Durango is home to weirdos, outdoor daredevils, and creatives, so it isn’t surprising that badass bikes – cycles that are cooler, or faster, or more unique – have always been popular with locals. These function-meets-fashion bikes tend to mirror the rider’s personality and interests, and act as a rolling example of just how interesting your wheels of steel can be.
Here are a just a few of the unique bikes terrorizing Durango’s mean streets. Maybe next time, someone will let us ride on their pegs.
Paperboy ThrowbackRick Elliott opened up the Durango Cyclery bike repair shop in the early 1980s, but he’s been working on bikes since he was a teenager. The Hawthorn Hercules, a bike produced by the British bicycle manufacturer Hercules Cycle and Motor Company Limited, is one of the rarest finds he’s encountered over the years. The name Hercules was chosen for its durability and robustness, and only about 25 of the bikes were produced each week. Elliott was able to restore his Hercules into peddling condition, and these days, the English three-speed shows us how bike culture has changed over the years.
TELL US ABOUT THIS VINTAGE BIKE.It was imported to America by Hawthorne, who made a whole lot of cruiser, paperboy-type bikes from the days when people delivered papers on bikes in the ’50s and ’60s. I believe it’s a Hercules. Most English three-speeds are made by Raleigh. I have a mens and ladies version of it. The ladies version was abandoned in the alley over by the bike shop. It sat there for a long time. It had two feet of snow on top of it.
WHO WOULD PURCHASE THIS BIKE?These old English three-speeds are (a) little bit temperamental. You need to have a feel for them to work them right, so you don’t break them while you’re using them. And, also, you need to take care of them because the parts are getting more and more difficult to find. For those reasons, you gotta have to have a love for the old English stuff in order to enjoy one of those, because they are not the most practical vehicle.
SINCE YOU’VE BEEN REPAIRING BIKES FOR SO LONG, HOW HAS THE INDUSTRY CHANGED?Here in Durango, when we first opened up, mountain bikes were a specialization, and those days they were called the Outdoorsmans. The mountain biking thing hadn’t quite started. There were people who rode high-performance road bikes, but most people saw bikes as childrens’ bikes, and there were a few people who used bikes for touring – to load up with gear to ride coast to coast.
When we opened up, bikes were a family thing. Every Christmas, a lucky kid would get a new bike. Most adults viewed bikes as toys kids would use through their high school years, and then they got a car. Bikes have now become very serious adult performance, adventure, exercise, thrill-seeking vehicles.
Bike of SteelEric Tomczak has more bikes than most people have shoes. Growing up in Durango, he’s been surrounded by bike culture since he was a little kid, but it wasn’t until much later that he discovered his love of mountain bikes. These days, he makes custom bikes that are as rugged and beautiful as the Colorado terrain at his business, Myth Cycles.
HOW ARE MYTH BIKES DIFFERENT THAN OTHER MOUNTAIN BIKES YOU BUY AT A STORE?Probably the biggest difference is that they’re made here in the United States. (The majority of bikes) that you would see at a bike store are either made in China or Taiwan. It’s the concept of local manufacturing, buying local, and supporting the small business as opposed to the mainstream way of doing things. Also, the material I use is steel, which is not as common in the bike world.
SO ARE YOU SELF-TAUGHT?I went to school for welding over in Cortez – a vocational school over there. I’ve been working professionally as a welder for about seven years now, and I always had the intent to build bikes at some point. I got a job with a guy in town named Ron Andrews, who makes (King Cage) water bottle holders that go on a bike. His thing is really, really high-end water bottle holders. It’s the nicest water bottle holder you can buy.
He was a toolmaker for a lot of the old bike factories back in the ’90s, when a lot of manufacturing was still in the United States. So over the course of working for him for, like, five years, I picked his brain and I built my first frame at his shop. He taught me a lot about the frame-building process, and from there it’s been a lot of (learning) on my own.
HOW MANY BIKES DO YOU OWN?N plus one. N plus one is a joke in the bike world. I have a collection of about probably eight bikes right now that actually function. My wife probably has that many bikes as well, so our tiny house has a lot of bikes in it.
Towering Two-WheelerZach Counter is a metal worker at Durango’s Carbon Form Design, where he churns out everything from custom furniture to electrolysis art. As an avid cyclist, Counter like to blend his metalworking skills with his passion for bikes to make Frankenstein bikes, including the crowd-pleasing tall bike, which is much what it sounds like... but cooler. Tall bike fanatics construct bikes that are much taller than normal from an amalgam of spare parts, and typically attach two conventional bicycle frames with one on top the other. The drive train is then connected to the upper set of pedals, and the controls are moved to the upper handlebar area. Got all that?
