A standard bike might be enough for many but certainly not for those who see in the two wheels an extension of their tastes, lifestyle and character. Ad Hoc bikes are on trend; and manufacturing them is a passion for only a privileged few.
Making an haute couture velocipede these days only requires a metal – aluminium, steel, etc. -, rubber and leather. Nothing else? Nothing else: today more than ever, praising the simplicity of this machine, invented in Europe at the end of the 19th century is quite a trend. The Slow Bicycle Movement is gaining new supporters around the world every day. A philosophy that defends regular use of the bike to go to work, buy bread or pick up the kids from school.
Its followers are proving to be people who enjoy their time, believe that less is more and are Real artisans like Andrés Arregui, the creative soul behind Ciclos La Universal: “There are only three of us in Spain working in this fulltime and from the beginning”, we are told by this autodidact artist who’s been in the business for 15 years. And, although cycling in this country is a strong sector with many aficionados – according to the Cycling Industry Club, the bicycle business in Spain generates 1.62m euros a year and about 30,000 jobs – “the truth is that its most successful version has always been the mountain bike. We are way behind Germany, UK or even Italy, as far as urban bikes are concerned”, points out Jaime Díaz, director of Slowroom, the temple of the urban bike in Madrid.
Initiatives such as the one by Room Mate Emma in Barcelona, always conscious of their impact on the environment, all of this without compromising their own style. That’s why they look for straightforward, robust, basic bicycles that will last a lifetime… yet a hundred per cent personalised. They are the so called custom bikes that hipsters made fashionable, especially their fixie version: bikes that are so easy as to have a fixed gear and back-pedal brakes. These special devices don’t come out of an assembly line. Rather, they are custom made, one at a time, for about four months, by mechanics who specialise in their design, restoration and customising. where guests can hire bicycles and pedal their way around the city, are still uncommon in our cities.
If a regular use of bikes around urban areas remains somewhat unusual in Spain, customising them even more so. The role of artisans like Arregui is indispensable when you are very tall or under 1.55 metres high and don’t fi t well into a standard bike. Though the service is aimed mainly at the cyclaholic. As Pedro Bravo, promoter specialised in this scene, defines them, they are “great aficionados who usually have two vehicles: the weekend one for exploring various routes, and another one, more personalised and exclusive, to go to work or move about the city”. Cyclists of this calibre won’t have any qualms about spending over 1,000 euros on restoring an old cycle – “we’ve been asked to fix even velocipedes from the thirties, totally rusty and disassembled, found in the attic of someone’s grandparents”, Díaz recalls. And if what the cyclist is looking for is a brand new creation, exclusively designed, they will have to be willing to pay over 2,000 euros to devise together with an artisan the machine of their dreams.
Andrés Arregui, a reference in the sector, arrived on the scene in a self-made fashion. With a degree in chemistry, he decided to turn his hobby into a profession. Technically, it would seem that he put his university studies on hold. Yet, in reality, he still refers to them: “Welding is a chemical process, and designing in a lab has been of great use for this job”. The best bicycle? The one that fits you like a glove and is, above all, fi t for purpose. Carbon fi bre, bamboo, scandium, steel…? This designer is not afraid of any. He knows full well that good bikes “are not like prêt-à-porter fashion, but rather like tailor made suits”.
NO TWO ARE THE SAME
Eleven tubes make up the soul of the bicycle: the frame, which can be manufactured in carbon fibre, titanium (fit for races), aluminium, steel (city bikes) and other, more innovative materials like bamboo or scandium. Ultimately, the key is to design an exclusive object totally adapted to the owner’s needs and taste, reflected in its multiple “ingredients”: number of gears, design and width of the saddle, fixed height, type of handle and favourite colour. Room Mate Aitana in Amsterdam offers a hiring service of bikes in a wide range of colours (their make is ColorBikes), so that roomies can match this practical vehicle to their own style. For, more than a means of transport, today’s bike is an extension of its owner’s identity and range of taste.
If you wish to join the crowd and order your own bike, here’s our advice: go for a steel frame – more resistant to dents and scratches – or a bamboo one – built of thin tubes, and perfect if you hit a pothole; give it a wood handlebar and a personalised leather seat; don’t be shy and let the tyres come in a different colour each. Above all, design your bike so it can last forever. As Albert Einstein said: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”.
IN HOLLAND – 16 MILLION INHABITANTS – THERE ARE 18 MILLION BICYCLES
ID: Degree in Chemistry, Andrés has turned his cycling passion into a profession.
A STAR PIECE: “All of them. I’m working on one for my partner to transport our child”
HIS CLIENTS: Very tall or short people, with certain physical traits, addicted to bikes.
HIS OWN BIKE: “I have just made it, it’s big, robust, with no gears; very city like”