A wheel adventure

  • 2008-09-03
  • By Alex Nelson

WHEELS OF STEEL?: Maybe not but still fun for antique lovers.

RIGA - Visiting Latvia is rather like going to a Baltic beach on a warm day. One immediately appreciates all the major attractions that make a visit to the beach so enjoyable 's sun, sea, sand, surf and scenery. The longer one stays, though, and takes the time to observe and explore, the more one discovers details that enhance the pleasure experienced there. Latvia is studded with little-known gems, which provide great delight upon their often unexpected discovery.
One such place for me is the Saulkrasti Bicycle Museum, just shy of 50 kilometers from Riga along the east coast of the Bay of Riga.

I had briefly been told of this museum and then chanced to find a leaflet at the Riga Motor Museum, so it seemed as if fate was pointing me to this place. The fact that my landlords back home in Australia are very keen cyclists cemented my decision. I took a train to Saulkrasti.
To reach the museum, take the train and get off at Pabazi, which is one stop prior to the Saulkrasti Station. It's a short walk from there to get to the museum on Riga Street 44A, on the A1 Motorway. You can't miss the penny-farthing bicycle parked out front. Press the bell at the gate to announce your arrival, then make your way by the side of the house to the specially built facility that houses the museum. The entry fee is one lat (1.42 euro).

The Saulkrasti Bicycle Museum was founded in 1977 and is privately owned and managed by Janis and Guntis Seregins. It consists of an extensive collection of bicycles, from the Dutch-made high-wheel Simplex, from 1866, through many makes and models of Latvian-manufactured cycles, including the famous Red Star, from 1888 to 1940.

The bicycles are beautifully restored, and there are some truly intriguing features about many of them. Take the wheels and tires, for example. There is an English Coventry with the first pneumatic tires, but some contemporary cycles are fitted with solid rubber tires; most have treads of various designs but one has just smooth rubber, and one cycle has wooden-rim wheels supported by springs.
The most unusual machine is the wooden bicycle constructed by Karlis Irbitis, made entirely from materials that were once used for making aircraft. This leads to a simple observation: the basic framework of modern bicycles is virtually no different from their vintage forebears (unlike aircraft), a testimony to the enduring success of these machines.

The museum also features an extensive array of paraphernalia, including medals and awards for cycle races and events from long ago.
I was fortunate on the day I visited the museum that an elderly Latvian-American couple arrived shortly after myself, he being a relative of an important Latvian bicycle manufacturer during the first independence period, so I enjoyed an enthusiastic impromptu guided tour of the museum.

Afterwards I made my way across the road to the Riga Bay coast, toward White Dune (Balta kapa), about half a kilometer from the museum. At first the weather was unpromising, the sky overcast with persistent light rain.
But there's a silver lining to every dark cloud. When I reached White Dune the clouds parted on one side of me (like Moses at the Red Sea), the sun shone through, and I enjoyed the wonderful view of the scenic Baltic coastline all to myself. To the south, in the direction of Riga, the sky was very dark, and when I returned later that day I found it had been pouring with rain.

There was no amber in the sand, but I had already been amply rewarded for taking the time to explore a couple of Latvian gems.

The Latvian Bicycle Museum is located Riga Iela 44A, on the A1 Motorway