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When my bike won the People’s Choice award at the Philly Bike Expo last weekend, I was encouraged by Tyler to talk about it here. I tend to not talk about my personal custom bikes because I feel that they are, well, personal. They reflect me and my personality and product needs… so they aren’t really anyone else’s business. When you write publicly, you share a lot about yourself through your words. My relationship with my bikes, especially my custom bikes, is personal.

But with pictures of this bike all over media, social and anti-social, it’s become abundantly clear that this bike, more than any bike I’ve ever had, is already extremely public.

So, friends, let’s talk.

Photos by Patrick Walker

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This story of this bike starts back in 2012- that was the year Erik Noren of Peacock Groove built the “Evil Dead” themed bike. It was splattered with blood, frame and disc wheels. The deep custom fork crown had horns! The Peacock Groove stainless logos had been torn apart and brazed in shards all over the frame and fork. The chain had chainsaw teeth brazed onto the links. It was a completely new way of interpreting a bike- it was ridable art taken to a new extreme. In a show full of beautiful bikes made by the best builders in the world, the Evil Dead bike was the unapologetic dark horse.

And I loved it- I loved bicycles and custom bikes before that point, but that bike blew my mind wide open and showed me that there was this whole new level on which I could appreciate them. I became a Peacock Groove Superfan at that point.

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Fast forward to last winter. I was bummed out because I felt this void in my bike fleet. I had three or so stock cyclocross or light touring bikes- and while all of them are good bikes, none of them really rang my bell. I found myself having to make compromises with every ride I took.

There are a lot of reasons why people buy custom bikes. Some do it out of physical need, some do it because they are in love with the craft or a specific builder- maybe they are collectors. Sometimes they just want something really, really cool. As far as I’m concerned, there is no wrong reason for buying any bike so long as it makes you happy, no matter what that bike is.

The reason why I get custom bikes is because I find I hit a level of maturity with a category or segment where I know exactly what I want out of a type of bike… and then I need to have it.

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But really, there more than that. There is a level of customization you can’t get from mass produced frames. Production bikes are designed to be safe and reliable across a variety of riders and riding styles. Everyone can agree that that’s important. So, bike engineers tend to design and test for the worst case use scenario of their product. That means that as a consumer your bike is very likely designed for someone heavier than you, who is going to ride the bike in a more extreme way than you will.

Also, production bikes are designed to be economical at scale. Sometimes, not all times, this means making decisions in the design process that sacrifice handling or fit at different sizes for the sake of a low MSRP over the size range. A lot of the time, it means sacrificing the level of precision of the geometry, finish of the frame, types and caliber of features, and types of processes and materials that can be used. And as far as styling, a given production bike is likely designed to try to engage the sensibilities of the masses- not to cause a lot of controversy. For most consumers, this is all fine and dandy. The bike gets the job done- it fits their needs and expectations, looks good, and they love it. That’s great; that’s the goal! Just like most consumers can go buy a suit off the rack and it works great for what they use it for- it looks good, feels good.

But then there are really nice custom suits from a professional tailor. The right materials for the application and fit and your personality, the right cuts, fantastic stitching, pockets and features everywhere you’d expect. Everything lays right, you look amazing, feel amazing. It’s a whole new level of product experience. For a lot of people, a custom suit doesn’t make sense. For a lot of people, it makes a ton of sense. It’s all about where your head is and your priorities are.

I’m a bicycle enthusiast. I appreciate production bikes- I just appreciate them for what they are. In the case of this project, I finally understood what I wanted out of a 40c knobby-tired bike (that I won’t categorize). I knew how I wanted it to ride and fit and feel. And I knew I wanted it to be expressive in a way that represented me. Until I had that bike, I would be dissatisfied with any ride I took where I should have been riding this theoretical machine.

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In the years since meeting the Evil Dead bike, good fortune moved me within two miles of Peacock Groove, the builder who set me on fire. When we started the project, We chose a Prince theme because it is unique to the spirit of our city and we were fans of his work. The build wasn’t going to be outrageous because outrageousness tends to be expensive. I’m a writer- those things don’t necessarily coincide. I was comfortable with that.

But then we lost Prince earlier this year. I was in tears on a balcony in London soon after hearing the news, listening to “She is Always In My Hair” and “Raspberry Beret” on repeat when I realized that the fate of this bike was sealed.

