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Vintage bikes, new experiences

Isabelle Chapman
Special to The Aspen Times
Isabelle Chapman/The Aspen Times

Billy Taylor sits perched on a swivel chair in his shop at the Aspen Business Center constructing a camouflage bicycle that matches his shorts. As proprietor of Re-Cycle Art, a recycled bike business that transforms vintage bicycles into sleek, usable townies, Taylor feels right at home in his workshop.

“What I always have learned in all of my things is to create a niche,” Taylor said, running his hands over the camouflage frame sitting before him.

Taylor, a home-builder by trade, said his career as a bike-builder was a grassroots affair.

“One summer, one of my wife’s friends gave me an old bike of hers,” the 60-year-old Taylor said. “I kind of fixed it up and, well, someone bought it.”

Thus, the stage was set — and it has blossomed to a full-fledge business that includes a booth at the Aspen Saturday Market.

“I had one (bike), then six, and then they all sold,” said Taylor, a longtime cyclist who vividly remembers his first bicycle — a Stingray with high handle bars and a banana seat.

Of course Taylor never thought he would build bikes for a living. At that time, in 2008, there was little work in construction. So Taylor switched from remodeling homes to remodeling vintage bikes. He first worked in garages, and then began renting his own shop at the Aspen Business Center.

“We would take an old bike and shine it up and put some parts on it and put it out the door,” Taylor said. “Sell it for somewhere in the $590 or $690 price range.”

A lot has changed; today, Taylor’s bikes are prices in the $900 to $1,500 range. Patterned bikes always go for $1,390.

Still, Taylor said the demand for his bikes is high — and for a good reason.

“Most people have had these bikes in the past, and they don’t know what the heck happened to them,” Taylor said. “At a time when bikes are carbon, black and white — racing colors. We’re giving people a townie ride. It’s good exercise — and they’re classic.

“You’re giving people virtually a brand new bike, and it would have otherwise been thrown away.”

I can relate, as bikes conjure vivid memories for me, too: My first recollection of a riding a bike involves following my two older brothers on a 16-mile grunt to the local McDonald’s — just to prove to them that I could do it. I panted and struggled the whole way as I watched them ahead of me — laughing and lazily pedaling their way down the bike path.

And, truth be told, I haven’t owned a bike since a purple Schwinn I had as a 15-year-old — the one I used to bike to friends’ baseball games and down to the lakefront in my Midwestern hometown of Lake Bluff, Ill. I didn’t need a bike after that: I spent four years in college in Indiana, where everything was driving distance away.

But having spent the past seven weeks in Aspen, it occurred to me that I missed riding a bike. I’m moving to New York City in the fall and my trusty Honda will not be making the journey. Rather, I’m in the market for a two-wheeler — not a mountain bike, not a road bike, but bike I can cruise around on through Central Park.

As Taylor will attest, I am not the only one seeking a vintage or cruiser bike. It is an Aspen trend; it is a national trend. In 2009, the New York Times reported that a chic bicycle was a status symbol; the newspaper noted that Club Monaco, an upscale clothing chain, sells cruisers as an accessory to their collared shirts and penny loafers.

Of course Walmart also sells cruisers — a Dutch bike model, which is essentially a single speed cruiser with a rear rack and a kickstand, sells for $249.

But Taylor’s bikes are as much a piece of art as they are a piece of athletic gear or mode of transportation.

“I’ve developed a whole network of people,” Taylor said. “It’s all these bike dudes (from) all over the world who have time to go to estate sales and yard sales and get me bikes. They shoot me a picture, and if I like it I’ll buy the bike.”

Once Taylor has a bicycle, he will strip it completely bare, number it, and put all the parts into a plastic bin for later—he will reuse the parts that are still good quality, and the others will be tossed. The frame will be cleaned, buffed and waxed, and then sent to Grand Junction for what’s called pro powder coating, then Denver to be painted.

Originally, Taylor just did solid colors, but the past year he has begun to do patterns, as well. Taylor outsources this, sending the bikes to a shop in Denver that uses what Taylor calls an art fusion process to get the results he likes. The patterns are printed on a fabric and then under heat and a vacuum bagging process, the pattern is sucked into the white primer that is already on the bike.

When the bike is returned to Taylor, he uses reproductions of decals and puts them on the frame, and then he returns the original head badge to the frame.

From there, the bike is completely reassembled. Taylor tries to reuse what parts he can, but often adds updated pieces to ensure the bike runs smoothly. This process can be done in as little as two weeks.

“I think it could (work) other places too,” he said “But we’re an athletic town. Beautiful weather, and we’ve got people coming in all the time; different people all the time. It’s not like you’re selling too many (bikes) and there’s no one left to sell to.”

Plus, it’s a ride like no other: “When you’re riding one (a vintage bike), it’s impossible to take life too seriously,” said TJ Gill, who runs Underground Bike Shop in Denver, which is somewhat similar to Taylor’s Re-Cycle Art.

Having taken one of Taylor’s bikes for a test drive or two — and with plans to get my own vintage cruiser as I settle into life in the Big Apple — I can attest that this is true.


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