Craig Morrow has a simple reason for creating Bicycle Heaven, a combination museum and vintage parts shop tucked into the warehouse district along a bicycle trail on the north shore of Pittsburgh's Ohio River: He loves bicycles and wants everyone else to love them, too.
But how he came to collect more than 1,500 bikes and some 90,000 parts and accessories, well, that's not so simple.
"I've probably moved in, probably, over 100 pickup truck loads of stuff," Morrow, 54, said as he and a handful of close friends scurried to arrange storage areas overflowing with mountains of tires, boxfuls of pedals, and walls filled with bicycle forks and handlebars just days before Saturday's grand opening. "I guess you could say I was a hoarder of bike stuff."
Morrow worked in an auto body shop until about 25 years ago, when he "got sick from the paint fumes and stuff and I had to quit my job. So, I started fixing bikes in the alley and that's how I got started."
A need to find replacement parts, and a growing love for the bikes he remembers from his childhood _ especially Schwinn's series of Stingray Krate bikes, with banana seats, high handlebars and slick rear tires with raised white lettering on their blackwalls _ prompted Morrow to hang thousands of signs on telephone poles throughout western Pennsylvania that said, "Looking for bikes."
As people responded, Morrow fell into a career selling parts on eBay through two store sites, "Bicycle Heaven" and "Schwinn Store." In the process, he's become something of a bicycle historian, especially when it comes to bike pop culture.
But he also had a problem. His home overflowed with bicycles, parts and memorabilia. He kept even more in storage spaces and garages scattered throughout the city until stumbling onto the space that enabled him to open to the public, with its ground-floor showroom and offices, and four garage-sized upstairs storage rooms connected by a maze of narrow hallways.
"He gave me a little tour of this place when it was still empty and his eyes were glittering saying, `Think of the possibilities,'" Morrow's childhood friend, Matt Rind, 53, said.
"I knew him since 1970, since we were 12 or so. He lived up the street from me. We used to jump trains together and build shacks along the river bank. We had all kinds of adventures and misadventures," Rind said, calling to mind the boyish sense of wonder that hangs thick in the air of Morrow's museum, with rows of bicycles kick-standing on the floor, hung on walls and upside-down from most ceilings.
The place is focused squarely on his customers' inner 12-year-old and the Americana surrounding one's first bicycle. One showcase includes an August 1971 Playboy magazine, featuring a girl in hot pants posing next to a Schwinn. On a nearby wall hangs a 1971 Grey Ghost _ "That's like the Holy Grail of the Stingrays there," Morrow said.
Making that bike rarer still is another curiosity: a wire baseball bat holder that serves as a reminder of days when boys would rather swat baseballs on a dusty sandlot than liquidate video game zombies in an air-conditioned family room.
Those memories are just part of the reason Morrow doesn't plan to charge admission to the museum, though he's hoping to expand his spare-parts business through it and maybe even sell some of the bikes he continues to collect. "I guess anything can be for sale if the price is right," Morrow said.
Morrow has also rented period-authentic bicycles to movie production companies and plans to buy a fleet of new bikes that he'll rent for $25 a day. And if all that makes Morrow's museum different from other bicycle museums, that's OK, too.
Annette Thompson is the coordinator of The Bicycle Museum of America. It was established 14 years ago in North Bremen, Ohio _ about 40 miles north of Dayton _ when a local businessman bought the Schwinn family's bicycle collection from a trust and put it on display with other bikes and artifacts.
The museum boasts about 1,000 bikes _ including 168 from the original Schwinn collection _ with 350 on display at any one time. "Huffy is also huge here because Huffy was right down the road a few miles," Thompson said.
The Ohio museum, and another that has since closed, the Pedaling History Bicycle Museum in Orchard Park, N.Y., focused more on the history of bicycling in America than Morrow's.
"That history's overlooked and people don't realize everything we do in transportation today, personally, started with the bicycle," said Carl Burgwardt, 79, who founded the New York museum that closed about 18 months ago. "Before that, it was walk or get on a horse."
Still, Thompson agrees with Morrow that nostalgia is what gets patrons through the door.
"Most people, the first thing they want to see is the bike they rode as a child," Thompson said. "Whether they went into the Army, or got married, or whatever, most people don't have their original bike."
The difference at Bicycle Heaven is that Morrow is helping people who want to find, fix, or rebuild the bike they once had _ or wished they had.
"They remember their first bike and they want to get one just like it. Or maybe they wanted a Krate but all they had was a Sears bike," said Morrow, who believes his first bike was from the department store. "But now they can afford it because maybe they're a lawyer now."
Morrow claims to not have an official inventory or catalog, though he keeps close track of the rarer items he owns, including Bowden Spacelanders, the first bicycles with fiberglass frames
"It's all in my head, actually. People are amazed that I remember where all this is and where all that is," Morrow said. "If you say, `I need a handle grip for a 1965 Schwinn, I'd know right where it is."
And it's not as though one can't learn something about bicycle history at Morrow's museum.
He owns an 1862 Boneshaker, an aptly-named bike with wooden spoked wheels, iron "tires" and_ unfortunately _ no shock absorbers, and a 1910 hobby-horse tricycle, among other relics.
And he'll talk your ear off about the Spacelanders, only 522 of which were produced, according to Leon Dixon, who founded and presides over the National Bicycle History Archive of America. Dixon has researched Morrow's Spacelanders and while he doubts all 13 are originals, he believes seven or eight are, which puts Morrow in rare company.
"He may be the only guy who owns a collection of them, that are authentic, in decent numbers," said Dixon, who still owns one himself
The Spacelander's funky, futuristic design is why one is on display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art (Burgwardt sold it to them), where it's described as a "marvel of postwar biomorphic design." The bikes retailed for $89.95 in 1960, but in excellent shape could be worth $15,000 or $16,000, though the collectors' market has been flooded with reproductions, which has probably lowered the price, Dixon said.
Morrow has four hanging on the wall, and others in storage. They aren't for sale, though, because Morrow said they're more fun to own and share with the folks who wander in.
"I've been waiting to do this for a long time and now it's coming to life."
The Bicycle Museum of America: http://www.bicyclemuseum.com
Pedaling History Bicycle Museum: http://www.pedalinghistory.com
National Bicycle History Archive of America: http://www.nbhaa.com