If you enter the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, the first exhibit you come across is not an airplane. You will find airplanes there in a beautiful and bewildering variety, of course, WWII planes with grinning shark’s teeth, a Sopwith Camel from the Great War, helicopters from Vietnam, and even a Stealth fighter and Predator drone.
But the very first exhibit is a modest, black, townie, bicycle. Dayton is the birthplace of aviation but it’s also the birthplace of the Wright Brothers, the bicycle designers/mechanics/shop owners who taught the world to fly.
Printers by trade with a reputation for mechanical wizardry, the Wrights bought their first bicycles in the fall of 1892. By December of the same year they decided to open a shop, The Wright Cycle Co., and within a few years they were selling a line of bikes they’d designed themselves. Orville was even a racer, competing in and medaling in some local competitions.
The bicycle contributed to the Wright’s conquest of the air in very direct ways, like the chains and cogs that drove the propellers on the early Wright flyers. But it contributed indirectly as well; it is said that a small, flexing cardboard box from an inner tube sparked the insight into how the wings on an airplane needed to flex in order to maintain controlled flight.
The Wrights were geniuses. They not only figured out how an aircraft should be controlled, they also discovered that the accepted mathematical calculations for lift were in error. So they went ahead and invented a wind tunnel so they could test wing designs and then re-wrote the mathematical calculations for lift. Then they designed the propeller, which was another matter altogether.
The lesson is, if you’re a bike shop owner, wrench or rider, you can do anything.
You can visit one of the Wright’s original cycle shops at the 22 S. Williams Street in Dayton. Park tools are noticeably absent from the turn of the (19th) century workbench. The chainrings have widely spaced teeth. The chain guards have beautiful scroll work. But the bikes and rims look fairly normal. And the counter looks like the counter at any bike shop today, with tubes, pedals and hubs behind the register.
Strackacobra drove up through the thermocline from company HQ in Florida to Ohio to pay tribute to the Wright Brothers and highly recommends the trip. Best of all, both the Wright Cycle Shop (part of the National Park Service) and the National Air Force Museum are free.
Mountain Biking while in Dayton. We stopped by John Bryan State Park just east of town but unfortunately the trails were closed (“too wet and muddy”) but what little we could hike of them looked like good stuff. There are only about 7.5 miles of trail, but in our short walk we passed through two tree openings tight enough to shave handlebars so that bodes well for anyone looking for a good time. Great eats can be had at the nearby Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs. Renowned for their homemade ice cream, the place also makes a righteous BLT.