A Cycling Nirvana in Steel City
It’s Place Where Old (And New) Bikes Go to Live Again
PITTSBURGH — There are big ones, and there are little ones. Some are called stingrays, some cruisers.
Some ride smoothly, others not. There are even a couple of sure-to-be (bottom) bruisers.
Two wheels, three wheels, four wheels, or one. When you see them, you’ll remember the fun.
Some are really old, or possibly “retro” (wooden is considered retro, right?) Others are “space age” and fast, and can easily outrun a Geo Metro.
There’s one that’s powered by your step, and another by … bouncing your butt.
Ummm, say what?
Some have bananas. Others, sissies. A few even have both, and a number are prissy.
There is one that belonged to a “Pee-Wee” that is found in the shop. If you don’t remember, he rode it under a big top.
What, exactly, covers this wide range of options? Why bicycles, of course — specifically those found at Bicycle Heaven in Pittsburgh, which, with more than 3,000 bikes on display, bills itself as the world’s largest bicycle museum and shop, all in one giant concoction.
The shop, located at 1800 Preble Ave. in Pittsburgh, only a short drive from PNC Park and Heinz Field on the North Shore, features two expansive floors of just about every bicycle imaginable, from the early incarnations of the two-wheeled favorite — those were made from wood, with the oldest bike in the shop, built in 1863, aptly termed the “boneshaker” — to today’s highly sophisticated, carbon-based frames that weigh next to nothing, yet cost tens of thousands of dollars.
There also are unique, space-age bikes made of fiberglass that were built in the 1940s — known as the Bowden Spacelander. These bikes — there are more than a dozen of them in the shop — carry a value of anywhere from $18,000 to $50,000.
Another unique find is what’s called the “Hercules,” a bike powered by how hard you bounced on the seat (talk about saddle sores). It sits near an early 1970s bike that was built like a stair stepper, where instead of turning pedals, you pump them.
Needless to say, neither bike had a lasting impact.
There are row after row of the 10-speed Schwinns that many of us grew up pedal-pumping, as well as numerous makes and models of the 1980s BMX bikes that skinned many a knee and broke many a bone during a young wannabee’s stump-jumping.
At the center of this pedaling, pumping and jumping nirvana is Craig Morrow, owner of Bicycle Heaven. He’s spent a lifetime finding and collecting these bikes, and views the museum as his way of preserving bicycle history.
One of the most interesting aspects of Bicycle Heaven is that a number of bikes in the shop have found their way onto the big screen. For example, actor Russell Crowe has visited the shop several times to borrow bikes for his movies, with the latest being a 10-speed Schwinn from the 1970s that you can see him riding in the 2015 film, “Fathers and Daughters.”
Crowe also borrowed a bike from Bicycle Heaven for the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” which featured the life of the late John Nash, a West Virginia native.
Then there are the bikes ridden by the young stars of the movie “Super 8,” which was filmed in Weirton, W.Va., along with the bike used by Viola Davis in the movie “Fences,” which hit the silver screen late last month.
The shop even features one of the 12 bikes produced for Pee-Wee Herman and used in the movie “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”
Along with bikes featured in movies, Bicycle Heaven also has a number of celebrity bikes on hand. One of the better finds is a four-seat, gold tandem contraption used by The Monkees, currently on loan to Bicycle Heaven from a Hollywood studio. There also are several Beatles-themed bikes, as well as two replicas of the decathlon bikes used by then-Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn) when Jenner won gold in the 1976 Olympics.
It’s hard to describe just how interesting the museum is, and the treasures hidden within. It’s easy to lose several hours of time wandering around, looking at bikes that take you back in time. Everything is clearly labeled, with a host of interesting facts attached near each unique cycle.
And if by some chance you’re not a bicycle fan but find your way to the shop, there’s one final piece of history for you to cherish: the Bally Space Land pinball machine, which was played by Arthur Fonzarelli, or “The Fonz,” in the classic Happy Days sitcom.
There’s too much to see to list it all. Given its proximity to the Ohio Valley, Bicycle Heaven is well worth the visit.
If you grew up loving bikes, riding around with your bike posse and terrorizing the neighborhood dogs, then Bicycle Heaven will quickly transport you back to the carefree days of youth when all you had to worry about was keeping your chain (somewhat) oiled, your brakes (somewhat) working — and also getting home before the streetlights came on.