PITTSBURGH — It is not Iowa, but if you are a bicycle lover, it is definitely heaven.
A sense of wonder and otherworldliness washes over those who walk into the repurposed transformer warehouse, which has become the home of the aptly named “Bicycle Heaven.” It is located here in an old industrial park along the Ohio River, just down from where it is formed at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.
Whether you love bicycles, haven’t ridden in years, or never got past training wheels, it is hard to find anyone who has walked through these doors who hasn’t been awed by the experience.
The mural outside is a colorful and nostalgic Main Street scene of what you might imagine the Wright Brothers’ bike shop looked a hundred years ago. Along with several bike racks, it greets the unsuspecting customer with a whimsical charm that doesn’t quite prepare you for what you are about to experience once you open the old steel door.
Inside, thousands and thousands of colorful bikes of every shape, size, year, and make, including some genuine rarities, fill the first and second floor of this colorful bicycle store, museum, and repair shop, located in a section of the city called Manchester. The shop will rent you a bike, too, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Owner Craig Morrow says he has lost count of how many bikes he has on display (it is over 4,000) or the thousands he has in storage (over 20,000) or the millions of parts he has for every bike ever manufactured.
Yes, millions. And that is a good thing, as the country is heading into its second straight surge of bicycle and bicycle part shortages. The pandemic has not only increased people’s interest in socially distanced outdoor activities and adventures, but it has also put a strain on bike companies’ ability to manufacture and distribute bikes and bike parts to mom-and-pop shops.
“Many people who cannot find a new bike are looking for ways to keep their old one reliable,” Morrow says.
Last summer, the bike aisles of big-box stores such as Walmart and Target were emptied out. So was the inventory of smaller shops. Morrow says that a second wave of zero inventory is about to hit, just not at his shop.
And it’s not just fitness aficionados locked out of their gyms who are looking to let off some steam on the bike path, says Morrow. “More and more people are also rediscovering them not just for exercise but also as a means of transportation,” he says.
For those who relied on public transportation before the pandemic, getting from one place to another during the pandemic meant looking for other affordable ways to get where they wanted to go. Biking was one way to do that.
Although not for the faint of heart, designated bike lanes abound in many large cities across the country. For some people, though, riding alongside a 10-ton metal box on wheels isn’t for them.
Morrow says the decreased vehicle traffic in these same cities, due to closed offices, has encouraged many people who would not normally try to navigate a bike lane to trade in their bus passes for a bicycle.
Since Bicycle Heaven first opened its doors here a decade ago, it has become not just a place to buy a unique bike, or find that rare part, or a place to have the one you are using repaired, it has also reached iconic status as a tourist destination.
“It all started in my garage in an alley 30 years ago,” he says, standing in a sea of banana seats, surrounded by a wall of every color and type of tire you never knew you needed.
“We also have the Yellow Submarine Beatles bike, the iconic Pee-wee Herman bike, and the futuristic Bowden Spacelander. Our bikes have been in movies, Netflix shows, and even used for the Mr. Rogers movie. Oh, and the first fiberglass bike ever and the Betty Boop special,” he says, listing names and ages and dates, along with the more famous models.
Want a wooden bike? It’s here. Want that baby blue Schwinn bike your mother put out in the trash when you went off to college? It is here too. If you can imagine it, you will find it here.
The pizza delivery and bicycle industries were two of the few beneficiaries of the pandemic, but it’s never as difficult to make a pizza as it is to obtain a new bike or a part to fix an old bicycle, and that won’t be changing anytime soon.
Many in the industry worry that it will take a couple of years before the supply chains catch up to the rebirth of cycling in America. Morrow says that’s not a problem. If you need a part, in particular for an older model, he probably has it. You don’t even have to come in to order it.
Then again, if you are within a couple hours’ drive of here, why wouldn’t you?