Thousands of Rare, Famous, BIZARRE Bikes.
I didn’t think this stretch of human imagination and determination was possible. What you’re about to see is the largest collection of bicycles in the world, amassed by one couple, displayed by the thousands in a multi-story warehouse in Pittsburgh. Oh, and there’s a tree that ate two bikes. Read on…
The Largest Bicycle Museum in the World is in Pittsburgh, PA?!
Bicycle Heaven was started in 2011 by Craig and Mindy Morrow: bike super-collectors. The makeshift museum in an industrial section of Pittsburgh now displays over 3,500 bicycles for visitors near and far (admission is FREE), does bike repairs and sales, and apparently has thousands more two-wheelers in storage.
It’s difficult to corroborate whether this is indeed the “largest bike museum on the planet” as it’s billed, but scroll these photos and see why it’s certainly at least close to that — and worth ogling — even just from your computer when unable to visit in person.
A Vintage Bicycle Worth $50,000: Bowden Spacelander
The highlight of Bicycle Heaven’s vast historic bike collection is that is contains 17 of one of the rarest and most valuable bikes ever created: the Bowden Spacelander from the 1940s to 1960s, valued at nearly fifty thousand dollars each.
Why so precious? Because of the bikes’ unique history, fiberglass innovation, and the fact that only about 500 were made — and perhaps only 40 still exist. Looking at a wall of FOUR of them displayed on a wall of Bicycle Heaven in good condition is… wow.
The “Bike Tree” that Swallowed TWO Bicycles
Every step through Bicycle Heaven brings another wonder, and I threw back my head and gasp-laughed as I saw this display: “The Bike Tree: This freak of nature was found in rural Ohio, on a farm. This is the only place to see two bicycles in a tree. A 1930s Dayton and a 1960s Schwinn.” (The “freak of nature” jab reminded me of some other funny signs spotted nearby.)
How Did the Tree Grow Around TWO Bikes?!
The stories this “Bike Tree” could tell!!! I imagine that in 1930 some hapless chap leaned his bike against a young sapling and then ran off with his love and forgot about his mode of transport for so long that the tree grew around it. (Why else would you just leave a bike on a tree?)
Thirty years later, another fellow must have ambled along, exclaiming something like “That’s cool that the tree grew around one bike. Maybe I can make it eat mine too!” Then he draped his own bicycle among the branches and made a note to come back in a decade — found the sapling had indeed swallowed both bikes, and chopped down the tree for safekeeping and display.
At this point the man must have sold the “Bike Tree” and it slowly was passed along until it arrived in Pittsburgh (WHY? HOW?) to its current home in Bicycle Heaven almost 100 years after the tree first shot out its tendrils. Maybe??? If anyone has more information about this tree, please let us know. (Edit: I was just able to talk to Craig Morrow directly and got the actual Bike Tree story! Read on to see it…)
Pee-wee Herman‘s Actual Movie Bike
Let’s sashay from trees to cinema — the fine cinema of Pee-wee Herman. Now, the movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure terrified me as a child, but I still got a burst of awe in Pittsburgh from seeing the actual bicycle Paul Reubens rode back on the big screen. See how it shines? Bicycle Heaven keeps its thousands of bikes in great condition!
Movie Bikes: Props Found at Bicycle Heaven
It crossed my mind as I walked for free into the doors of Bicycle Heaven: “How does this nonprofit museum make enough money to stay functional? Bike sales, repairs, and donations can’t be enough.” Then I learned…
Bike Rentals for Historic and Period Films
One of the ways Bicycle Heaven keeps financially afloat is that it’s the perfect place for movie directors to find historic prop bikes for their films. It’s a brilliant loop: The museum finds the exact model and date of bicycle for a specific movie, the bike is rented for the filming.
Then it’s returned to the shop with a proud sign like the one below: “Ridden by Viola Davis in the movie Fences.” Bicycle Heaven also provided cycles for the Academy award-winning film, A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe, and the flick Super 8 — among many other films.
Glow-in-the-Dark Disco Bike Gear Room!
You’ve noticed Bicycle Heaven has a sports section, music corner, and art area — but were you concerned Bicycle Heaven didn’t have a side room with the lights off and glow-in-the-dark painted bikes and gears adorning the walls like a riotous disco bike rave? Never fear! Such a room exists. It is called the “Groovy Spanky Cranky Sprocket Room.” (WHAT?!) Here it is:
Bicycle Heaven Has it All: from Nostalgic to Bizarre
At this point it should be clear that this wild and fabulous collection has pretty much everything bike-related you could imagine — and so much more… including bobbleheads, sequined sweaters, and Yellow Submarine lunch boxes. Let’s tour more!
An Interview with Founder, Craig Morrow:
Exciting update! Shortly after hitting “publish” on this article, I was able to make contact with the creator of Bicycle Heaven, Craig Morrow! He provided a number of fascinating details that I’m now adding in, as they really flesh out the picture of this one-of-a-kind museum.
Awards and Accomplishments for Bicycle Heaven:
In our interview, Craig stated, “I started this collection in my home garage in Bellevue, PA 30 years ago with one bike I found in the junk. Now we’ve been rated the #1 museum in Pittsburgh on TripAdvisor for 6 years, we’ve been featured in the New York Times, Associated Press, and the Telegraph in England.”
Craig continued, “But what I’m most proud of is having been able to meet people from around the world every day who came to see my collection. Sometimes we’ve gotten 300 visitors in a day on a weekend!”
A 400-Foot G Scale Model Train Runs Through the Store?!
