Freewheeling bicycle culture cranks out fun
Ask geologist and bike nut Ranae Kowalczuk how many bicycles a person should have, and she’ll tell you the answer is N plus one.
“N plus one is the number of bikes that you should own, where N is the number of bikes that you currently own,” Kowalczuk, 30, told the Georgia Straight in the expansive workshop space at the back end of a house she rents with roommates on car-filled West 12th Avenue.
In other words, there’s always room for one more. Bubbly Kowalczuk owns six bikes and took time to show them all off at a Saturday-night barbecue. Between bites of quinoa salad and homemade burgers, Kowalczuk explained how her love of bikes morphed to the point where her collection includes a 46-inch (frame) Le Mans racer, a 48-inch Centurion racer, a Miele racing bike, a Care Bear “Care-a-lot” small bike, a pink clown bike, and a mini tall bike with odd wheels.
It’s the last one, simply tagged “Mini Tall”, that gets the most attention with its sheer size and irregular appearance.
“Mini Tall is two BMX bikes,” Ko-walczuk said of the twin frames that make up the bike’s body. “The bottom one is flipped upside down and it’s got the extended front. I drilled apart a cog set, and for some reason I wanted to make the bike more ”˜mine’, an extension of myself. So I put the cogs in the rough shape of one of my [forearm] tattoo components here [at the front]. These [tattoos] are crystal chemistry—so this is the atomic building blocks of silicate minerals.”
Kowalczuk recently graduated with a masters’ degree in geology and geography from SFU. She said she regularly commuted up and down the mountain on one of her racing bikes. Although she said that she found commuting rewarding, the fun she had going to events organized by local cycling scenesters was what inspired her when she moved to Vancouver three years ago. (Nicole “Nix” Bennett from the B:C:Clettes bike dance collective showed up at the barbecue following a bike performance at the Trout Lake Farmers Market earlier that day.)
“It was basically the June MC3 [Margaret Charles Chopper Collective] ride,” she said of her 2007 epiphany. “And I’d been going on a couple of MC3 rides and it looked so damn fun.”
Multiple chopper owner Kevin “Mitch” Mitchell is also not averse to fun. When the Straight caught up with him and his orange $500 Kustom Kruiser Slick Daddy at the May 29 Critical Mass bike ride, he was swigging beer quietly from a can.
“Well, normally I don’t bring it with me, but normally I’ll have a beer before,” Mitchell told the Straight in a later phone interview. “I figure a couple of beers is nothing compared to some of the harder things people do.”
Mitchell, who works on television commercials, also owns a hard-tail mountain bike and two “shyte bykes” he built in Squamish, where he is based when not working in Burnaby at his film space. One shyte byke was road-tested by actor Pierce Brosnan and now sits on top of the Choppers Diner in East Vancouver, he said.
“We were doing a Korean menswear commercial with him [Brosnan], and it was a very, very small, tight little crew,” Mitchell said. “So I just got my bike one day and he said it was cool, so I asked him if he wanted to sit on it. He’s a super-cool guy.”
Not afraid to tell a story or two, Mitchell refers to his first Critical Mass bike ride last year. As the group of riders snaked along Beach Avenue later in the evening, he said, they passed a couple making out on the side of the road. As the riders began cheering and hollering, the woman gave them a “full beaver shot”.
“In the States they show breasts, but in Canada it’s the Canadian beaver,” Mitchell said at the Critical Mass ride. “Maybe we’ll get a beaver shot again today.”
That didn’t happen, but hairdresser Steve Jiu, 35—self-professed owner of “Canada’s only carbon-neutral salon”—enjoyed the ride. Jiu, who grew up in East Vancouver, dresses up as Elvis at Work Less Party parties. At the May 29 Critical Mass, he sported his orange Fastback 100. Jiu said he bought it from a friend in Whistler for $250 and “it’s been a killer bike ever since.”
“There are different types of hairdressers, right?” Jiu said about his choice of bicycle. “I have a salon up in Whistler too. So, I’m kind of more a Whistler kind of kid. Twelve years ago, I wanted to be a snowboard bum, but that plan failed miserably.”
When asked why he rides a wacky bike, he summed it up this way: “More smiles per mile.”
And more smiles per dollar, according to Kowalczuk. “You don’t have to have a lot of money to have a lot of bikes.”