History on Two Wheels

bike museum
Photo by Gabriel Teague

A half-century ago, the bustling college town of Davis made cycling history when it carved out street space for the country’s first formal bike lane. Since then, cycling culture has taken root here—on downtown streets, along suburban greenways and even on the city logo, which features a penny-farthing high-wheeler.

But the best view of bike history in Davis can be found at a small downtown museum called the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame. Hall president Bob Bowen describes the gallery as “an overlooked gem.”

It displays more than 70 bikes representing two centuries of ingenuity and artistry, starting with an 1823-vintage Draisine “swift walker,” a wood-spoked bike with no seat, no pedals and no brakes.

vintage bike
Photo by Gabriel Teague

How did people ride a bike with no seat or pedals? You can get the answer to that question and others at a special museum event, Saturday, May 28, celebrating National Bike Month, when bike historians will be on hand to serve as docents.

David Takemoto-Weerts, the collection curator, will explain why bikes were once called ordinaries,
as in, “I’m taking the ordinary into town.” And he says he’s ready to deal with what has
become the most common visitor question: How come Lance Armstrong isn’t a hall of famer?

Bowen will show you how to climb onto the big penny-farthing in the lobby, and he’ll tell you how that bike contributed to the coining of the term “taking a header.”

The hall also offers glimpses of the intersection of cycling and societal change. There is a section on the early women’s movement, when it was considered scandalous for a woman to ride solo on a bike.

older bike

Perhaps the most meaningful display involves a unique cyclist in history, Marshall “Major” Taylor, a Black American who overcame institutional racism to become world cycling champion in 1899. At the peak of his career, he may have been the highest-paid athlete in the world. Taylor’s Peugeot bike is currently on loan, though, to Taylor’s home state of Indiana.

The museum, which is operated by a national nonprofit (usbhof.org), is located in Central Park at 303 Third St., adjacent to the Davis Farmers Market. It’s open regularly two days a week, timed with market hours: Wednesdays 4–6 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Cost is $5 for general public, $3 for seniors and students.