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UC Davis Gets Boost to Start Bike Museum

By Susanne Rockwell on July 18, 2000 in

The dream of starting the first bicycle museum west of the Mississippi just got wheels.

After multiple attempts to find funding for a bicycle/transportation museum in Davis, the university succeeded in late June in obtaining $440,000 from the Statewide Transportation Enhancement Activities funds, reports Brodie Hamilton, director of the UC Davis Transportation and Parking Services.

After a matching $60,000 is raised locally, Hamilton and a team of three other bicycle aficionados plan to buy a collection of 60 antique bicycles, velocipedes, tandems and other examples of human-powered transportation spanning from the 1820s to the 1920s.

It's just the beginning, though. Due to the need to develop a full-fledged museum program and find the funding to support it, the doors aren't expected to open for several years, Hamilton said.

The museum creators include Hamilton, UC Davis Bicycle Program Coordinator David Takemoto-Weerts, city of Davis Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator Tim Bustos and Sacramento bike historian/collector Jacques Graber.

"Up to this point, our idea has not been a 'project,' only a concept," Bustos said. However, since the announcement of the transportation grant to the campus, Bustos has been talking with city officials about the possibility of using at least part of the old City Hall as a museum site. That building, now occupied by the Davis Police Department, will be vacated within a year.

In the meantime, Hamilton, Takemoto-Weerts and Bustos are looking at how they can set up a city/campus project that eventually will turn into a private, nonprofit museum.

"We're looking at this not only from a historical standpoint -- to preserve the collection and have it grow -- but also as a visitor attraction to Davis and Yolo County," Hamilton said. "People will come to see this because it will be the only bicycle museum west of the Mississippi."

He said the bike museum would complement the vehicle-related exhibits in the Sacramento area that already draw tourists: the California State Railroad Museum and Towe Auto Museum in Old Sacramento, and the Hays Antique Truck Museum and Heidrick Ag History Center in Woodland.

City and university officials have been thinking about a bicycle museum since a group contacted Hamilton and Takemoto-Weerts in 1995 with suggestion that Davis would be an ideal site for a bicycle museum.

"All they had was this concept: no resources, sponsors, building or collections, but it became a catalyst from our perspective," Bustos said.

The next step came two years later when Takemoto-Weerts was helping to promote the annual spring Cyclebration, a city-university-downtown-merchant celebration of bicycles. After hearing about the event, the owner of a bicycle collection contacted Takemoto-Weerts for appraisal information. Takemoto put him in touch with Graber, an expert on antique bicycles, and then joined Graber, Bustos and Hamilton on a trip to check out the collection, which has been stored in a barn since the 1930s.

"It's a fabulous collection in need of preservation," Takemoto-Weerts says. "I know enough about the history of cycling to know that the machines in this collection, almost all pre-1920 and most of them pre-1900, are quite rare."

Part of the state grant money will be used to restore the collection, Hamilton said.

Bustos and Hamilton believe the museum would enhance the reputation of Davis as the "Bicycle Capital of the U.S." "We also see this as a way of exposing both children and adults to the science and technology related to bicycles and how science and technology is used in everyday life," Hamilton said.

Takemoto-Weerts would like to couple the museum with a bicycle information center that would eventually be a statewide resource.

"With enough space, it could serve as a meeting space for bike clubs, for holding cyclist education classes, occasional lectures, films, etc.," he said. "The history of cycling is very rich -- and there is no place out West to display, preserve, celebrate and research this important part of our heritage. What better place than Davis, 'City of Bicycles,' to make this happen?"

Hamilton hopes to involve interested faculty and staff members in the project, pointing to departments with natural ties to the bicycle, including the Institute for Transportation Studies and the departments of History, and Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering.

"I'm really hoping both the city and university will be significant supporters," he said.

Media contact(s)

Susanne Rockwell, Web and new media editor, (530) 752-2542, sgrockwell@ucdavis.edu

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