Road Show

Valley bike builders are creating a whole new world of wheels

Necessity has been the mother of invention for 30-year-old Patrick Englert, too. "Initially, what got me into bicycles was a DUI at age 22 -- that forced me into loving it," he says.

Englert was living in Nashville at the time. A friend of his built lowriders, and before long, he started learning how to build his own bikes.

Ryan Murray stops for a picture in his workshop.
Jackie Mercandetti
Ryan Murray stops for a picture in his workshop.
Salvaged parts are used to create custom bikes.
Jackie Mercandetti
Salvaged parts are used to create custom bikes.

"The problem was, I had all these ideas to cut up bikes, but I didn't have any welding equipment," he says.

Now that he has the equipment, Englert's in need of a garage. In the meantime, he makes do by keeping his equipment in the hallway closet of his Phoenix apartment. A large shelving unit in his bedroom contains dozens of bike frames, wheels and metal parts. Three bicycles are lined up in his living room, and several more are in his kitchen. A tangle of old junk bikes and scrap parts is visible outside his kitchen window.

Tall, with a shaved head and easygoing smile, Englert has been living in the Valley for two and a half years, since moving from Richmond, Virginia. "I had no intention of coming here, but I knew there was work here," he says.

Currently, he's working at Trader Joe's and planning to enroll at Motorcycle Mechanics Institute.

Englert explains how he made his favorite chopper bike, which boasts ape-hanger handlebars, a Maltese cross on the silver tank, a large rear wheel and a tiny front wheel mounted at the end of an extended front fork. "I found a mountain bike in an alleyway, added 20 inches of pipe to the existing fork, and got the sheet metal for the tank from a pickup truck hood that I found." Alleys, auctions, garage sales and friends are just a few of the sources of material for his recycled creations.

He says his custom rides are more art than function. But since his car broke down recently, Englert is once again relying on them for transportation.

"It's not a very bike-friendly city," he says. "We need more bike lanes."

David Luckey -- known simply as Luckey -- spends much of his free time cruising from bar to bar in Tempe. The city's advantage is its abundance of bike lanes, he says. "Not having a reliable car, you tend to depend on your bike a lot, especially in this area. You can really just get by with a bike here," he says.

Tempe's relatively bike-friendly streets are the perfect playground for Luckey and his friends to cruise in large groups. The only problem is, bicycle people come and go. "We used to have biking for beers,'" says Luckey. "I hate calling it that, because of the police, but we used to have a really good turnout. It just kind of fizzled out. Everyone moves, and now it's just not as organized," he laments.

Dressed in a black rock tee shirt and shorts, with dark hair in a grown-out Mohawk, 25-year-old Luckey came to the Valley from Orange County, California, during high school. In the fall, he's transferring to Arizona State University from Mesa Community College. For the time being, he's happy just getting by on building bicycles.

"I haven't really worked in a while. I'm just not too into corporate America right now -- it pays, but it doesn't pay, you know?"

What does pay, Luckey's finding out, is selling his creations outright. During a recent trip to California, he was riding through downtown Huntington Beach when an admirer offered to buy the bike from him. Luckey was half kidding when he asked for $400, but the man didn't hesitate to pay him.

Now, he reasons that it was a fair price. "If you go to the Schwinn shops, you can get a cookie-cutter bike for three or four hundred bucks."

Without a doubt, Luckey does not build cookie-cutter bikes. He's made 10 from scratch, and restored and sold countless more old cruisers bought at thrift stores. One parked in the patio at Casey Moore's -- a mean-looking flat black, lowered and stretched model -- turns heads when he walks over to it.

Another, stowed in the back of his van, is a total statement of individuality; it's the cow bike, covered in fuzzy fake cow fur and adorned with a big pair of bullhorns on the handlebars.

"When you have a bike that catches someone's eye, you get noticed by vehicles more -- they kind of look out for you," says Luckey. Considering he was once hit by a car at Ash and University, it's yet another motivation to build far-out bicycles. He rides more defensively now, but also puts extra thought into building bikes that get a lot of attention.

Luckey works out of his garage using tools and welding equipment he bought after selling a few bikes. He barters with friends for parts, and scavenges for junk that he can transform into a bad-ass work of art. "I think that's cool, taking scrap and turning it into something -- that's the best way to go," he says.

And it's turning out to be profitable, too. So far, he's sold several custom bicycles without even trying -- just riding them is all the advertising he needs to do.

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