he came back a week later and brought in a picture of him on his brand-new Hopalong Cassidy bike on his seventh birthday,” she said. “I think that was so cute!”
A couple of the mountain bikes on display were made in Chico. “I think that’s important,” Rist said. “The Mountain Goat bike was actually manufactured in Chico, by Jeff Lindsay,” who is now a prominent local metal artist.
“Another local-touch focus is Kyle Warner,” said Rist. “He is a young man who is a nationally ranked mountain-bike racer, and is sponsored by several large companies. We have several photos of him in the museum, and he was the one who made our video using a ‘chest-cam,’ as he rode all around town, in Upper Park, the skate park, and the BMX track.”
Other local names feature big as well, such as bike guru Ed McLaughlin’s Tour de Ed, the Wildflower Century and creative bike-maker Gregory Degouveia, maker of a “fully operational kitchen bike,” a four-bike generator and solar-powered bike lights. Near Degouveia’s solar lights is an intriguing photo display called “Carrying Cargo,” featuring pictures from around the world of people carrying impossibly huge, skyscraping amounts of stuff on every available surface of their bicycles.
“We’ve had a wonderful turnout so far, people of all ages,” offered Rist. “We’ve probably had a lot more adults than kids, which I find very interesting.”
A variety of rides through the ages.