Celebrating cycling history and heroes

The first bicycle was used as a replacement for a horse, required a saddle and was propelled like Fred Flinstone’s car.

According to University of California, Davis, Bicycle Program Coordinator David Takemoto-Weerts, an early bicycle-like invention was a "Draisine," a 19th-century invention of German forest ranger Karl Von Drais, for whom the the proto-bike is named. Similar machines were tweaked by engineers until bikes evolved into what we use today.

Takemoto-Weerts helped facilitate the purchase of a Draisine, part of the Pierce Miller collection that U.C. Davis bought in 2000 for a little under $400,000. It is now one of the dozens of historic and modern bikes displayed at the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, which will open Saturday morning in downtown Davis.

The mission of the organization, which has been in the process of moving from Somerville, NJ, for nearly a year, is "preserving the history and heroes of cycling in the United States," said Treasurer and board member Ray Cippolini. Besides being a museum, it’s also a member-based organization and cycling and fitness advocate, according to its website.

Fourteen different cities were initially interested in hosting the Hall of Fame, but it was narrowed down to two: Davis and another city in North Carolina. U.S. Bicycling hall of famer and board member Ernie Seubert described why the Hall of Fame came to Davis.

"Davis won out because of its passionate (cycling) community," he said. "This is going to be vastly improved; we have the backing of the town."

That’s evident when looking out the windows of the building onto Davis’ Third Street, a major bicycle thoroughfare. The U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame sits in a three-story building, formerly a teen center, on one corner of Central Park, which is home to the Davis Farmer’s Market. Near the park, the number of bicycle commuters seems to outnumber the cars.

In addition to featuring a range of historical bikes, some nearly 200 years old, the building also contains modern biking memorabilia, medals, photographs, trophies and unicycles. One room is filled with more than 100 plaques for the the 128 Hall of Fame inductees.

Inducting someone into the Hall of Fame is a two-part process, Cippolini explained. Inductees are nominated by a Hall of Fame committee, then voting takes place. Nominees may include former competitive cyclists from road or track racing, off-road riders (which includes BMX, mountain bike and cyclocross riders) and non-competitive cyclists who have contributed to the sport.

Then all the members of the U.S. Cycling Hall of Fame Board, which expanded last month to include the board of the Davis-Based California Bicycle Museum, vote for a nominee. So does every inducted hall-of-famer, and a number of journalists, Seubert said.

He and others noted their favorite piece of Hall of Fame memorabilia: Greg Lemond’s bicycle and 1986 Tour de France yellow jersey. Lemond was the first American winner of the Tour de France and also ran a successful bicycle company, which is now part of international company Trek Bicycles.

Cippolini said his favorite items are in the exhibit on hall of famer Marshall "Major" Taylor, an African American track cycling champion who become an international cycling star even while facing racial prejudice. The exhibit includes Major’s century-old bicycle as well as photographs.

"He was recognized at a time in this country when there was a lot of bias toward him as a person, but not toward him as an athlete," Cippolini said. "He was recognized for the great athlete he was, even overcoming the social bias at the time."

At 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Davis Mayor Ruth Asmundson and three Hall of Fame inductees will celebrate the Hall of Fame’s opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Sunday morning, Davis will host the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer ride, which gives amateur riders a chance to ride a stage of the Tour of California. It will be led by American cyclist George Hincapie.

The U.S. Cycling Hall of Fame is located at 303 B St. in Davis.

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