Last spring, Bonnie Kucera began a quest to locate all the bicycle sculptures that had been part of Lincoln's popular 2003 community art project, Tour de Lincoln. But like a cyclist with a blown tire, her efforts wobbled, then stopped completely, then got back on track.
Her journey started innocently. Kucera's three grandchildren were visiting her in Hickman, and she was looking for some interesting outdoor activity for them. A treasure hunt? No -- but maybe a bicycle hunt.
The idea was hatched because she had seen one bicycle ("Balancing the Books") outside Gere Library and had asked the reference desk librarian about it. When Kucera discovered there were another 70 bicycles as part of the Lincoln Arts Council project, she decided seeking them out would be a fun way to show off the city to her grandkids from outstate Nebraska -- and keep them occupied.
With a list of locations from the Internet and a map, she and her grandchildren -- Dalton, 8, Seth, 6 and Carley, 4 -- started out.
Their first stop was Wyuka Cemetery, but they found no bike and few answers to her questions about one. Then they went on to Woods Park, where they had better luck locating two bikes, "Crushing" and "View from Two Wheels." Kucera got out her camera and began to snap away, posing the kids with the bikes.
The next stop was a bust, so they gave up and went home.
But Kucera, a retired accountant, is not easily deterred. When Dalton returned in June for a longer visit, she was ready again with her map and list of bikes.
It happened again. The two arrived at a possible bike location but found no bike.
Kucera called the Lincoln Arts Council, the original sponsor of the program. Tour de Lincoln was one of its most successful projects, raising not only the interest in public art, but more than $430,000. The council handed over a list of who bought the bikes at the final auction and explained that many were now in private places, such as backyards and patios. Kucera signed on as an official "volunteer" for the council to find the bikes.
Kucera's bike search took her from one end of the city to the other. Lists of bikes from various sources were incomplete and inaccurate. And many of the bikes in public view were not necessarily owned by public departments, she discovered.
At one point, she literally ran into a bike she was trying to photograph and ended up in the emergency room with 11 stitches in her head.
It became a challenge, she said: "For about two solid months, I lived and died this." Kucera estimates this summer she was spending up to 40 hours a week on the search. She was determined to find and get a current photograph of every one of the 71 bikes.
Kucera turned to the phone book to track down owners. She knocked on doors and talked to neighbors. Slowly, she was checking the bicycles off her list.
If she could, she asked buyers what drew them to spend money on a specific metal sculpture. Why that particular bike? Sometimes buyers had a personal connection to the artist or a love of the interpretation of the bicycle. In a few cases, it was a matter of money -- "It was the bike we could afford," one man told her.
Most of the bicycles have permanent outdoor placements, and not all have fared well in the harsh Nebraska weather, Kucera discovered. She was especially discouraged by the bike titled "Marble-ous," which originally was covered in marbles and now is missing a lot of its decoration.
Preserving privately owned sculptures in public spaces is complex, according to Deb Weber, executive director of the Lincoln Arts Council. Although the organization sponsored the project and benefited from the sales, the bikes now are privately owned, she said.
The council is putting together a comprehensive list of public art, and a public art committee working with the mayor's office hopes to address how to pay for the long-term care of future public art, Weber said.
Ten of the bicycle sculptures have homes in Lincoln public parks. Jerry Shorney, assistant director in charge of park operations for the Parks and Recreation Department, said, "We hope to keep them in good condition." All were donated to the Parks Department, he said.
One bike, "Look Ma, No Hands," which usually sits at A Street and Normal Boulevard, is being renovated, thanks to a private donor, he said. Its condition was deteriorating, and while the area was under construction, Shorney decided to see if the department could find funding to get it back in shape.
Liz Shea-McCoy, chairwoman of the original Tour de Lincoln bike project, worries about the bike sculptures' maintenance.
"It was the one thing we didn't think about at the time," she said, "mostly because we knew they were going to be sold and didn't think it would be an issue." But "Lincoln fell in love with the bikes," Shea-McCoy said, and people wanted to continue to see them.
Shea-McCoy has helped coordinate repair and reconditioning of several bikes after owners have contacted her. Her dream would be for neighborhood or civic groups to "adopt" bikes and be financially responsible for their appearance, she said.
Meanwhile, Kucera continued this fall to search for the bikes, documenting each one regardless of its condition. By October, she was beginning to zero in on the end of her project. She still was missing one, which she had heard was somewhere in Kansas.
She knew its story: A group of close friends had come to the auction to buy "Isis in Motion" as a memorial to a friend, Rita Hahn, a nurse at the Olathe Medical Center in Kansas. Someone else bought it, then sold it to the group for the amount of money they had collected.
Kucera finally tracked it down in a park in Shawnee, Kan. She set her GPS, hit the road and found it at the head of the bike path there.
Mission complete. After putting more than 1,000 miles on her car, all 71 bikes were located.
After all of that, Kucera has a hard time picking a favorite sculpture. Her grandkids voted for "Bike-a-Saurus," which is on display at Vine Street and Cotner Boulevard.
But Kucera, who now is looking for another project, loves the smiling tuxedo cat, "Petal Me to NE," which lives at Van Dorn Street and Manse Avenue. In stellar condition, the bike is her "favorite of favorites," she said.