These Antique Bicycles Became Entombed in a Tree, Now a Piece of Modern Art

Bicycle Tree Bicycle Heaven 16 photos
Photo: Benny Kirk/autoevolution
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In a bicycle collection several thousand exhibits strong, it takes quite a bit to stand out. There are more than enough rare classic bikes on display at the Bicycle Heaven Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, than most people could ever see in one weekend. So in order to stand out, maybe it's best to transcend use as a bicycle and instead become a piece of modern art.
That's exactly what a not unsubstantial section of real estate is dedicated to on the museum's second floor. A phenomenal sculpture devised in part by mankind, and in part by dear old mother nature. What it is on a base level is two antique American bikes entombed in a tree whose species originates on the opposite side of the world. The tree in question is called Ailanthus altissima, otherwise known as "chòuchn" in Mandarin Chinese or " tree of heaven" in English.

As for the bikes, they belonged to a farmer's family in rural Ohio. One is a Dayton model from, at the latest, the late 1930s. The other is a Schwinn, from a Chicago-based manufacturer still in business today, although not in Chi-town anymore.

Whatever lives these two bikes lived before being encased in a living sarcophagus is not really known. What is known and plain to see is that old mother Earth seemed to have not cared one bit that there was a few pounds of metal and rubber in the way of this tree.

The slow and methodical growth of the tree simply started to overlap the two bicycles as they nourished off the Ohio spring and summer soil with gusto and meticulous resiliency, resembling one of the scenes from "The Blob" monster movie of the late 1980s, where the alien creature consumes human beings whole. Except for this time, taking place over a period of decades instead of a few minutes or so of classic body horror.

Bicycle Tree Bicycle Heaven
Photo: Benny Kirk/ autoevolution
Well-defined indentations of where the tree rose through the ground and overlapped its growing flesh around the frames of both bikes are clearly visible. One can only assume the shade provided by this very same tree that encased these two bikes could have ironically spared them from the worst effects of decades worth of harsh Ohio seasonal changes.

It's all a part of a strange pseudo-parasitic relationship going on between these two metal bicycles and this naturally grown tree. While the sturdy frames of the Dayton helped the outermost main branch stay upright and tall, the tree saves the bikes from succumbing to rust conditions that destroy bikes many times younger. All the while, the word "Dayton" is still clearly visible, engraved onto the very sprockets which mount to the foot pedals. A very common design practice for bikes 90 years ago.

The fact these two bikes and the section of tree that binds them all together survived being cut down and transported all the way to Pittsburgh in one piece is somewhat remarkable in its own right. But what strikes us most of all with this exhibit is how tasteful all the decorations are. Hanging over the sculpture is a handwritten sign detailing a shortened explanation of the key details.

Surrounding the sculpture itself is a collection of antique bicycle repair and maintenance items, the likes of which largely haven't been seen since the days these bikes were still contemporaries. Everything from decades-old oil cans to small hand tools to even a pair of never-worn workman's gloves from the Raliegh Bicycle Company of Nottingham, England, U.K.

Bicycle Tree Bicycle Heaven
Photo: Benny Kirk/ autoevolution
Of course, it is entirely possible to take a normal, everyday chainsaw and in half an hour or so, have both of these very rare bikes out of their tomb, and into the workshop inside the museum for a full restoration. But one thing you'll come to find about Craig Morrow, the owner, and curator of the Pittsburgh Bicycle Heaven, is that he's a lover of all things art and music, alongside his love of bikes.

He knew full well what a one-of-a-kind and nearly impossible-to-replicate piece of artwork he had on his hands when this piece wound up in his museum as one of its star attractions. It's just another reason Bicycle Heaven is currently the number one rated museum in Pittsburgh, even with the Andy Warhol Museum just a stone's throw away.

Check back for more from our trip to Pittsburgh's Bicycle Heaven right here on autoevolution.
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