So if someone hits you, it's totally their fault
// Katherine Alpen

W hen people love bikes, they really, really love bikes. As well as being the most fuel-efficient vehicle on earth, they have a lot to offer their riders apart from economic advantages. They are conduits of the rider’s personality, and are much easier to decorate than cars, though there are local standouts such as the boxy white car entirely covered with alphabetical fridge magnets and the VW Bug buried under knick-knacks. And, while you probably can’t fit as many plastic toys on your bike as on the VW Bug, there are a new breed of cyclists that think of the two-wheeled contraptions as having aesthetic purposes as well as practical ones. It's interesting to wonder whether the next new reality show coming up might be Pimp My Bike; just add speakers.

But we’re not talking tassels and baskets, as lovely as they might be; this new age has more flare. Just take a look at scraper bikes: the practice involves decorating the wheels of bikes, mainly the spokes, with coloured tape or spray painted aluminum. It’s reminiscent of the little bead noisemakers that were popular on 90’s kid bikes, but this time around, it’s involving an older crowd. Supposedly started by Tyrone “Baby Champ” Stevenson, the craze is mostly concentrated in Oakland, California, but the YouTube video created by scraper enthusiasts is already passing 3 million views, and
DIY scraper tutorials are popping up everywhere.

Vancouver Hack Space is a community centre where engineers and other creative builder types hook up to consult, construct, and bounce the latest circuitry models off one another. Their output extends to business: they offer a glow-bike kit called the cycEL, which gives the cyclist the equipment to turn their bike into a rolling light sabre. The kit is available for order through their website, along with a nine-page manual for assembly. They also offer sound activated drivers for a bit of extra cash, which makes a perfect mate for a bike radio. The safety benefits are also admirable, considering you’d have to be a bat wearing a blindfold to miss one of these decked-out bikes crossing a dark intersection.

Similar to the cycEL, MonkeyLectric is a company that offers LED decorations for cyclists. Their most popular light is called the Monkeylight, and creates colourful patterns when the bike wheels are in motion.

Lauren Rains, who works with MonkeyLectric, explains, “Though theft remains an important factor preventing people from investing more in their commuting bicycle, as more people choose cycling as a mode of transportation, more people are investing in making their ride look good.”

When considering safety benefits, customers have not been mute: “The feedback that we receive regarding our Monkey Lights is almost always regarding the increased visibility that cyclists feel.”

Stylish cyclists are interested in more than just accessories. Jett Grrl, a full service bike studio offering custom bike assembly, repairs, tune-ups, and classes on bike mechanics, is thriving off the interest in custom bikes, with demand of about one custom bike per week.

The studio also has a focus on women in biking: before moving out west, the company originated from a group called Wenches with Wrenches from Toronto.

Tracy Myerson, the one-woman operator and bike mechanic of the shop, says that primarily, these custom bikes are meant to get you where you want to go. “They are all meant to be used daily … All of my customers want their bike to function perfectly, for a long time, and then they want them to express their personal taste.”

That personal taste can be rather colourful: “The oddest, most fun bike I’ve done recently was candy apple-red with sparkles in the paint, one orange wheel, and one celeste-green [on the] other wheel, with all orange and celestegreen accents.”

The Jet Grrl bike gallery also boasts many other creations, including an entirely pink fixie bike with flower-patterned rim tape and a baby blue chain. Many of the studio’s custom bikes are fixies, or fixed-gear bicycles, the ultimate in fashion bikes.

The fixie bike trend peaked a while ago, but shows no sign of slowing down. Then again, it’s pretty hard to slow down on a fixie bike: with no brakes, the only way to stop is to resist on the pedals, but the real catch is that the pedals have to be constantly in motion in order for the bike to move forward.

Brent Hillier, a mountain bike guide for Endless Biking in North Vancouver, had this to say on the topic: “Fixie bikes are the original bike, as simple as it gets, pretty much. They started in velodrome track racing, and how they got brought into the urban environment was by couriers, because no one steals fixie bikes.”

So whether it be a glow bike or a fixie, a common theme with custom rides is that more people are looking to cycling being a part of their daily lives. It might be for safety reasons, or it might be for style; either way, it bodes well for our air. It also speaks well for the next wave of consumers having a conscience when it comes to how they move around in the world. And hey, you might as well look good doing it.

//Katherine Alpen, Writer
//Illustration by Britta Bachus

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