Wheelmen Ride Into New Bremen

NEW BREMEN — The Ohio Chapter of The Wheelmen hosted its annual swap and memorabilia meet at the Bicycle Museum of America on Saturday, selling rims, prints, medals and more.

Artisan Mark Weaver wheeled in a new exhibit, a custom, handcrafted bicycle he made himself in Collingswood, N.J., in his shop at Weaver Cycle Works. The bike is part of an exhibit about bicycles that are made in America open now at the museum in New Bremen.

Weaver’s bikes are made to fit one rider exactly, each bike is like a fingerprint, and this particular print—or bike—is his own.

The golf-club quality steel was chosen to reflect Weaver’s weight, the height of the handlebars and style of pedal, reflects his preferences. The bronze welding is a smooth way of joining the pieces, and the frame reflects his preference for the retro Schwinn-style machines.

The materials are all American-made, with the exception of the wheels, which would have cost him $1,000 per rim to make in the U.S.

“I was very sad to see it go,” Weaver said, noting hey planned to build the bike after his own was destroyed, and so had already bought the steel before the opportunity to exhibit arose. “I deliberately didn’t ride it before I brought it. I wanted it to be perfect.”

Weaver said he loves bikes—riding them, making them, even he jokes, boring his wife with stories about them.

Weaver isn’t alone, if the full-house gathering at the swap meet and The Wheelmen presentation was any indication. People selling parts of bicycles and pictures of bicycles and miniature memorabilia of bicycles milled the top floor of the museum.

To understand the American love affair with bicycles, however, bicycle historian Carey Williams said one has to go back to its early failure. In 1868, the bicycle was introduced as a novelty inside skating rinks in the winter, and it was all the rage for nine months until summer, when people could go outside.

Unlike Europe, which had smooth roads, the U.S. only had sidewalks smooth enough to bike on. The roads were too rutted to ride.

But what made the invention great, Williams said, was that almost immediately after the introduction, 80 patents were filed for that improved the design.

“When you ride a bike, it’s not one person’s idea, it’s a collective community bringing innovations,” Williams said.

And as infrastructure improved, so did the popularity of the bike, leading to the ability of people to use a bicycle to get themselves places at a time when horses, with all the extra costs associated with feeding and caring for them, were the primary mode of transportation.

Also presenting was Lorne Shields, from Toronto, who filled The Wheelmen in on early wheel-women, as presented in photographs. Bicycling, he said, was instrumental to women gaining many freedoms.

When bicycles became popular, clothing became looser and pantaloons became popular. Women, who often didn’t know how to drive or have access to cars when petitioning for the right to vote, used bicycles as a way to gather.

Suffragette Francis Willard gave credit to the bicycle for enabling the suffrage movement, he said.

Williams agreed.

“It was the first glimmer that your small little world was expanding, and you could control that expansion,” Williams said. “You could go as far as you could ride.”