The origin stories for framebuilders are usually as interesting as the bikes they build. Some took up framebuilding after losing their favorite bike to a terrible accident in an attempt to save their friend. Others take to the craft after years of deep-seated frustration in their hearts for the lack of the bikes they urgently feel need to be in the world. And then there are builders who, not unlike Peter Parker, were riding along, minding their own business, when a radioactive spider waltzed into their lives to transform them into the heroes of men (and women! -Ed.) we revere today.
Erik Noren, the one-man band and Dodge truck aficionado behind Peacock Groove, falls into this last category, as I found out while interviewing him about his new project, Cake Bikes. We chatted about the serendipitous relationship struck over malts that would eventually lead to his big break into framebuilding, being in love, and gracefully navigating the sea of negativity that has come with the territory…
BIKERUMOR: Where did you get your start? We talk a ton, and I know you’ve done production, but I don’t actually know where you came from. How did you get into this?
ERIK: Back in 1992, I was working at the The Malt Shop and I was a soda jerk. I made ice cream for people. I talked to interesting people. I had my life threatened once. I was hanging out with my friend Dave and we were riding bikes. I just fell in love with it. Mountain biking was awesome. And right out of high school – so fun and fit. I never played sportsball. I was never an athlete or whatever, but I loved biking, this cool individual thing. On average, I was riding 30 miles a day after work.
I didn’t have any expenses. I was living at home. Buying bike shit, hanging out at Grand Performance with Dan Casebeer. Dan said “Erik, you know how to weld, dontcha?” And I said “yeah, kinda.” And he goes “Croll Cycles is hiring for a welder. You should go down there.” I was like “ehhh.” Well, my buddy Dave had a job down there.
So two weeks later I had an interview. They basically hired me on the spot… because they asked “Can you TIG weld?” And I said “yeah, I can TIG weld!”
Then I was like “… uhhh, what is TIG welding? I’d better go read this shit.”
ERIK: …so I got the job, I accepted it. I went to give my two weeks notice at the Malt Shop. And in comes Ralph Boedwyns.
Why Ralph was important: Ralph was like the last of the style kings. He always looked good – always in a suit. He drove a big Cadillac Fleetwood. He was considerate. He was generous. He had class and stuff. He was a real gentleman. When I first started serving and seating him and his wife, he said, “Erik, there is one thing that I ask. When I sit down, I’d like to have my chocolate malt waiting for me as soon as you can.” And he’d come in about 2pm every day. I would always have Ralph’s malt ready for him. For me, customer service is about meeting these intricacies with people; that’s what Peacock Groove is.
Anyway, I sat with him one day and I gave him his malt and I said “Hey Ralph, I’d hate to tell you this, in two weeks I’m not going to be here.” And he says “Oh I know! I talked to Walter yesterday and I said you would make a fine addition to his crew.” And I said “You know Walter Croll?” “I’m his insurance agent. And I wish you the best of luck.”
BIKERUMOR: Do you still miss the guy?
ERIK: I do! Every time I see a ‘93 Cadillac Fleetwood I go… nah… that’s not Ralph. It’s kinda shitty. Ralph would never drive something shitty.
So I go into Croll and I sign all the papers. I think I was making $10 an hour full time with benefits. And that’s in 1993 dollars. So Walter takes me back and says “I’m going to show you how a TIG welder works and I’m going to lay a few beads and you’re going to watch.” I remember thinking “watch, mimic what he does. You really need to pay attention because you lied your way into this.” So I watched. And for the next few weeks I got paid to fucking practice. And it turned out I did pretty good. I mean, I kind of knew what was going on. I wasn’t a complete in-the-dark guy, I was just “oh, TIG, that’s just fancier than stick welding. I can hack this.” So there’s three whole bikes after that that are TIG welded by Walter, and everything else was me.
That’s a lot of fucking bikes after that. I never took pictures of, or documented in my diary, what I did. I just did it and I loved it. I think it’s a lot like being in love with someone. And you’re in it and your head is swimming and everything is great and you can’t wait to fall asleep to them, you can’t wait to wake up next to them and you can’t wait to be with them. And then when it’s over, it’s like, you have no memories of it. You have no physical memories of it.
So my career has gone that way, but now, with Peacock Groove on the internet finally, other people get it. I just never bothered to really promote it because it took off for a while by itself and there were a couple years where I didn’t treat it well, didn’t treat it with respect. I think if you can’t talk about your failures openly, you can’t talk about your successes. I’ve learned from my failures. But at the same time, this is a cutthroat industry, and you get some fucking idiot who wants to watch some guy handle a torch once and go “I want to start a frame building company” and they start building bikes for their friends for 400 bucks. And it kind of fucks up things for the professionals.
