It’s not unusual to find collectors in and around the Ozarks. From antiques to toys and classic cars, peoples’ interests are about as varied as it gets. One man’s obsession, however, outgrew his garage to the point that he bought a commercial building and opened a museum.
Pedalers Bicycle Museum opened on Commercial Street in 2014 after James Allen realized his collection was getting a little out of hand. As a kid, he would ride his bicycle from his home in Weaubleau to Wheatland, Missouri where his brother ran a gas station. He would happily pedal the nine miles and back nearly every day just to lend a hand at the business. He always enjoyed the ride and appreciated the simplicity of his transportation of choice.
Years later, when shopping for a bike for his daughter, he realized his interest was more than just casual enjoyment.
It was 1985 when James ran across a particularly interesting girls’ bike at a swap meet. Something about the design caught his eye, so he bought it and took it home. We asked if the 1937 bike was for his daughter or for him. He admits it was more for himself, and that he eventually bought her a modern bicycle.
His next trip to a swap meet—this one in Hershey, Pennsylvania—resulted in the purchase of 27 bicycles of various shapes, sizes, and histories, plus a Rolodex of like-minded friends who eat, sleep, and breathe these wheeled machines. Decades of shopping and riding trips followed, and James Allen figures he has a few hundred bicycles in his current collection.
The oldest is an 1817 walking bike with no pedals. German surveyors would utilize it for work purposes because of its efficiency, traveling ten feet per step. Allen remembers a German visitor recognizing it immediately as having been made in her hometown.
Allen has a bike on display once used by U.S. Paratroopers. The soldiers would jump from airplanes with the bicycle strapped to their backs, then ride once they parachuted to the ground. There are bicycles used by Buffalo Soldiers, Olympians, and even one built by the Wright Brothers before they turned their attention to airplanes. The Wright Brothers’ model sports an original nameplate which is much sought-after by collectors.
Which is his personal favorite? Allen says it’s a 50-inch high-wheeled bike he purchased for himself and managed to master. (Note: It’s the one on the far left in his C-Street window display.) Known as the Penny Farthing in England, one must ponder how the giant-wheel-up-front-and tiny-wheel-in-back configuration was ever a good idea. It appears it would take a Herculean effort to mount such a contraption, much less stay on board. Allen, however, quickly got the hang of it and has managed to put 23,000 miles on his. Much of the mileage can be attributed to a 1999 trek from San Francisco to Boston he took with a friend, both traversing the 3200+ mile trek aboard one of the antique wonders. He rode the same high-wheeler from Springfield to Boston and Springfield to Buffalo, New York without a hitch.
If you visit Pedalers Bicycle Museum, allow time for Allen to walk you around and share stories. He can tell you the backstory of every bike in the building and amaze you with tales of bicycle speed records and the people who’ve set them. (One female rider broke all the records, managing to travel at more than 180 miles per hour. She rode behind a dragster to get up to speed, then it pulled away and she took it from there.) His passion is infectious, and his knowledge made us wonder if he ever turned his attention toward anything else. It turns out, he did.
Allen retired from Southwestern Bell after 32 years and has spent time doing handyman work in and around the Ozarks ever since. But his bicycle hobby will be his legacy, not to mention his love for Historic Commercial Street and the building he renovated and loves to spend time in.
Allen and his wife purchased 328 E. Commercial Street in 2010. The three-story structure originally housed the Perkins Hotel that served businessmen arriving in Springfield by train. The hotel had three floors, with 13 rooms on the second and third levels. The top two floors are yet unfished and full of bicycles. The main floor is packed, and Allen says eventually he hopes to welcome guests up the rebuilt staircase to a museum addition.
Pedalers Bicycle Museum is a not-for-profit, 501-C museum that welcomes about 4-thousand visitors a year. Allen says April through June is the busy season when people are inclined to travel Route 66. He says he’s had visitors from as far away as England and The Netherlands. He doesn’t charge an admission fee but welcomes donations to help cover expenses. The only time a bike leaves the shop is when Allen or another skilled rider takes one to show to a school group or rides one in an Ozarks area parade.
James Allen admits he still shops for bicycles, but bicycles tend to find him too. His efforts are respected by collectors and enthusiasts inside the United States and well beyond. From time to time, someone will call to see if he’d like to add a bike to his collection, or just bring one over and drop it off. Bicycles tend to have sentimental value, and owners like to know they’ll be appreciated and well taken care of, so Allen is the man they turn to.
If you would like to see some amazing bikes outside of Allen’s collection, mark your calendars for Sunday, May 21st. The 37th annual Springtime in the Ozarks Swap Meet will be held right across C-Street at the Farmer’s Market Pavilion. It’s open to the public with 400-500 enthusiasts typically showing up. If you see a guy running across the street and back, you can bet that’s James Allen…. He’ll be enjoying his time with other bicycle aficionados, but you can bet he won’t miss a chance to unlock the door and show a visitor around the museum.
Pedalers Bicycle Museum is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday are by appointment.
Check out this video tour of the museum: https://www.ozarksfirst.com/video/a-tour-of-c-streets-pedalers-bicycle-museum/8065817/
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