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Impressions and photos of ‘Cycle City’ exhibit at Portland Children’s Museum

Posted by on January 31st, 2014 at 11:12 am

Cycle City exhibit at Children's Museum-27

Tracing bikes and a bike felt board are just
two of the fun things to do at the Cycle City exhibit.

Last night my family and I had the opportunity to preview the Cycle City: A Spin on Bikes exhibit that opens today at the Portland Children’s Museum up in Washington Park.

The exhibit marks a milestone for the museum as it’s the first of their rotating exhibits they actually dreamed up and built themselves (instead of simply purchasing something turn-key). It says a lot about both the museum’s leadership/staff and about Portland culture in general that, when given the first opportunity to create their own exhibit, they decided it should have a bicycle theme.

And I’m happy to say that they’ve hit the mark. The displays offer visitors new perspectives on bikes and cycling by literally putting people into the rider’s seat. In addition to interactive exhibits, Cycle City succeeds by presenting bicycles as something far beyond its trite cultural perceptions as an eco-conscious vehicle or a tool used solely by “cyclists”. Instead, visitors get a taste of the bicycle’s creative, social, industrial, scientific, and cultural possibilities.

Speaking of industry, if you visit the exhibit make sure you pick up a copy of the official Cycle City pamphlet titled: Voices from Cycle City: Who puts the spin on Portland’s bikes? It’s a great little zine put together by students from the third-grade class of the Opal School (which is housed in the Museum). Inside, the students share photos and interviews with five local bicycle designers: Nate Meschke of Signal Cycles; Bill Stites of Stites Design; Sacha White of Vanilla Bicycles; Ben Farver of Argonaut Cycles; and Devin Zoller of L’Ecu Bicycles.

Take a quick tour of the exhibit via my photos and thoughts shared below…

This was my favorite part of the exhibit. Two bikes mounted in front of a computer screen that features eight Portlanders. Choose one of them and you get to see how bicycling looks from their perspective (similar to our Ride Along series). They’ve got everything from a young girl riding on the sidewalk with her dad, to a little shredder at The Lumberyard, to a tall-bike excursion led by none other than Dingo the Clown and his partner Olive Rootbeer.

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I was mesmerized by this awesome and huge banner of the official City Bike Map.

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They even had cute little Cycle City aprons hanging on bikey hooks.

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The prints on the walls and the decor overall show how bicycles inspire art and creativity.

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There’s a large area that encourages kids (and adults!) to try their hand at building bikes using PVC pipes and wooden wheels…

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… and in true Children’s Museum fashion, there are accompanying posters to help parents and caregivers get the most out of the experience.

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This huge map of Oregon was made by a local fabricator (his name escapes me!). It’s dotted with dozens of cassettes and derailleurs and connected by a labyrinthine system of chains. When everything is lined up just right, the whole thing spins smoothly! It’s truly a sight and sound to behold.

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There’s a station full of saddles, handlebars and other bits where you can create bicycle taxidermy.

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In the Pedal Power area, you can try your hand at wiring up a variety of lights, then pedal the cranks under the table to see if you hooked everything up correctly.

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A reading nook offers several classic children’s books where bicycles play a central role.

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This station is tailor-made for future employees and volunteers of the Community Cycling Center.

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A small display featuring a (quite well-written) poster and several of Dan Coyle’s amazing wooden helmets underscores the Museum’s calculated strategy (as shared with us last night by Museum Executive Director Ruth Shelly) to have their exhibits be engaging for adults as well as kids.

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Overall, I’d highly recommend checking this out. Cycle City opens today and runs through April 27th. Learn more at

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Criss Cross Crusade
Criss Cross Crusade



Looks like a great exhibit! Since I don’t have kids or grandkids, I would not have even thought about going to the Portland Children’s Museum, but it’s on my radar screen now. I’m going to volunteer to babysit / borrow some neighbor kids.

Anne Hawley
Anne Hawley

Stellar! This looks like a show the Children’s Museum should definitely take on the road–it could become other children’s museums’ turnkey exhibit.