An unassuming middle-aged man greets you as you enter the bungalow that serves as the museum. I expected the museum to be put together by an old man. But rather surprisingly, Vikram Pendse, the man behind the incredible collection of cycles on these pages started collecting cycles only in 1995. It was a friend of his dad’s who introduced Vikram Pendse to the world of vintage cycles.
Since then, there has been no looking back. Cycles upon cycles were acquired, some through friends, some acquaintances and some he just bought. Now, the collection numbers in the hundreds. And not just that, the museum also holds a huge number of artefacts from the times gone by. Some, like the shaving razor collection tracing the evolution of men’s grooming habits in the last century simply put, is a slice of history. While some, like the dozens of tricycles hung on the ceiling are quirky elements that liven the place up.
“Like his father before him, his daughter too has been bitten by the bug for everything on two wheels and it is she who takes care of the museum for her father”
Nestled in a sleepy by-lane in Karve Nagar, the museum stands out with its bright colours and the cycle displays hung on the exterior walls. Even before you enter the museum, the yellow paint on the walls and the tastefully done interiors lure you in for a ride to the past.
The museum that also serves as a house for Mr. Pendse’s father screams out its love for anything on two wheels. A number of classic motorcycles including but not limited to Ariels and Triumphs grace a garage by the side of the house while a selection of multi-person cycles and carriages dot the front of the house. Stairs to the right of the house lead you up to the museum where Mr. Pendse’s daughter will show you in. Like his father before him, his daughter too has been bitten by the bug for everything on two wheels and it is she who takes care of the museum for her father. The first floor is dedicated to several bobs and bits from early cycles. It traces the evolution of elements like the brakes, lights and gearboxes.
But they are not chronicled by date, rather they are an eclectic collection of artefacts that the curator, Mr. Pendse himself, found interesting. For instance, there are examples of pedal cars, the exact same models of ones used by the children in the Gandhi-Nehru family. Mr. Pendse has photographs to stand by his claim. There is a story behind every piece in the museum and he is all too happy to tell them all.
“I stumbled on racing bikes from the middle of the last century, on bikes without a brake lever – you can pedal backwards to brake”
As I waited a couple of minutes for Mr. Pendse and was ogling at all that the place had to offer, I stumbled on racing bikes from the middle of the last century, on bikes without a brake lever – you can pedal backwards to brake, on medallions that had to be bought for you to legally cycle around, on other oddities that were fairly commonplace just half a century ago.
I was shocked that I knew precious little about what the cycling world looked like then. Moments later, the man arrived. Dressed smartly in a shirt and pant, Mr. Pendse sported several grease spots on his outfit. When I questioned him about the same, he told me that he was working in the motorcycle garage on some bikes. Mr. Pendse, it turns out, goes to his garage every day and if you want the man to restore your vintage cycle or motorcycle, he would love to help.
The BSA Paratrooper changed that. Yes, the 1940 BSA Paratrooper was his first vintage cycle. It was used by the British armed forces in several battles during World War II. Over 60,000 of them were made but only a few exist now either in museums or with private collectors. Soon Mr. Pendse delved into the very beginnings of this obsession with cycles. Although he obtained a degree in commerce, he knew his true calling was elsewhere. He began collecting cycles from all over the world.
It wasn’t just all cycles though. Soon accessories, components of cycles were everywhere in his house. Everything that took him back to the times when his cycles were the pride and joy of both the commoner and nobility, was collected and painstakingly restored to its former glory. Mr. Pendse soon found, in Pandurang Gaikwad, an ally who shared his love for everything on two wheels. A passionate cyclist, Mr. Gaikwad also represented India in cycling competitions internationally.
This was the beginning of a hobby, that with time blossomed into something much more. Mr. Pendse directed me towards something to my right that I had missed. It was the oldest motorcycle that he had in his possession – a Sunbeam from 1914. It has a number of things that I reckoned were only found in cycles from much, much later.
“There is a two-person cycle that is hung on the wall and is more than 80 years old”
A climb up the stairs led me to the floor with the most cycles in the museum. Several priceless pieces of cycling history were preserved immaculately. Mr. Pendse continued demonstrating and explaining to me the different cycles and the often intriguing early technology that went into them. This floor held not only brands like Raleighs, Royal Enfields and BSAs but also little known gems from all over the world. Some chosen because of their reputation, while some merely for a quirk that the man found endearing. There is a two-person cycle that is hung on the wall and is more than 80 years old. Mr. Pendse has a photograph of the woman who originally owned it. Decades later, Mr. Pendse tried to recreate the photo but this time with himself. Both the photos find space next to the cycle.
To go along with the vintage cycles, there is a collection of knick knacks of the same age. Everything from vintage radios, to home appliances, to cigarette lighters, to antiquated household utilities finds a place. I was transported to a different time – one where plastic had not yet taken over the mantle of replacing metal. Everything in the museum still looks like it could last a century. Some already have, and seem like they will last a lot more. Products from the 20th century were simply built to last.
“Dozens and dozens of cycles were in pristine condition, some with even the original paint and seat cover intact”
I had questions. Lots of them. Some obvious, some a result of my lack of knowledge about vintage cycles. Mr. Pendse answered all my questions in detail, without the customary chuckle or two that I thought would be accompanied with the responses. The general public knows precious little about vintage cycles, he says. I was glad he got me started in the world of vintage cycles because soon he led me to the top floor of the museum – a space reserved for the rarest of the rare vintage cycles. Dozens and dozens of cycles were in pristine condition, some with even the original paint and seat cover intact.
I contemplated for a short while asking Mr. Pendse If I could ride one of his cycles. That’s how good they looked. There were bicycle ads from the times too, with famous Bollywood beauty queens endorsing man’s humble ride. In a corner, there was a recreation of the cycle repair shops of the 1950s. The glass jars that held small bits and the wooden shelves with a multitude of components stacked on them seemed eons away from the cycle repair-wallahs of today. Two BSA Paratroopers – guilty of starting his love affair with cycles – were also present.
I was eager to know what he thought of the current cycling boom. Was it just a fad? Mr. Pendse, simply didn’t care as to what it was. As long as it brought people closer to cycles, as long as it made people like me curious about cycles, it was alright. The fad would eventually give way to genuine interest and curiosity, he reckoned.
I would have loved to pick his brain more but we soon had to say our goodbyes. Mr. Pendse tells me that he has to hurry back to his garage. We walk outside and he hops on to a motorcycle and vrooms to his garage where several machines wait for his hands to bring them back to their best.
This was no ordinary weekday. It was a day that I will cherish for the museum but more so for the conversation with a man who has worked tirelessly to preserve what could have been easily lost in the noise and delirium that the 21st century has become.
Note: The museum is open from 11am to 7pm on all days except Tuesdays. Be sure to call and enquire before you make a visit. Hop in to Mr. Pendse’s workshop nearby to gain some valuable insight into the world of vintage cycles from the man himself.
Address: 22, Harsh Shawas Society, Karve Nagar, Pune, Maharashtra 411052.
Ticket: Rs 100 per pax