There we were, in a storage unit off Eldridge Parkway, staring at a massive collection of bike memorabilia as startling in its scale as its variety. We glimpsed stacks of Bicycling Barbie, shelves of Swarovski bike miniatures, tables of Lladró and Hummel porcelain bike figurines—hell, even a working, life-size penny farthing bike with one big wheel in the front and another tiny one in the back. “Seeing it on display almost knocked me off my feet,” wrote Cynthia Delk, the reader who alerted us to the collection’s presence. “It is truly magnificent.”
Delk emailed Houstonia on behalf of her friend Timothy Chatman, whose bike obsession—which today encompasses thousands of miniature and around a dozen actual bikes supplemented by hundreds more photographs, paintings, and sculptures—is 28 years in the making. A pathologists’ assistant by day, Chatman says his project of building the walls, curating the display cases, and simply buying the pieces has long occupied his spare time. Most days he sleeps a handful of hours, wakes up at 3 a.m., and scours auction sites and artist pages for new acquisitions. “My wife seems to tolerate it,” he says, laughing, “if not totally understand.”
Chatman was raised in the Houston area, in both Missouri City and Kashmere Gardens. He would hit the road with the neighborhood kids on his red-and-white Radio Flyer. “We all were riding bicycles and experiencing that sense of freedom, riding off your street, going a little bit farther, then going a little bit farther again,” he remembers. “Long story short, I just have a passion for cycling.”
Even so, the self-described “organized hoarder” is unable to articulate precisely why he has such a single-minded focus on collecting bikes. The pursuit started with Chatman buying a piece here and there, stashing it away in some boxes while going about his life. But about a decade ago, the sheer size of the collection outgrew his townhouse and necessitated offsite storage.
Chatman freely admits the cost of new items—some stretching into five figures—combined with the monthly upkeep has required compromises. He sold a 1960 Cadillac he’d restored himself to support the habit. At one point—before he met his wife—he was voluntarily homeless, living out of his car for about seven months. “It wasn’t convenient,” he says of those days, but the “ultimate sacrifice” was worth it to preserve his collection.
What does Chatman hope comes from all this sweat equity? The dream is a dedicated community center/gallery space where he can both advocate for cycling and allow the public to bask in the glory of his collection. It would serve as a locus for Houston cyclists to organize to improve the city’s notoriously dangerous streets, while providing bike-repair services and riding lessons for children and newly arrived immigrants who’d benefit from increased mobility. All he needs are the resources to make it happen.
For now the project sits inside an immaculately kept storage unit, where Chatman patiently waits for the right benefactor to come along. “People are always like, What do you do with all this?” he says. “Well, you just look at it all, and you find other bike enthusiasts, and you go from there.”