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A bicycle built for you

With gas north of $4 per gallon, the custom bike culture is gaining speed. The wheels are in motion this weekend at the San Diego Custom Bicycle Show and L.A.'s CicLAvia ride.

April 07, 2011|By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times
  • Cyclists flood Spring Street for the citys first CicLAvia, which closed many streets for part of a day last October. The proposed master plan would eventually create 1,680 miles of interconnected bikeways.
Cyclists flood Spring Street for the citys first CicLAvia, which closed… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)

It's the mark of the cyclist: one pant leg rolled up to the shin. And it's a sight that's becoming more and more common, according to the cycling community, as people opt to ditch their cars and get around town on a bike.

In a time when people are more environmentally conscious (and balking at gas prices north of $4 a gallon), bicycles have become more than just a way to beat the pump or get some badly needed exercise: They've become cool again, particularly with the younger crowd.

"There's a bicycle boom on — and you can quote me on that," said Brian Baylis, a custom bike builder in the San Diego area.

As people flock to the two-wheeled lifestyle, Baylis noted that cyclists are also moving beyond the generic bike bought in a sporting goods store to embrace customized bicycles built to the individual's size and taste.

Baylis organized the third annual San Diego Custom Bicycle Show, which takes place this weekend, to introduce cyclists to custom bicycles and equipment. The event, Baylis said, will bring together the "young people who created the bike boom, and a lot of new bike builders who need to get their feet wet."

Also this weekend, there is a great chance to use that new bike: Sunday's second annual CicLAvia event closes 71/2 miles of L.A. roadways (between Hollenbeck Park and the Bicycle Kitchen on Heliotrope Drive), clearing them of car traffic but opening them to bikes and pedestrians. It's part of a movement called ciclovías that started more than three decades ago in Bogotá, Colombia, to get families out of their cars and into the streets. (For more information, see ciclavia.wordpress.com.)

Events like these, and the growth of cycling, are part of a larger cultural movement to lead more sustainable and locally centered lives, said Bina Bilenky, who has helped organize custom bike shows, including the one in San Diego, in cities across the country.

The trend includes clothing, as well. The need for natural biking clothes — rather than the stretchy, petrochemical based fabrics that make up most biking gear — pushed Nan Eastep, a tailor, to create a business serving that niche. She had a career in hand-making suits when her clients began asking her to make biking clothes of the same quality.

In making clothes out of a limited range of material — like wool or cotton — the bike knickers, in particular, took on a noticeably natty, classic style. "It has a little bit of the old-school, retro, pre-car look," said Eastep, now the proprietor of the Oakland-based B. Spoke Tailor, which will hosti a bicycle fashion show at the San Diego event.

The show, she said, will "give the bike builders and the clothing makers the attention they deserve."

Their work isn't cheap: A well-done custom-made bicycle can sell for upward of $5,000; a pair of Eastep's bike knickers sell for $175. But what they lack in affordability they make up in quality and individuality, Baylis said.

He added that people who buy custom products fall into two categories: "It can be someone scrimping and saving, the people who truly understand. And then the people who want the most expensive, exotic bike, who don't deserve it because they don't want to wait." (Baylis has a five-year waiting list for bikes.)

Yet it's not as though the craftsmen who make bikes are getting rich from their work. Today, they're more likely to be starving artists: Baylis said he puts more than 100 hours of labor into each bike. And each bike is unique, featuring intricate design and craftsmanship.

Baylis is one of the few custom bike makers who is able to make a full-time livelihood, and says it helps that he doesn't have a spouse or family to support. "I'm free to work myself to death — seven days a week, day and night," he said. Others, particularly those just beginning, often build bikes as a side job because it's hard to make a steady living.

Those who have a custom bike characterize it as an investment in one's life, like buying a car or a nice watch.

"You don't need a $5,000 bike," said Bilenky, whose father builds bikes, "but it is pretty awesome."

rick.rojas@latimes.com

San Diego Custom Bicycle Show

Where: Golden Hall at the San Diego Concourse at 3rd Avenue and B Street

When: Noon-6 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Professional seminars on Thursday.

Price: One-day tickets, $15; two-day, $25; three-day, $35. Four-day pass ($45) includes admission to the Thursday seminars.

Info: (619) 228-3512; sandiegocustombicycleshow.com

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