14 November 2011

Strange But True In NYC

New York City may well be the "Frankenbike" capital of the world.  Even if you live here for a couple of decades, you'll see permutations of bikes you simply won't see anywhere else.  

Today I'm going to show you two "Frankenbikes" that were parked near a train station in my neighborhood.

Until I saw the first, I never realized what, exactly, my commuter bikes have always lacked:

They are mountain bike "bar ends," which were very much in vogue during the mid-'90's.  I used a pair myself.  There was a good reason for them:  Mountain bikes, at least as they were configured then, didn't offer a variety of hand positions.  That could be very tiring on a ride of an hour or more. So, bar ends like these were made to clamp on the ends of flat bars.  Most, like these, used a wraparound clamp; a few had ends that inserted into the handlebar, much like a bar-end shifter or brake lever.

Here, the person mounted them on the middle of the handlebar to get an "aero" position.  That's exactly what the  owner of that bike needs.

It's a Schwinn Suburban from, I'd guess, the early 1970's or thereabouts.  Essentially, it was a Varsity or Continental with upright bars, fenders and a single rather than a double chainring in the front.  Like the Varsity or Continental, it's a tank.   At least the "aerobars" can  help its rider lop a few seconds off his or her commute.

The bike also has a generator lighting system.  I wonder whether it works.  Lots of people buy or inherit used bikes like that one that have generator lights on them.  Often, the person who buys or inherits the used bike never even knows whether or not the lights actually work, for they do no night riding--or, perhaps, even know how to use the light.  Or the person riding the bike may well know that the light doesn't work but simply doesn't bother to take it off.

At least the generator and lights are where they're supposed to be.  The same can't always be said for any bike you'll see parked here in NYC:

A headlight in a water bottle cage--on the top tube of a women's bike?  In some crazy way, it seems ingenious.  After all, the light on that bike is in a less prone position than it would be on other parts of the bike.  Plus, it could be really useful for checking runs in my stockings or rips in my pants legs.

No kind of bike paint job is more widely detested, justly so, than the '80's fades. (Some of the most unfortunate samples from that genre were found on Klein bicycles of that era.)  However, around the same time, there was another kind of paint job that was as almost as bad, and common on European bikes (or bikes for the European market,at any rate).  I call it the tricolored Easter egg look:

The owner of this bike, or the person from whom the owner bought or was given this bike, probably brought it in from Italy or someplace in Europe, as I don't think this model was ever inported to the US.  In fact, I think that around the time the bike was made, Atala bicycles were no longer being imported to this country.  Some of their better models were rather pretty, but I was never particularly impressed with the rides of the ones I tried.  Plus, the workmanship was such that we used to joke that its paint and chrome flew off when the bike was operated at too high a speed. 

Anyway, even though these two bikes caught my attention, they're hardly the most mutated bikes I've seen here in New York.  Unfortunately, I never photographed the crazier bikes I saw. But then again, I'll probably see others that are just as zany.


  1. Hi Justine... I live in NY as well.. right outside of the city. I'm looking to make my own Frankenbike (I think). Inspired by Velouria's suggestion of restoring a vintage bike, I am looking all over Craigslist for the perfect one. However, when I'm done with my search, I'd like to find a good bike shop to help me with changing parts. I will probably need to come into Manhattan for this. Do you recommend a bike shop for this? Thank u!

  2. And ironically enough, the '80's produced some beauts as well, especially if they were single colored (and not neon or pastel). Sometimes the font would be hideous, but oh well. And they were pretty much steel bikes. I think the '90's had some of the worst graphics/color schemes, in my opinion. Not to mention '90's color schemes for outdoor clothing: I think it was a rule that everything had to be some sort of variation of purple/teal/black. Ugh.

  3. Teresa--Although its primary business is new bikes, I recommend Bicycle Habitat in Soho (and now with a branch in Brooklyn) simply because their mechanics are so good and they've restored many a bike.

    If you don't mind going to Brooklyn, I recommend B's bicycle on Driggs Avenue in Greenpoint. They fix and sell lots of used (including vintage) bikes and build and sell plenty of city/commuter bikes. It's a smaller shop and a bit less expensive than the ones in Manhattan.

    Adventure!--I agree with you on all counts. I liked the purple/teal thing when it first came out, but after a few million warmup jackets in that combo, I got sick of it, too.