SAN JOSE -- The two bicycles on display were long, curvy and revolutionary, but they could not be more different.
"I consider it an art piece," said Michael Newland, a custom bike builder from Roseville. "And I actually rode it in Las Vegas for 126.3 miles over three days." Made of steel and carbon fiber, his sleek, black "super cruiser" was one of the head-turning stars Sunday at the Shiny Side Up Bicycle Show at History San Jose municipal park. With a battery, GPS system and alarm built into the frame, this was a bike fit for Batman.
Inside the park's museum was a predecessor of Newland's bike, a long cruiser just as revolutionary for its time -- 1842.
"That's the treasure in this show," said Terry Shaw, one of the Bay Area's best-known cycling advocates and a co-curator of "Silicon Valley Bikes: Passion, Innovation & Politics Since 1880," which opened Sunday at the same park.
He pointed to the "velocipede," as early bicycles were called, built by French immigrant blacksmith Alexandre Lefebvre of steel and wood. Ancient compared to the hundreds of custom bikes parked outside the museum, the velocipede looked eerily familiar. Everything about bicycle construction has changed but not the basic architecture -- two wheels attached to a more or less triangular frame with pedals and handlebars.
The exhibit is an eye-opener at every turn, placing Silicon Valley at the forefront of cycling from the pedal-powered vehicle's beginnings, to its current infusion of high technology and outlandish, sexy design. More than a hardware show, the exhibit introduces some of the local people who led the cycling movements of their time.
There are wonderful photographs -- Victorian-era women in full dresses posing with their bikes, champion velodrome riders and the legendary Morrow Dirt Club, which practically invented mountain biking. And there are photos of pioneer bicycling advocates whose tireless work helped the Bay Area become one of America's friendliest places for recreational riding and commuting to work.
Bicycle gear heads who also love great design will be pleased by examples of work from inventive locals, including hub maker Phil Wood, independent designer Matt Rodriguez and the research and development team from Specialized Bicycles, the company headquartered in Morgan Hill.
After four decades as a bike shop owner and cycling advocate, Shaw welcomes the growing popularity of the cruiser bikes, which are low and slow, but still offer health benefits.
"A lot of those people end up in cycling as a lifeline," he said.
The Shiny Side Up show seemed to break down into roughly three categories: vintage bicycles, custom-made cruisers of all sizes, and bicycles made of all manner of junk. One bike made of rebar -- metal construction rods -- looked like it came out of "Mad Max," the 1979 action flick about a dystopian future.
And the vast majority of bike owners appeared to be men who fell in love with bikes when they were little boys.
"These were the bikes we rode as kids," said Eddie Galleguilles, an airline mechanic and member of the Frisco Bay Sting-Ray Club. The group had lined up at least two dozen models of the famous Schwinn bike with the high handlebars and long, banana seat that inspired the cruisers of today. Most were outfitted with accessories little boys used to save every penny to buy -- fancy mirrors, generator lights, felt rabbits's feet and even special carriers for baseball bats and skateboards.
Galleguilles and his Sting-Ray buddies go out for four-hour spins every month.
"Everybody in our club is about 50 years old," he said. "We ride them to feel young again, to escape from reality for a while."
Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767. Follow him at Twitter.com/joerodmercury.
What: "Silicon Valley Bikes: Passion, Innovation & Politics Since 1880" exhibit
Where: Arbuckle Gallery, History San Jose, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose
Information: Free admission; for exhibit hours, call 408-287-2290 or go to www.historysanjose.org