Rededication of the Wright Bicycle Shop

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Dayton Celebration Events

The Wright Cycle Company building at 22 S. Williams St. in West Dayton was recently renovated. Wilbur and Orville operated a bicycle and printing business at this location from 1895 to 1897. It is in this building that the Wrights began to discuss the building of an airplane.

Steve Wright, the great-grandnephew of Wilbur and Orville, gave the rededication speech. The following is an adapted version of the speech printed in the Dayton Daily News in August 2004.

Infatuation is what led my uncles into the business of selling bicycles when the bicycle was all the rage. The bicycle was and is affordable freedom.

The design philosophy of the new safety bikes of those early days transferred beautifully to the study of aeronautics and the design of a flying machine. That transfer of design and technology from one machine to another fascinates me, and I’m so pleased to see that subject addressed in the restored bicycle shop we dedicate today.

Without a doubt, the bicycle is one of man’s most beautiful inventions — simple, efficient and practical. I view this machine as rolling, minimalist art.

The shape of the early safety bike remains virtually unchanged from the time Uncle Wil and Uncle Orv and Aunt Katharine pedaled through the local countryside around Dayton. That alone is testament to the near-perfect design of this machine, especially when you consider the pace at which inventions become obsolete in today’s world.

Wilbur and Orville Wright made only modest improvements to their custom-built bikes. The masters of aerodynamics left the shape alone.

That is not to say improvements have not been made to the machine and its rider over the last century. Guess where most of those improvements transferred from?

They came from the very same industry that initially employed bicycle innovations to get that first airplane off the ground. That industry began in this bicycle shop. The bicycle begat the airplane and its myriad technologies and science disciplines. Those technologies and disciplines, in turn, improved the bicycle and the physiology of those who ride it.

Today’s bicycle uses aerospace innovations such as variable geometry aluminum tubing, Kevlar, titanium, carbon fiber, fiber, studies in ergonomics, physiology and aerodynamics, and computer-aided design to bring it all together.

I’m just glad that the clothing we ride in today does not usually include bowler hats, starched collars, three-piece wool suits and wingtips.

I’ve been watching a television documentary that follows Lance Armstrong preparing to attempt a sixth straight Tour De France win. If he pulls it off, he will be in a class all by himself in the realm of human athletic achievement. Needless to say, he and his team’s training regimen is single-minded and grueling.

But what really caught my attention was a segment that showed Armstrong on his bike in a wind tunnel covered with sensors from head to toe while riding in place into a stream of smoke. He was being monitored by a team of people who probably represented a dozen scientific disciplines.

Most of those disciplines were born or at least driven to greater achievement by a decision made by Uncle Wil and Uncle Orv to pursue a lifelong interest in flight in this building a little more than a century ago.

I think Uncle Wil and Uncle Orv would be amused and proud to see Armstrong perched on his bike in that wind tunnel; a device that they had used so brilliantly in the back of their bike shop so long ago to build a different kind of machine. OF course, they would love to take a spin on Armstrong’s bike, assuming they didn’t disassemble it first.

But I don’t think they’d be willing to trade their bowler hats, starched collars, three-piece wool suits and wingtips for his skin-tight Spandex. At least let’s hope not.

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