Through the Carnegie Science Center

BIKES: Science on Two Wheels.
Growing up, one of my favorite places to visit was the Buhl Science Center in Pittsburgh. I loved seeing the exhibits and all the cool, hands-on activities on display, and the planetarium was a neat experience, as well.

Sometime in the early 90s the old Buhl building was sold or closed, or something... I was never quite sure what happened to it as it had happened after we moved away from Pittsburgh, but a new, bigger science center was opened. They even retained the Buhl Planetarium to honor the memory of the man who built it, so while it's not exactly the same experience, at least it retains some of the old magic. Naturally, with my love of science and science museums, I just had to drop in and pay a visit, as I do every year. This year, however, there was a new exhibit that was much more relevant to my interests. A bike exhibit!

This year's theme is "BIKES: Science on Two Wheels." Showcasing a large assortment of bicycles from the earliest concepts of what a bike is to some of the latest light-weight carbon set ups, there were dozens of bikes to look at.

Of course there were a few 19th Century "penny farthing" style bikes, and some of the earliest "safety bikes" to touch and look at, but I enjoyed seeing some of the bikes from the mid-20th Century, with large fenders and swept back, comfortable designs. These heavy, steel-framed beasts must have been hell to pedal around on -- my favorite was the Huffy Radiobike from 1955. It featured a radio built into the "gas tank facade" along the top tube that ran on vacuum tubes. Vacuum tubes! I'm not sure how they held up with all the bumps and bounces one is sure to encounter, but the idea is mind-blowing. It's too bad transistors were still too expensive, as it would have been a welcome improvement to have a lighter, more vibration-tolerant technology.

Another treat to see was the famous "Pee-Wee Herman Bike" from "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," a Schwinn DX. Seeing one of the models used in the movie mounted right to the wall, and getting a chance to touch it, was a real joy. (I should note, we weren't actually supposed to be touching any of the bikes, but how could I resist?)

In addition to famous bikes throughout the years were a few other "pop culture" inspired bicycles, such as the Huffy Bandit from 1978, which was inspired by the Pontiac Trans Am driven in the movie "Smokey and The Bandit." Then were was a "tallbike," a tiny UDC Mini Bike, a few recumbents, unicycles and folding bikes also on display. I actually got a chance to try riding the mini bike, but couldn't get more than a few cranks in. Those things are just ridiculously small. Then came a bike that defied all explanation, the F&R Lowrider, as seen below.

F&R Lowrider - Because "art."
Reverse angle. Also because "art."
Another favorite, the Bowden Spacelander takes the prize for "Bike I'd Most Like to Own."

Heavy? Impractical? I don't even care, I want one.
Some of the interactive elements on display included a demonstration of the gyroscopic forces at play when bikes are in motion. Guests are encouraged to sit on a swiveling stool while holding a large bike wheel mounted to a handle while another guest spins the wheel with their hands. When the wheel is up to speed, the seated guest will tilt the wheel to the right and left while lifting their feet off the ground. What happens next is that the guest will suddenly rotate to one direction or the other, depending on which way they tilt the wheel. It's quite a unique, memorable experience, and just one of the many demonstrations available at the exhibit.

Finally, the Carnegie Science Center is sponsoring a number of outdoor activities to get people interested in biking, including a BMX stunt spectacular that was being put on by the "Freestyle Action Sports Team." I shot a few videos of their stunts, which you can see on my Instagram feed.

If you live anywhere near Pittsburgh and are into science museums as much as I am, it's definitely worth the trip. I mean, heck, I biked more than halfway across the state just to see this exhibit, and I thought it was totally worth it.


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