On the wall at Craig Morrow's Bicycle Heaven is an all-wood bike made in 1862.
Craig Morrow at work at Bicycle Heaven, where he says he has 90,000 bikes and accessories.
By Marty Levine
Look up when you enter Bicycle Heaven. Even the sky is filled with bicycles.
The new North Side museum and bike shop, set to open Saturday, is dedicated to all things two-wheeled, from 1860s "boneshakers" -- handcrafted wooden bikes -- to rare fiberglass Bowden Spacelanders and the ultimate 1960s pedal-driven dream: the Schwinn Sting-Ray Krate.
You know the one: glittery banana seat. Ape-hanger handlebars with streamers flying from the ends. Sissy bar in back for wheelies and slick tires for skidding, complete with raised white letters. Some even sport a five-speed shifter between the rider's legs and mag sprockets between the pedals -- the bicycle equivalent of fancy rims.
What: A museum of rare, vintage and antique bikes, as well as sales, repairs and rentals.
Where: R.J. Casey Industrial Park, 1800 Preble Ave., North Side.
When: Grand opening, Saturday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.
Info: Free admission; rentals, $25 a day. 412-716-4956.
"That's when they were trying to make bikes look a lot like motorcycles and race cars," says Craig Morrow, whose collection of Krates hangs upside down in neat rows along the museum's ceiling and nearly crowds him out of his office.
Mr. Morrow, 57, of Ben Avon, a former auto body painter, claims thousands of bicycles ready for display -- in fact, he said his place boasts 90,000 bikes and accessories. He's been collecting and repairing bicycles for decades -- he even became celebrated locally for a shop that was, essentially, in the alley outside his former home. But this is the first time his acquisitions will all be in one place.
Bicycle Heaven, in the R.J. Casey Industrial Park (near the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on Metropolitan Street), hardly resembles a traditional museum, apart from the glass cases ready for smaller items, such as vintage head badges (the curved metal nameplates on the front of many bikes) and 150 years of design evolution in lights, tools, pedals, seats and mirrors.
In the upper floor of this warehouse, Mr. Morrow is still planning how to display hundreds more bicycles parked side by side across many rooms. One spot may feature the bikes he's lent to feature movies. In the back of the main floor will be a repair shop, aimed especially at passers-by pedaling the nearby North Shore bike trail. Mr. Morrow also offers rentals -- including some of the vintage rides he has restored.
The Krates, a sort of muscle bike, were popular in Pittsburgh, thanks to all the hills, he says. Below them, on the walls, are bicycles from other eras.
Mr. Morrow leads a visitor over to his favorites, the 1930s models, with their curvy, aerodynamic styling, from the horn tank (between the handlebars and seat, once a repository for useful items such as repair tools and light/horn batteries) to the fenders and reflector lights, or "jewels." The cream and darker colors still have a kind of luster, however worn; Mr. Morrow says he rarely takes a bike without the original paint. He points out the key-locked horn tank on one model, the skirt guard on the rear wheel of the ladies' version of another: old-fashioned features not in danger of returning. Other current extras were pioneered in these bicycles, such as the front-wheel suspension on an OVB Streamliner, now common on mountain bikes, or the two-speed shifter on the Sterling, he says.
Different bicycle ages fly by, like the memory of a perfect no-hands glide downhill. Here's a Red Schwinn Phantom from the 1950s with a horn tank like a proto-Nike swoosh. There's a green Roadmaster with someone's registration plate still attached above the rear wheel, waiting for the kid to return.
The boneshaker, hanging just inside the museum's front door, hit the unpaved road with metal bands around its wooden wheels and more wood for brakes. Those brakes likely didn't stop much of anything, but then again the bicycle probably didn't go fast at all.
Not so for an 1890s' three-wheeled kids' bike, which was propelled by foot pedals and hand levers, like a mobile elliptical exercise machine with a wicker seat. "I think it rides easier than a new three-wheeler," Mr. Morrow says.
Visitors can also see a 1909 racing bike with wooden wheels and hard rubber tires, its handles in a tight curl far below waist level, as well as 1930s Hawthornes with their aluminum frames -- another trend Mr. Morrow says is returning.
One craze unlikely to appear again, at least until 2026, are the red-white-and-blue bikes last seen at the nation's bicentennial, now immobilized on Bike Heaven's walls.
And then there are the fiberglass Spacelanders -- four of them, in dull, solid cream, blue, green and red, like something out of the Jetsons. They resemble a plastic kitchen gadget blown up and stuck with handlebars, seat and wheels, but they have an odd kind of beauty as well. Designer Benjamin Bowden invented the color-injected fiberglass technique in 1948 but only produced them for a short time in 1960. Mr. Morrow believes they are worth $9,000-$20,000 each. He has 13.
"I was a hoarder of bikes," Mr. Morrow jokes about his collection's beginnings.
Kurt Hagler certainly experienced that. An autobody technician from Glenshaw who has known Mr. Morrow for 20 years, Mr. Hagler met Mr. Morrow when seeking bike parts for his son's Orange Krate. Later, he sold Mr. Morrow his son's bike collection when the boy found different interests. The two lost touch.
Recently, they reconnected. "I said, Craig, you think you have any of the old collection left?" Mr. Hagler recalls asking. And there, in a box, was the Orange Krate. Today, Mr. Hagler is helping Mr. Morrow restore the Spacelanders.
Mr. Morrow doesn't actually ride bicycles a lot, he says; he just takes one of the old ones for a brief spin now and again.
"I just want everybody to see them," he says about his cycle stash. "It's a shame that all these things were in boxes. And I guess I just got the courage up to do it."
Marty Levine is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.