Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bespoke Spoiler: The Handbuilt Bicycle Show

Bike Love graffiti on the Manhattan Bridge

Last Saturday was K's birthday, so I decided: "What better way to celebrate it then by going to see an exhibit that I'd been wanting to see! Yay! Happy Birthday K!"

We started our adventure by going to Milk Bar, this cute place on Vanderbilt that I love to go to in the summer because all the open doors and windows make the place feel breezy. Also, they serve coffee that looks like this:

K is officially 24, which she says makes her feel old and puts me somewhere in the dinosaur category. I overheard some woman talking on the train the other day about getting her first gray hair. I wanted to be like, "Girl, I've had gray hairs since I was 14." Some of us are... old souls (a.k.a neurotic Irish Catholics). K had expressed interest in going to an outdoor dance festival in Tompkins Square Park, but I convinced her to take the long ride up up the West Side Highway on a busy Saturday afternoon. We debated over taking the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge - I prefer the Brooklyn Bridge even though it is jam-packed with tourists that are incapable of interpreting pedestrian/bicyclists symbols, it's pleasant and of course, cooler. K said she hates all the planks that make her rickety bike rattle non-stop. So, we took the Manhattan Bridge and I dealt with the racing zealots that pumped and passed me on my left. After all, it was her birthday.

Admittedly, every bicycle sojourn is an opportunity to add to this blog, and I forced K to stop and take some action shots. This is what we look like on our bicycles:

me (Q.)


The West Side Highway bicycle path was a blast, but also very crowded on a Saturday afternoon. I cringed as K rode her $20 wonder bike head-on in the other direction as she passed leisurely cyclists. Nevertheless, riding on the path is a lot more relaxing than having to stop every five minutes at a red light. The crowd thinned out once we got to 34th street and we took the path all the way to W 60th, where we were forced to climb a short, steep hill full of potholes. This climb reinforced the fact that NYC is, in fact, hilly.

We got Columbus Circle and parked our bikes outside. I made K take pictures of me posing/blocking the Bespoke sign:

The ponytail is a new-old look for me. K says it makes me look like Gaston. For everyone that doesn't know (and for all you Disney enthusiasts that DO know, that's kind of weird), Gaston is the French dude from Beauty and the Beast that wears a low ponytail. I'm unclear about his exact role in the film but I think he wanted to get with Belle. Here he is:

Alas, I digress. The Bespoke Exhibit. Although a modest exhibit, this made me happy for a variety of reasons. First of all, I know A.N.T. Bike Mike, who was interviewed for this blog, was going to have some bikes on display, and I've never seen his bikes in person. Secondly, I'm glad that bicycles are being acknowledged as beautiful and museum-worthy pieces of design. While some may balk at the idea of fifteen (or so) bicycles adorning the inside of the Museum of Art and Design, it confirms the importance of practical, well-made and stylish designs that we can use in our everyday life.

A perfect example of these well-built, stylish bicycles were the Vanilla Bicycles on display. I had heard of Vanilla Bicycles and visited their website before, but I had never seen one up close. I loved the clean blue design of the Track 2006 model, and I was impressed by the attention to detail and precision of the bike as a whole. My favorite, however was the Radonneur, which they had on display in a lavender color, with matching fenders. It seemed well-built and sturdy but thin and light at the same time - it looked like you could pick up a good amount of speed on that road bike.

Track 2006


Then, of course, the question becomes: if I had a few thousand dollars to spare, would I commission Sacha White to build me a sexy Vanilla bicycle? Probably not. It would be a shame to add scratches to something so expensive. However, there is something appealing about having a custom bicycle made for you and knowing that your exact measurements were kept in mind while it was built.

A.N.T. Bike Mike's bicycles were sleek and sophisticated, exactly as I had imagined. K was partial to the thick white tires on his Truss Bicycle (2010), but I loved the simple black paint and rusty A.N.T. emblem. I also enjoyed the playing card chainring that he put on that bike - another subtle addition that complements the bike's simple style.

A.N.T. Truss Bike (2010)

He also had a sort of pizza delivery bicycle that I liked. I'm not sure how much one would use this carting stuff around Brooklyn (unless you are in a band?!) but it has that "no frills" style for which Mike is known.

A.N.T. Basket Bike (2010)

As for the other bike builders, I wasn't into Richard Sach's bikes as much as his bad ass persona, complete with red Ray Bans that he used instead of protective goggles when welding. I also liked his collection of New Yorker magazine covers showing dating back to the '50s. J.P. Weigle had an impressive set of bikes that reminded me of Vanilla Bicycles, although more classic. One of them was a pretty blue that made me second guess my preoccupation with Bianchi gang green.

J.P. Weigle's "French Blue"

J.P. Weigle's bikes are accentuated by intricate lugs, a bike part that still mystifies me. My impression is that these little pieces are a important element of the bike building process and their craftsmanship is a signifier to others that this handbuilt bicycle is rad. A Google search of "why lugs important" brought me here, which depicts the lug as a controversial but respected addition to handbuilt steel bicycles, one that serves to strengthen the joint of the bike.

J.P. Weigle lug designs

Personal additions like the detailed lugs above are what sets apart the builders featured in Bespoke from other bike builders. Whether it was A.N.T. Bike Mike's handbuilt racks and fenders, Sacha White's subtle V's, or Peter Sach's insistent use of firetruck red, all these bikes spoke to their builder's true style.