Discover a treasure trove of two-wheeled history, including a bicycle built for 12, a 1911 Wright Brothers bike, and hundreds of other fascinating examples from the earliest models to the modern day. Take a ride to this one-of-a-kind museum.

Photos by Ron McGinnis

By Dan R. Manning

I was met at the door of the Pedalers Bicycle Museum by its super-enthused, 72-year-old owner/curator James Allen. He immediately began talking about his favorite subject: bicycles.

James has at least one story about every item in this museum, which is located in Springfield’s historic Commercial Street district. His collection started 37 years ago at a swap meet. He was looking for a used bike for his daughter and on impulse bought an antique bicycle for his wife. Soon he was attending bicycle shows across the country. Now, there are nearly 800 two-wheelers in his collection, which vary in condition from faded-paint originals with cracked tires to pristine restorations.

With all those bicycles and the stories that accompany them, tours at the museum can range from a few minutes to hours, depending on the viewer’s interest.

As captain of Missouri Wheelmen, the state chapter of a national group that encourages antique bicycle restoration and riding, James love hitting the road with like-minded members on their century-old rides. “My most memorable journey on a high-wheel bicycle was from Springfield to the Wheelmen meet in 1995 at Greenfield Village, Henry Ford’s museum in Michigan.”

After learning about Thomas Stevens, the first person to ride across the United States on a high-wheel bicycle back in 1884, James trained for several months in 1999 and completed that same 3,270-mile journey from San Francisco to Boston. That arduous trip has been accomplished by only 37 wheelmen since 1884. 

According to James, bicycles with equal-sized wheels, like those manufactured today, have been popular since the mid-1890s. At first, they were referred to as “safeties” because riding them was less dangerous than straddling the saddle of those with high wheels, which were called “ordinaries.”

Photos by Ron McGinnis

A favorite display in the museum is the only known example of a 1911 bicycle manufactured by the Wright Brothers after they quit building aircraft. James has turned down generous offers from other collectors for the rarity.

His ever-growing collection means James has to rotate his exhibits. “I have too many bicycles to display all at once,” he says. “Many of them are in storage on the building’s top two floors. Some original parts I have are so hard to find that putting a value on them is impossible.”

In addition to old bicycles, artifacts at the Pedalers Bicycle Museum include photographs, posters, tools, magazines, and books. There’s even a cabinet filled with bicycle-themed, antique beer steins.

Photos by Ron McGinnis

James takes personal pride in a replica 1890s-era bicycle on display in the museum. It’s a copy of the bicycles used for a trip between Missoula, Montana, and St. Louis in 1897 by 20 Buffalo Soldiers in the 25th Infantry Regiment of the US Army Bicycle Corps. The US Department of Natural Resources called on his expertise to prepare matching bicycles for a 1,900-mile sesquicentennial journey last July.

Whether you hope to glimpse an oddity, like a bicycle built for 12, or want to reminisce over a Schwinn like the one that carried you through childhood, let the road lead you to the Pedalers Bicycle Museum.

Pedalers Bicycle Museum at 328 E. Commercial St. in Springfield is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 AM to 4 PM, or by arrangement for groups. There is no charge, but donations are gratefully accepted.

Meet another Missouri bicycle enthusiast, Sue DiPiano, who is a regular on the BigBAM ride. Missouri Life Q&A: Why ride Big BAM (Bicycle Across Missouri)? • Missouri Life Magazine

 Article originally published in the May 2023 issue of Missouri Life.