For most of us, buying a bicycle, any bicycle, is cause for celebration. It’s the happiness tool. I’ve often written that any bicycle is better than no bicycle. I believe in that the way I believe in the love of my parents.
And yet, we dream. That you’re reading this now suggests you have lots of dreams: dreams of fitness, dreams of destinations, dreams of connection and, yes, dreams of bicycles. It is human to dream and for a cyclist, no dream is more obvious than of the ideal bike, the ride that will say something no just of our love for how the bike allows us to move, but as a means to tell the world who we are, in what we believe, in how we regard craft.
At this year’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show I saw a bike that was a kind of mania, an expression in which every skill applied, ever effort made, no idea too outlandish to discard. It was the work of a builder unfettered by time, unrestrained by cost and unleashed to the full of his potential.
It is a curriculum vitae in a single work.
The bike before you was made by builder Erik Noren of Peacock Groove for Anna Schwinn. Yeah, of those Schwinns. Noren and Schwinn are both based in Minneapolis and have a love for their town that is as much infatuation as it is abiding. They crush on Minneapolis. They also share a love for Minneapolis’ favorite departed son, Prince.
What you see here may not be your taste, but I’m going to ask you to set aside for a moment the question of whether or not you’d want this bike. Use this lens: Consider for a moment the bike that might emerge from a shared love of a musician’s body of work, the shared sense of loss in his premature death. Add to that the skill of a builder who has perhaps been less recognized for his skill than he merits. Combine that with a client who is a talented engineer and bike nut. What might emerge?
I submit that this bike is the ne plus ultra collaboration between client and builder. I’ve known Anna for a number of years. She’s smart like Carl Sagan, creative like Andy Warhol and determined like Sisyphus. She had the inspiration for the bike shortly after Prince’s death and went to Erik as a way to assuage their mutual pain in that loss; she’d already planned to have him build a bike for her, but in that flash, it went from an adventure bike to something that was more the way Jupiter is more.
For Noren, it was a celebration of what Prince’s music means to him, that the artist’s work was uplifting for the community and the bike became a way to honor that.
And then they went nuts. The nods to Prince are nearly never-ending. There’s the use of the Purple Rain font on the down tube. There are the lyrics—from “Purple Rain,” natch—painted on the purple-painted rims. There’s the Prince symbol that was cut from stainless steel and brazed on the top tube and the head tube, used as water bottle boss decorations and as a braze-on for a light on the left seastay. There’s the guitar pick from Prince (yes it was used, and it was sourced by a connection of theirs who had worked for him) that was epoxied on the stem. The saddle cover was printed with the Prince symbol. There are the purple-anodized adjusters on the Paul Klamper brakes. Anna did the design for the rotors that feature the Prince symbol. Any part not polished silver received coats of purple paint, including the stripes on the Silca frame pump. Gevenalle laser-etched a dove into the shifter and the brake levers. Doves were printed on the bar tape and the under layer of the tape is purple. Even the bar plugs feature doves. Erik got worked up as he told me of the symbolism of the seven white dots in the disc brake mount and how the seatstays were asymmetric because music is asymmetric.
This also happens to be the only Campagnolo-compatible Gevenalle shifter on the planet.
Additionally, this is a travel bike. Erik polished the couplers and thinned the points. Anna sourced a company that could make a carrier out of purple fabric.
I knew this bike was going to be at the show and I knew it would be in the running. As I walked the floor Sunday morning, I listened to music on earbuds turned up loud enough to antagonize my tinnitus and waved at people but didn’t stop to talk. I know I seemed … well, if not rude then at least on the spectrum. But I couldn’t linger. I had to search. What was on the floor that showed a greater expression of craft and vision?
I never found it.
What I marvel at is how this bike is exactly what the client wanted. This bike is intense. It’s a particular thing. An unapologetic thing. Anna shares that. She’s intense and you either have her back or not. I’ve seen her excited and upbeat in the past and never have I seen her happier about anything. That’s what we all hope for when we order a custom bike, the machine that is exactly what we wanted.
In judging, I suggested that we award it Best Theme Bike. Erik has submitted some of the best themed bikes I’ve ever seen. His Evil Dead and Highlander bikes are memorable, but the Purple Rain bike takes the whole damn cake. As a theme goes, I don’t see this being topped, ever. And as a result, we’re retiring the award with this bike.
I knew that when we announced this bike as Best Theme Bike Erik would come up (we also invited Anna on stage) and they’d both think that I’d just given them a consolation prize of sorts and that would be that. So when we announced that is also won Best in Show, we surprised them, and in that I took no small delight. I introduced myself to Erik some years back when, after all the awards had been announced, someone mentioned to me that he thought I didn’t like his work. So I headed to his booth, held out my hand, and we got to know each other. I love his work, and began to appreciate his vision even more once I got to know him. As Erik walked back to the stage, I leaned into the mic and boomed, “Psych!”
If this bike isn’t a dream come true, I don’t know what is.
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