Nine of out ten people who visit Bicycle Heaven—the largest bike museum in the world, located right on the North Side of Pittsburgh—are from out of town or out of the country, says owner Craig Morrow.
They read about Bicycle Heaven on TripAdvisor as the number one museum in Pittsburgh—yes, beating out The Warhol and all of our other world-class museums—or they caught it in The New York Times 36 Hours in Pittsburgh feature.
They flock to see the 3,500 or so bikes—frankly, Morrow has lost count—in his dense, colorful and fascinating bike museum/store/repair shop on Preble Street in Manchester.
“More people know me out of Pittsburgh than in Pittsburgh,” Morrow says. “I’m more world-known than I am Pittsburgh-known.”
Hard to believe but there could be some truth in it. We’ve turned a number of people onto it, taking them down the bike trail and into the bike wonderland. None have been disappointed. And when we asked someone who works nearby—we’re talking a couple blocks away—if he had ever been there, he asked, “Where is it?”
While it’s off the beaten path, it’s worth finding. Many on TripAdvisor, where the Bicycle Museum is ranked number four on top attractions in Pittsburgh, suggest you allow at least two hours to take it all in. It’s not just the idea of viewing thousands of bikes of all kinds in one place—from early wooden models to super slick racers—but it’s the experience of walking rickety stairs and down narrow hallways before emerging into a vast sea of bikes displayed in a colorful and catchy manner—here the Yellow Submarine Beatle bike and there the Betty Boop special—and reading about them along the way. “You’ll see things you never knew existed,” said one visitor on Yelp.
“Clearly he has a wonderfully creative mind and we are all blessed by it,” raved another on TripAdvisor about Craig Morrow.
“It goes to show how big biking is in Pittsburgh,” says Morrow, who started this line of work 30 years ago after giving up custom painting cars when the paint made him sick. He found a bike “in the junk,” fixed it up and sold it to a kid down the street. And thus a profession was born.
“I still go out looking for them but since I’ve been here the past year, I’ve had a lot of people bring bikes to sell. A few donated them,” he says. Before locating to the Casey Industrial Park, Morrow housed the bike museum in a much smaller space in Bellevue and stashed many of his bikes in neighbors’ garages. Along the way, he’s attended many a bike show and built up a lucrative bicycle parts business on eBay.
While the bikes range from a “couple of hundred to $50,000,” Bicycle Heaven also sells millions of parts in a 7,000-square- foot dedicated space. While not open to the public, it too is jaw dropping in scale and density. And they fix bikes and rent out the space for events as well.
The museum is free –donations welcome –and quite large with three floors, although typically only two are open to the public “or we’d lose some people,” says Morrow. “On a weekend we sometimes get a couple hundred people a day.”
Visitors roam the open floors to peer at the early wooden models or the famous Pee-wee Herman bike or the very cool, futuristic Bowden Spacelanders which are featured in the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Then they dip into the Groovy Cranky Panky Sprocket Room for a psychedelic light experience—pedal-powered, of course.
There is much to see and it’s easy to miss things in just one visit, as we have discovered.
While Morrow might have preferred a “cooler section of town” in which to locate, such as the South Side, the rent was right and he’s happy to be so close to the riverfront bike trail.
The trail he references is one of our favorites: scenic and light in bike traffic. If you’re peddling along the North Shore past the stadiums to the Science Center, keep going. Wave hi to the submarine, cruise through the manicured trails past Rivers Casino then breeze alongside the Ohio River past the houseboats and marinas until you see the signs for Bicycle Heaven.
Once you exit the bike path, the signs lead the way to the museum which is open seven days a week.
If Morrow isn’t there, he’s out buying bikes. Or riding one. “I really don’t have my own bike,” he confesses when asked.”I just grab a bike, take it out and ride it. It just depends what mood I’m in.”
We have no idea how he decides, or finds, what he’s looking for in the maze of bikes—but we do know the guy’s got a sense of humor. It’s evident from the moment you walk in and see the mannequin legs splayed from the vending machine as if someone is lying underneath it. And it shines through in the many amusing displays and handwritten signs throughout, adding to the quirky appeal of the place as if the sheer number of bikes isn’t enough.
Some of the bikes you will recognize from your youth—banana bikes anyone?—and some you will only see here, such as two bikes wrapped around a tree — “This is the only place to see two bicycles in a tree.”
All the bikes, in some manner or other, are worth seeing, tree-wrapped or otherwise.
And kids adore the place. One child wasn’t through the first room when we heard her exclaim, “Daddy, there are bikes everywhere!”
Making a destination
Need another reason to visit? Morrow is quick to point out the new attraction next door: the Johnny Angel museum. It was Morrow who convinced Jack Hunt, aka Johnny Angel, to locate his impressive collection of 1950s and 1960s music and pop culture memorabilia in the complex. It, too, is worth a visit, since Hunt has been collecting since the age of 15 — and creating music as Johnny Angel and the Halos for 50 years.
Bicycle Heaven refers visitors to the Johnny Angel museum which in turn refers visitors to them, says Morrow. “And we all refer people to Randyland who refers people to us. We’re trying to build this spot to be something cool.”
All photos by Tracy Certo.