To be a Prince fan, especially one from Minneapolis where his good work is evident all over the city, is to love an artist who wasn’t just an ambassador for joy and love and celebration to the world but who also brought other artists and communities up with him. It is what I loved most about the artist. This bike would become a tribute to all that goodness and it would embody that passionate, joyous spirit on every level possible.

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Fortunately, Erik Noren was on exactly the same wavelength. When I returned home from that trip, he told me, “Well, now we really have to really do it.” Erik had couplers ready to go so that I could travel with it. I contacted the lovely people at Trash Bags, a Minneapolis bag maker, to commission a special matching travel case. Erik also starting having things made and making strange custom pieces for the bike. I largely stayed away- I had already given him my input. This was his bike to build, his magic to put into motion.

I asked to have the bike ready for a trip I took recently to Portland, and Erik handed me a naked frame. I built up the bike with parts from other builds and rode the crap out of it for a week. I fell in love with my new bike unfinished, naked, and unadorned (aside from the obvious adornments), in its pure mechanical form. My engineer heart was so happy.

And, because my good friend and co-conspirator Patrick Walker was with me, I have these beautiful shots of the bike in that format. What’s great is that what I’ll be showing you here in a few days is the build for the Philly Bike Expo. It’s beautiful and interesting, and there is a lot to talk about, but it is not the pinnacle build. You kids will see that at NAHBS.

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You’ll notice the inner tube around the rear brake- while screwing around with the rear Koochella Team Edition PAUL Components Klamper (because things are so fun to take apart), I managed to kill a spring. Shrug. This tube got me through the week without incident (but I wouldn’t recommend it).

The stainless steel Artist symbols waterjet cut to serve as waterbottle boss and seat cluster slot reinforcements- and random adornment.

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The non-drive seat stay is also something to note. It’s asymmetrical- which is something I enjoy on bikes. But it’s actually made in an exaggerated form. The initial bend for clearance made the frame look wonky rather than deliberate- so a second seat stay was bent with greater exaggeration. More curves to love, I think.

Look for the next part– where I will discuss the Philly Bike Expo build.

14 comments

  1. Brad on

    The finish build is amazing. We drooled over it a little…no a lot while at PBE. The custom saddle just made it pop. Look forward to reading the rest of the story!!

    Reply
    • Dockboy on

      I would say that the finished machine, assuming all new parts, probably cost $6-8k. The frame was probably half that, ignoring “buddy” pricing.

      Reply
    • Michiel on

      You do realise that this is not it’s final form? And every steel frame (apart from stainless) looks like this once it’s just finished and before paint.

      Reply
  2. AKBen on

    Really enjoyed this read, and it is beautiful to hear how much love the people of Minneapolis have for Prince. Keep writing, please, Anna!

    Reply
  3. postophetero on

    @Anna–while the finished bike is pretty bitchin’–I’d say the unfinished version looks pretty sweet too. You really needed two frames, this one to ride and the finished work to hang on the wall and never ever ride just ogle.

    Reply
  4. AlanM on

    Anything can get stolen. Does that mean that you don’t buy anything expensive ever? And what’s out of hand about custom stuff? It’s people selecting specifically what they want.

    Reply
    • Anna Schwinn on

      @2pacfan187 Yes. Erik asked if I was into asymmetry- that’s as far as it went. I mostly just wanted Erik to do what Erik does all day long.

      Reply
  5. romainpaulmoussetmo on

    you should have chosen the right head tube length to avoid so much spacers 3 cm ? under the stem

    doesn’t look so custom

    you should also have put the cable guides on the head tube rather than on the down tube to avoid paint rubbing when finished

    this saddle looks so cheap but if you find it comfortable …

    Reply
    • Anna Schwinn on

      As far as the headtube: standover, my friend. Especially when I throw big tires on this guy, I need it. And I wanted a more gently sloping top tube in the profile. Plus, the front end was designed around Peacock Groove’s headset, which has a tall topper option. Which looks gorgeous.

      The cable routing strategy was all Erik. He used downtube shifter bosses so I could adjust the rear brake and tune the rear derailleur. Which, after riding it, was a great call (especially after pulling it out of the box with those cable couplers).

      The Terry Butterfly saddle has been a game changer for me since I first threw it on a bike eight years ago. I can ride it in street clothes, I can ride it in lycra, 95% of the time, it meet my needs (though, I tend to use something more minimal on my race bikes). And yeah, they tend to be relatively inexpensive- something I’ve always considered to be an asset.

      Reply

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