TELL ME ABOUT TALL BIKESThere are bike clubs in New York and Quebec and bigger cities. C.H.U.N.K. 666, which is the name of one bike club out of Philly, has been building them for a long time. Some of the first people who may have built them (in 1999) are these these dudes called the Zenga Bros. They are Canadian. They lived on a farm. They were really rural, and they were building tall bikes just because.
HOW DO YOU GET ON ONE?Like a horse – depending on the height – but like normal double-decker, (you use) a nice fluid movement.
TALL BIKES ARE NOT PRACTICAL. WHAT’S THE PURPOSE?Fun. Pure enjoyment. They’re really fun to ride, and once you get on them, it rides like a normal bike. It’s just pure entertainment. It’s really fun to bring it somewhere in the summer where there’s a bunch of people and letting everybody try it. They smile and laugh or eat shit. Some guy was insistent upon riding when he was super hammered on St Patrick’s Day one year. He ran into a car.
DO YOU SELL THESE?It’s a cultural thing that I can’t sell. It’s like, to ride them you gotta, like, be part of it, you know? Ride it, sure, but I’m not selling. I would never sell one as a product. Like, some Chad from Fort Lewis College, who is like, ‘Oh bro, I’ll pay you a bunch of money.’ It’s your mom’s money. No.
Custom StyleYou’ve probably seen Seth Shank behind the barista counter at Ernie’s, but bike enthusiasts will recognize him by his custom J. Livingston bike, which is often parked right outside the coffee shop as he pulls shots and makes pour overs for the morning caffeine rush. Shank’s J. Livingston bike is a stylish custom commuter bicycle made in Bend, Oregon, from repurposed steel bikes that were built in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s a rare find, especially in Durango.
CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE J. LIVINGSTON?It’s a company out of Bend, Oregon. They recycle old frames, so they take trek frames for cruiser frames or anything and they put new parts on it. They re-powder coat it, re-paint it, put their logo on it, and then they make it their own. So it’s all, like, super customized to their specs. You’ll see one every once in a while, but not too often.
SO NO TWO ARE THE SAME?Correct. So every time you see a J. Livingston bike, it’s always different. There’s not another bike out there like it.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE BIKE CULTURE?I grew up in Salida, Colorado, and Salida is very bike-friendly. It’s a small town, and you get to ride your bike anywhere, everywhere. Basically, I went like three months without ever driving in my car, so whenever I can ride my bike, I will. I love riding, especially in the mornings.
DO YOU USE IT AS A NORMAL MODE OF TRANSPORTATION AROUND HERE?Definitely, yeah. This summer, it’s a goal of of mine to ride my bike 90 percent of the year. It’s just a handful of days driving. I can ride my bike to work. It’s about six miles a day, seven miles a day.
DOES YOUR BIKE REFLECT YOUR PERSONALITY IN ANY WAY?I hope it does. I like more adventurous bikes. I like being fun with it, customizing it to match your personality style. Yeah, I think it’s fun.
The Lemonade bikeThe gold-painted, black-polka-dotted cruiser is a bubbly reflection of art teacher Shannon Cruise’s personality. Both Cruise and her bike, which she’s coined a “Frankenbike,” are wild yet functional. Her love of bike culture started back in college, when she had an old cruiser that she would take with her everywhere. She’s stuck with the bicycle lifestyle ever since.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR BIKEIt’s an upgraded generation of the one that I had in college. I got a bike from the (Durango) Cyclery. It’s one of the lemonade bikes that Jon (Bailey) put together for me. People drop off old bikes and the cyclery makes Frankenbikes. They take all these different parts and put them together with new chains, new housing, and all of that. They try to make them cost effective for people who don’t have a lot of money. You can get a pretty nice bike for $200.
DID YOU NAME YOUR BIKE?My mountain bike’s name is Wanda (from the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes”). She’s a middle-age lady who tries to break out of her patterns and try new things, so she nicknamed herself Wanda. That was her power name. I see my mountain bike as that because I want to do crazy stuff, but, ‘Oohh, that is kinda scary I could break my arm.’ So being wild, but under the guise of still wanting to be a responsible adult.
DO YOU THINK YOU RIDE A CRUISER BECAUSE OF YOUR LAST NAME?I would guess that is true. I have a little tattoo of my (college) cruiser bike. It was my get around for most of college. Rain, snow, or shine. We had a close relationship. That one was Old Blue.
Photography: David Holub