A penny-farthing bicycle with its huge front and tiny back wheels is only one of the most unusual bikes on display at the Powerhouse Science Center this summer. In its new exhibition, “GEAR UP! The Science of Bikes,” the center showcases such historic stars as the 1974 Atala Grand Prix, a Big Wheel from 1970 and even a UDC Mini Clown Bike from 2021.
“GEAR UP! Comes from the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh,” said Jeff Susor, executive director of the center. “And it’s perfect for our town. It showcases historically significant and funky bikes. For real bike geeks, there are 14 stations that feature aerodynamics, materials, brakes, scales, even a square-wheel bicycle.”
WHAT: GEAR UP: The Science of Bikes, a hands-on exhibition from Carnegie Science Center, presented locally by Carver Brewing Co.
WHERE: The Powerhouse Science Center, 1333 Camino del Rio.
WHEN: Now through Sept. 12.
ADMISSION: Adults $14; children, seniors, educators, students and military $10; SNAP Card holders $1.
More Information: Call 259-9234 or visit www.powsci.org.
Susor and his staff members have long planned a big splash for the center’s reopening after a COVID-19 year.
“We have an awesome building, but we’ve lagged behind on exhibits. Since January 2020 and the beginnings of the pandemic, a year and more has gone by,” he said. “This exhibit plus surprising loans from local sources, was timed to coincide with the resumption of the 2021 Iron Horse, and it will be up through Sept. 12.”
The Carnegie exhibition explores the history and evolution of the bike as well as the science and technology behind the astonishingly adaptable machine. A few of the 14-pods are stationery: The penny-farthing bicycle with its odd, very British name. Apparently, the large and small wheels reminded Brits of the differing sizes of their coins, hence the colorful identifier. Other important historic bikes represent popular racing examples from the 70s and 80s with their innovative low handlebars and narrow tires. A Delia 2015 is a hybrid combining road, touring and mountain features.
Most of the Carnegie stations are hands-on, powering up light bulbs with rigorous pedaling, playing with gears, using a mallet to hit different materials to hear the sound of bike bodies – carbon fiber, titanium, aluminum.
And nearby in the original boiler room of the national historic landmark building, an exhibit of 10 bikes on loan from serious, local collectors: Danny Powers and Mike Wilks. Under colorful Iron Horse banners loaned by Center of Southwest Studies, you’ll see, among other historic bikes, a 1992 Slingshot, a prototype developed by Mark Groendal of Grand Rapids, Michigan; a 1990 Specialized Stumpjumper; a 1991 Yeti Pro FRO (For Racing Only); and a 1988 Fuso FRX. Fortunately, wall labels give the novice plenty of information to understand why this collection is important.
“Peter Schertz from Maria’s Bookshop brought in three unicycles,” said Teresa Craft, deputy director of the center. “People in the community really stepped up when they heard what we were planning.”
To celebrate Father’s Day, the Center has planned special events from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, including a bike competition with prizes in four categories: vintage, mountain, road or unique. Pre-registration brings with it a $5 Zia Taqueria gift card, so check out the website and Father’s Day poster online. As a bonus, admission is free for all fathers. That’s a boon as traveling exhibits like “GEAR UP!” are not inexpensive.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.