Craig pointed out something I’d missed: A four-hundred foot long model train track (G Scale gauge, which is big) is suspended from the ceiling and chugs through the store most of the day! You can see a video of this Bicycle Heaven choo-choo in action on the official website, BicycleHeaven.org.
There’s a Bike Trail from Pittsburgh to DC
A delicious and highly useful fact from Craig: Conveniently located behind Bicycle Heaven is the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail which stretches all the way from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland — then on to Washington, D.C. via the C&O Canal Towpath. Now that’s a 333-mile ride I’d be intrigued to try!
BMX Bikes are HOT Now to Buy
When asked what trends he sees in the bicycle world, Craig explained that BMX bikes — the brand popular from the mid-1970s through the 1980s — are flying off the shelves because the generation that rode them as children is powerfully nostalgic to hold them again. They’re selling for between $300 and $3,000 a pop now, and Bicycle Heaven is working hard to get as many as possible in his shop.
What’s the Real Story About the Bike Tree?
I begged Craig to share the real story about the two bicycles swallowed by the tree, and it was not what I predicted at all! He explained, “The bikes weren’t leaning against a sapling. What happened was farmers threw their junk (in this case bikes) into a field, and a tree grew up over the years through the wheels and body of the bicycles that were lying on the earth, pushing them upwards with the rising trunk.”
How Was the Bike Tree Brought to Pittsburgh?
Wow! I stand corrected. So how did the Bike Tree make it from Ohio to Bicycle Heaven? Craig explained, “I saw the tree posted on Craigslist and drove to Ohio to get it. I paid $1,200 bucks for it and it took four people to pick it up and put it in my trunk. The tree was already cut down and it was winter. It was windy and snowing, and I thought I would never make it back to Pittsburgh, driving so carefully I was barely braking… but we made it!” It was worth it.
Craig Worked on Getting a Bike for John Glen
Famed astronaut John Glen called Bicycle Heaven because wanted to have a bike like the one he had when he was 12 delivering newspapers in Ohio. (They were turning his home into a museum at the time.) Craig explained, “After talking with him, we figured he had a Iver Johnson black bicycle.”
Craig continued his story. “I got to ask him a few questions, and the first one was, ‘Do you believe in UFOs?’ His answer was, “I believe there is other life than our own.’ The next question was, ‘Did man land on the Moon?’ and he said, ‘Why certainly we did.'”
“I told him, ‘Just think, John, when you were 12, that bike was your first adventure — the first thing you were a pilot of. John Glen said, ‘I never thought about that… and you are right.'” What a story!
Preventing Theft in Bicycle Heaven
I asked Craig how he keeps his famous bikes safe, and he explained that there are video cameras all over the store, but perhaps more importantly, there is a sign which states: “If caught stealing, you will have to deal with God — but you will have to deal with me first.”
There is a Nail Salon in Bicycle Heaven.
Enjoy the free association of very different ideas within one museum? You’ll be pleased to know that Craig’s wife Mindy runs a nail salon inside Bicycle Heaven. Because what goes better with BMX bikes than French manicures?
The Inspiring Conclusion of Craig’s Interview:
To close our interview, Craig had a beautiful reflection. “Everyone has a story about a bike. For most people, a bike is their first adventure — the first thing that you powered by yourself. You may have gotten hurt on one or even gotten stitches, but whatever happened, everyone who comes into my museum or our bike swaps or shops has a story about a bike — and they tell them to me. I love it!”
Craig truly created the perfect museum to evoke and share those stories.
A Thank You to Jeremy of Discover the Burgh
How did you know about Bicycle Heaven? The massive thanks goes to my friend Jeremy Jones who runs the giant Discover the Burgh Pittsburgh blog, and who has tipped us off to some of the best attractions — and yummiest eats — of the city over the two summers we visited. We look forward to more PGH Julys, and encourage you to check out Jeremy’s wonderful sites.
Love Wild Creativity? Try Pittsburgh’s Randyland Nearby!
Though Bicycle Heaven ranks high in the best attractions in Pittsburgh, if you like the offbeat and unique, there’s another site not far away which hits those notes: Randyland, a house courtyard that a man named Randy has filled chock-full of art, found items, and general happiness. Who knew that PGH had such a vibrant scene for surprising art?
Also consider exploring the Cathedral of Learning on the Pitt campus. This unbelievable tower is the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere, and is absolutely gorgeous.
Phipps Botanical Gardens: a Very Different Pittsburgh Museum
Enjoy the wild color in these photos, and want to also check out a more conventional museum? In another section of Pittsburgh sits the glorious and very refined Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: room after room of sculpted and arranged flowers and gardens in a giant greenhouse. How fabulous that one city can hold so many methods of bringing visual joy.
Don’t Forget Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is Close
People often don’t realize that one of the most famous houses in America, Frank Lloyd Wright’s feat of architecture, Fallingwater, PA, is just over an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh. Though you may not be able to visit in person soon, it’s worth it to see the photos.
The Laurel Highlands is Right Near Pittsburgh
Speaking of “an hour outside PGH,” I’ve become quite the fan of the southwestern region of Pennsylvania known as the Laurel Highlands. Highlights of the area include the REAL Mister Rogers neighborhood (Latrobe, PA), hiking trails, a stunning art gallery of local crafts, and a phenomenal glass paperweight collection.
Enjoy Colorful, Creative, and Unique Art?
If you relished this rainbow riot of collected bikes and curios, you might also dig this round-up of 40 art ideas and drawing prompts from amazing spots I’ve visited around the world! Yes, Bicycle Heaven made the list.
What Do YOU Think of This Trove of Vintage Bikes?
So what do YOU think? Which is your favorite bike in the bunch? Do any of these vintage bicycles bring back memories or nostalgia? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!