A Conversation with Collector Keith Pariani

Vanisha Patel-Martin, Lightner Museum’s Membership Coordinator, recently sat down with St. Augustine resident Keith Pariani, the man behind the Lightner Museum’s popular Ride On! exhibition to learn about his passion for vintage bicycles.

Keith Pariani’s first experience riding a vintage high-wheel bicycle was in Maitland, Florida in 1971. His friends were members of the Wheelmen, a group of avid cyclists and collectors of vintage bicycles and were planning to ride in the Easter parade at Walt Disney World. In need of an extra rider, they offered Keith the opportunity to join them for a ride on Main Street, USA at the park that weekend.

Keith’s first bicycle purchase didn’t happen until several years later in 1976-77 with a chance encounter with a collector from whom he purchased a Columbia Expert high-wheel bicycle. The purchase marked the start of Keith’s 50-year journey into learning, collecting, riding, and sharing all there is to know about historic bicycles from the 1800s. Keith currently owns fifty bicycles and is still actively collecting. He primarily collects online through eBay and auctions. He enjoys the process of researching, identifying, and acquiring bicycles and learning about the new additions to his collection. When asked, he explained that he doesn’t have a favorite in his collection. He believes that a favorite bike today is different from a favorite bike next year.

Keith’s primary focus as a collector is on late-nineteenth century American bicycles. All the bicycles in his collection were made before the turn of the century. The oldest bicycle in his collection is an 1866 American Velocipede made by Pickering and Davis, New York. Despite their age, most of Keith’s bicycles are still operational. Keith keeps them in working order and can often be seen riding them around St. Augustine.

One of Keith’s fondest memories throughout his years of collecting is an epic ride he took with fellow bicycle enthusiasts to honor Thomas Stevens, the famed bicyclist who was the first person to cycle around the globe. The ride replicated Stevens’ journey from San Francisco to Boston in 1884. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of this event, Keith and his group set off on their high wheeled bikes on Memorial Day weekend, 1984 arriving in Boston on August 4th.  The bicycle Keith rode across the United States is now featured in the Ride On! exhibition at the Lightner Museum. Another one of Keith’s prized possessions is a statue of Thomas Stevens. He had come across this statue years earlier and happened to see it again after he had completed his ride across the United States to honor Stevens. He was lucky enough that the item was for sale, and he didn’t wait this time to get his hands on it!

A recent resident of St. Augustine, Keith fell in love with the historic city when he moved here. The idea for the Ride On! exhibition came to him during a visit to the Lightner Museum. After several planning meetings with museum staff, that initial idea resulted in the exhibition currently on view.

Keith has met many fellow collectors over the years and has enjoyed sharing his passion with them and learning about their experiences, but his exhibition at the Lightner has been his first opportunity to present his incredible collection to a wider public. He is thrilled to be able to share his collection with visitors to the museum. In our conversation, we discussed how many of the visitors Keith talks to feel a connection to the bicycle and are excited to find a museum exhibition  dedicated to these vehicles. The Ride On! exhibition brings these individuals together to share memories and learn about the history and evolution of the bicycle. The one takeaway Keith hopes people have from his exhibition is the inventiveness and engineering that went into the bicycle as it changed form and function.

Ride On! Historic Bicycles from the Keith Pariani Collection is on view at the Lightner through September 30. To learn more about Keith and his story, please tune in to the Swan Dive podcast and listen to Keith share his unique experiences and memories collecting bicycles.

Photographs from Keith Pariani’s 1984 bike ride from San Francisco to Boston, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first bike ride across America by Thomas Stevens