June 16, 2013
PORTLAND — Outside, the stunning spring sun splashed down on a massive showcase of Nutcase bike helmets donning the wall of the Portland Art Museum.
Near perfect cycling weather in one of the great cycling cities called like a temptress.
Yet, it became increasingly difficult to leave the comfort of the experience inside.
Because inside the museum, the wheels of your imagination spin effortlessly and endlessly at the exhibit Cyclepedia: Iconic Bicycle Design, which opened June 8 and runs through September 8.
While any cyclist will wax on about the wonderful feeling of wind in your hair, it might be just as difficult not to go on and on and on and on when trying to describe the sensation of stepping into a hall with 40 bicycles suspended in midair.
It takes a moment or two to grapple with the perspective.
And then …
Then it sweeps you away, as if you are along with the boys racing into the woods beneath a full moon with ET nestled in your front basket.
Each bicycle appears to be in flight, free as ever, awaiting the next adventure.
Michael Embacher, an architect, designer and bicycle collector from Austria, says his fascination with bicycle design sparked his collection of 210 bicycles.
It began when he inadvertently bought a used bike that was somewhat rare.
Since then, he’s bought bicycles of all types.
His collection is unique, he says, because he buys what’s available — never searching out a particular bike.
He’s come to appreciate bicycles because they are “a manifestation of human creativity and clever ideas.”
Among the bicycles in the collection is a Bike Friday New World Tourist that Embacher purchased from an individual in England.
Like nearly all the bikes in his collection, it’s a real bike that was actually ridden.
When thanked for including Bike Friday in this exhibit, Embacher’s sincerity poured out.
“No, thank you for designing such a wonderful bicycle,” he said.
An enthusiastic and engaging personality, Embacher says he owns three Bike Fridays, including an original diamond frame and a Pocket Rocket to go with his show bike. The diamond frame is his favorite ride of the three.
As with all the bikes in his collection, he can quickly point out the elements that drew him to purchase each one. And he rides many of them. That’s the point, he says, to ride.
One bicycle, in particular, captured the imagination of many at the opening of the exhibit.
It’s a TAGA, which transforms from a bicycle for carrying a child into a child’s stroller in seconds.
It’s the only bike in the exhibit that is set up in its secondary form, rather than its bike form.
It drew countless questions of how it transforms into a bike. Once Michael explained it, the volunteer Bicycle Guides [that included me], could explain it to others.
Michael’s attention to detail became evident as he savored the fact that the bike drew so much interest.
“That’s why we displayed this bicycle like this,” he said, flashing a clever smile, “Because otherwise it looks like another bike, and you might just walk by and not notice it.”
The Whitsell Auditorium was filled with nearly 500 guests when Michael gave a lecture in the afternoon.
It doesn’t take more than a moment or two to understand the essence of Michael. He gets excited about bikes in an instant. It’s nearly impossible not to feel a connection.
He opened his lecture with one of my favorite quotes about cycling that I haven’t heard much from anyone. It’s from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:
“When the spirits are low,
when the day appears dark,
when work becomes monotonous,
when hope hardly seems worth having,
just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road,
without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
As most cyclists know, it’s all about the experience. The ride. Each one of the 40 bicycles is a tribute to some individual or individuals who came up with an idea on how to enhance some aspect of the cycling experience.
Back home in his attic, Michael has the rest of the bikes in his herd of 210. When asked what’s next, Michael smiled. Then he answered the age-old question of how many bikes is enough.
“No more,” he says, “I have enough bicycles. Two-hundred and ten is a good number.”
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