BIKERUMOR: Something that Richard Sachs – he writes a lot about this.
ERIK: Oh yeah.
BIKERUMOR: It’s funny. He wrote a piece in show daily for NAHBS one year – and I was bored and stuck working a booth. I read it and I was like “oh god, that’s exactly why something isn’t quite right.” You’ve got legit masters – people who have built thousands of bikes, who laid down beads until they got to a certain point with their craft where they have this celestial mastery… in this room where you have all these new kids. Don’t get me wrong, everyone has to start somewhere.
ERIK: That’s for sure!
BIKERUMOR: And this new new builder community who is like “I don’t understand why I can’t just buy a booth next to these guys!” It’s like, if you don’t have respect for the craft and respect for your master predecessors, then why are you here? Why are you doing this?
ERIK: It’s very self gratifying. It’s funny that you’ve mentioned that because I’ve said the same thing as Richard for years, but I didn’t say it as eloquently. Like, dude, just because you get the mill and the fixture, it don’t mean shit. You have to go through life and make mistakes, and take the journey. You have to earn it. It’s different than just making it.
I live in a very well-to-do college community. They zoom around in their Land Cruisers. They didn’t earn them, so they treat them like shit. I have a ‘91 Dodge that I kind of baby. And people are, like “it’s just a piece of shit truck.” And I’m like “…that will never move your couch or pick you up because you called it a piece of shit. It’s MY piece of shit. I earned it. I worked for it.” So failures and how you deal with them help you earn your craft. That said, you said that I’m the loudest pipsqueak you’ll ever hear – what I do is loud, and a lot of people don’t know Peacock Groove because I’m not about the internet. For 14 years we went without a fucking website.
BIKERUMOR: It’s not like you have a marketing guy who is constantly pushing your images out there.
ERIK: It’s all me! Whenever you see something on Facebook or Instagram, I just took that picture and did it. It’s live. I don’t go home and go “I’m going to post a picture I took two weeks ago on Instagram.” No, it’s all live as it happens.
That being said, there was a year that I took some bikes and a guy named Dario Pegoretti came to look at them. This was an infamous year – a bike that I made that I no longer wish to discuss because no one wants to listen, but the point is that this is what happened. I had the infamous Appetite For Destruction there, my Fruitstripe bike, a copper bike, and a bike tip of the hat to Kill Bill. It was four track bikes. And I was like, eh, fixie track bikes, I was like, man, I’m such a dork. I have all track bikes. They are going to think that I’m Broakland or something.
The point is that everyone’s like “who is this new guy? Who does he think he is?” They started a petition on the Serotta forum to get me kicked out and people were royal assholes to me. And I’ve never said it before but I’ll say it here. So we had some questionable art. Google it. I’m done talking about it. It was a reflection on my history and a bike made for my personal survival-ship. I made it for me, not for anyone else. I didn’t think anyone would get horribly offended because they have nothing better to be offended about other than a fucking bicycle… their lives are fucking cherry. Dario Pegoretti comes into the booth because Keith Andersen who painted the Fruitstripe bike said he needed to see it – it’s insane. So Dario comes in the booth. I know who he is but I’m not going to get on my knees about it or anything.
BIKERUMOR: It is a show full of those people.
ERIK: And he goes “I am Dario.” And I said “that’s who you are.” Here I am, chubby guy from Minneapolis, cowboy boots, jeans, sleeveless tshirt, tattoos, looking at this guy. Dario looked around the booth for eight to ten minutes and he really looked at stuff. From the eye of a master. and he finally turns to me and goes “I like. Very nice.”
ERIK: And he shakes my hand and goes “Ciao.” And after that, anytime I see him, he -we had dinner once- it was great. But yeah, when you look at Dario, you don’t think of a cyclist. Same when you look at me.
Sorry, I don’t conform with your fucking UCI racer body.
It hurts me, and it bothers me when people go “oh, you’re the new guy, flash in the pan with metallic paint jobs.” And I go “you’re interviewing me and you don’t know what I’ve done?” I don’t want to be me me me me me, but whenever I did a report in high school, you do research so you know what you’re talking about. Maybe you should know who you are talking to. It’s funny to be chastised online by people online who I don’t know at all, who are some pud walking down the street. To have people like Joe Bell, Don Walker, Cherubim, the guy from Sunrise, you, who go every year say, “if we know you’re at NAHBS, we go to you first because we want to see what you’ve done.”
And then you go home to read these horrible things that some internet jockey says about you- some pud in his underwear, who probably just got done throwing one out with nothing better to do but shit on something on the internet. I’ve met some of these people, but their tune always changes in person. It’s like, “you want to say that shit to my face?”
I hate when someone whips out their dick on the internet. That’s bro culture right there.
I hate it. I don’t want it in my industry.