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The sun shone brightly on a crisp, clear North Carolina morning. Brad Kaminski and I had just spent two days at the A2 Wind Tunnel and were both happy to spend a moment in the fresh air after our drive to Statesville.
Across the street from our rental car was a bicycle shop. After years of visiting every bike shop I could find, I’ve become pretty good at sizing them up before I even go in. Signage and window displays can be very telling. I expected a tidy showroom and a small collection of vintage bicycles.
But as I breached the entrance to First Flight Bicycles, home of the Museum Of Mountain Bike Art and Technology, I knew that my initial thoughts were about to be blown away.
Overhead hangs both a Graftek and a Teledyne, the earliest of carbon and titanium road bicycles. A 1988 Olympic team time trial Huffy is flanked by an early Slingshot mountain bike. Instead of noticing the shiny, new bikes on the showroom floor, my eyes stared up at the heaven that hangs from the ceiling of First Flight Bicycles. Clearly, the owner of this collection has a sense of history.
Jeff Archer is the owner. He’s been in the bicycle business a long time. He started First Flight Bicycles in 1994 and bought the building it currently occupies in 1995. In 1997, he hired Wesley Davidson and the two have worked together ever since, occasionally hiring a part-timer during the summers.
Archer started his bicycle collecting with balloon-tire cruisers. When values started to skyrocket, Archer shifted his focus to mountain bikes. Technology moved so quickly in the 90s that gently used, or even NOS, could be purchased for a song. Quickly the space he had available was packed with bikes. One reason he moved into the downtown Stateville location was that it finally gave him room to increase the size of his collection, and to display it.
Archer doesn’t charge admission to his collection. Anyone with the commitment to travel to his shop to view his 350 bikes (as well as hundreds of jerseys and thousands of vintage parts) gets Archer’s undivided attention. Those that can talk the talk are given great respect by both Archer and his comrade Davidson. Those new to vintage mountain bikes are gently educated.
Unfortunately I’d only budgeted a couple hours for our visit to First Flight and MOMBAT. I could have easily spent days sifting through Archer’s collection. And to his credit, he would have patiently answered my questions and comments the whole time had I stuck around. In fact, one mountain bike history fanatic planned a holiday around his four-day visit to MOMBAT. He only interrupted his trip down memory lane for sleep, food and a couple rides on the local singletrack.
Upon leaving I felt that Brad and I had only been able to scratch the surface of Archer’s collection. If you’re in the area, say hello to Jeff and Wesley, it’ll be more than worth your time. And buy a t-shirt or other item from the shop. They deserve your business for giving back to the cycling community with their thankless work.