Review: Design Museum of Chicago Brings Chicago’s Bicycling History to Light

Keep Moving at Design Museum of Chicago. Photo: Marielle Shaw

The Design Museum of Chicago recently brought a brand new exhibit to the Loop in an all new location. And this time around, the pop-up experience they’ve created at Expo 72 is as much an exhibit on design as it is on the sociology and identity of Chicago. Full of visual and historical interest,  Keep Moving: Designing Chicago’s Bicycle Culture takes a look at how bicycling and Chicago are inextricably linked, with an eye not solely on the development and culture around bicycling, but also to how Chicago itself shaped the industry and evolution of biking.

Keep Moving at Design Museum of Chicago. Photo: Marielle Shaw

Though we all recognize Chicago as an industry town with its stockyards, railroads, and even candy empires, I’d not been aware how influential Chicago was to the rise of the bike in popular culture. Bicycles were at first a luxury item–expensive, unstable and not accessible to everyone. But the demand grew, and factories sprung up–many of which, like Mead Cycles, Western Wheel and  Schwinn, were right here in Chicago, and changed bicycles into a symbol of freedom and a great way to get around an ever-growing city.

Keep Moving at Design Museum of Chicago. Photo: Marielle Shaw

Keep Moving: Designing Chicago’s Bicycle Culture is full of artifacts and examples of the evolution of the design of bicycles, largely shaped by Chicago innovators, and a deeper dive into what bicycles’ place in culture is and was. It documents the history of the design of bicycles alongside the effects bicycles had on society, even touching on gender and class issues as biking became less an elite activity and a boys club to include women (now wearing bloomers to be better able to ride) and everyday commuters. Keep Moving also shows how the bike itself changed to suit different purposes, from a sort of iconic status symbol to more specialized bikes for touring, racing, commuting and of course, rough trails.

It examines the growth of the trail system and the innovators in the field who spent time trying to attract customers, from development of sleek or stylish bodies to more functional accesories, slicker pedals and even ads that would evoke the freedom and ease of bicycling. Guests to the exhibit will be asked to try to draw a bike from memory, identify pieces of a cycle, and even design a new Divvy.


Whether you’re someone who occasionally grabs a Divvy to get from one place to the next, a hard core biker who’s out on the trails as much of the year as possible, or someone who’s interested in a new facet of the industrial legacy of Chicago’s past, Keep Moving has something that will interest you. As a study on design, it’s masterful, not simply showing the design process but weaving it into the fabric of the industry and people of a city and a country, and examining the culture of bicycling as a whole.

Keep Moving at Design Museum of Chicago. Photo: Marielle Shaw

Keep Moving: Designing Chicago’s Bicycle Culture will be at Expo 72 on Randolph through its full run, which ends March 3, and is highly recommended if you’re in the area. The exhibit is free and open to the public every day of the week, closing a little earlier on weekends than weekdays, and also features a Chicago Design Museum gift shop full of great things to think about for unique local holiday gifts. For more information about Keep Moving, click this link.

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Marielle Bokor

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