Creative wheels spin old bicycles into art

Jon Bailey fished out the bicycle frame of an old 10-speed Peugeot abandoned in the muck of the Animas River near Junction Creek.

Not wanting to throw it in the landfill, the bicycle mechanic was not sure what to do until inspiration struck one day while working at Durango Cyclery.

He grabbed a ladder from the back of a customer’s truck and hung the Peugeot from the side of his blue house across the alleyway from the bike shop on 13th Street near Main Avenue.

For the last six years, the Peugeot has been suspended in the air by the chain of another bicycle that Bailey wore out riding from Durango to San Francisco.

“I continually have this vision I am going to take it down and make it work again,” Bailey, 31, said. It’s like fruit “hanging on the tree that’s not quite ripe yet.”

In cycle-crazy Durango, some worn-out bicycles don’t die after their last spin. They become art.

Bike frames find second lives as wall ornaments around town, but even the smallest rings and cogs lend themselves to creativity, too.

Deborah Gorton uses spokes and gears to make miniature sculptures of cycling figures with playful names such as “Unspoken” and “All Geared Up.”

“I’m finding lots of inspiration in bicycle parts,” she said.

Sandhya Tillotson heats up gears on an outdoor grill and then brands their shapes onto leather belts and dog collars.

“I used a blowtorch once (for the branding), but that didn’t work so well,” she said.

She sells the belts at regional art fairs and online for $40 to $65 at The belts have names such as Dirty Messenger and Mountain Singlespeed.

“It’s fun to make something that’s usable, completely functional,” she said. “I made belts for all my family members for Christmas. They still wear belts every day. That’s pretty neat.”

Because her fiancé, Joey Ernst, owns Velorution Cycles, she feels their lives revolve around bikes, especially with the number “of bikes we have in our house, in our shed.”

Her art is a way “to tie everything together.”

“I think there is something beautiful about bikes, in their own form. I think they look so cool,” she said.

Glen Shoemaker uses chain rings as stencils for his paintings, spraying over the chain rings to make designs on a canvas, sometimes using Plexiglas or mirrors as his backdrop.

He describes himself as an “obsessive mountain biker” who moved to Durango for both his art and cycling. His two passions fused together from living here.

“It’s Durango. There are tons and tons of bikes laying around,” said Shoemaker, a bartender at Carver Brewing Co., where his art often is displayed. “Bike parts are retooled and reused as something that allows you to shout out, ‘Hey, I love bike riding!’”

Visitors soon will appreciate how much Durango loves bicycles when a sculpture by Boulder-based artist Joshua Wiener of cyclists racing toward an imaginary finish line is installed this week at the roundabout on Florida Road.

Wiener does not incorporate old bicycle parts into his art, but he gets the fascination.

“People tend to make art about things they are trying to understand,” Wiener said.

Cycling as a physical experience is beyond words, “so artists try to make things to understand it,” Wiener said. “Really important things get thoroughly explored, and art can be a wonderful instrument for understanding.”

Bailey also finds an aesthetic in the craftsmanship and simple design of the bicycle.

“It’s the most efficient machine man has made,” he said. “There’s no reason we should be burying it or throwing it in the river. The bicycle can be run down to nothing and still work.

“Because it’s such a powerful machine, with that energy comes a beauty,” he said.

Bailey belongs to a local nonprofit called Bicycle Lemonade that restores old bicycles. Lately, Bicycle Lemonade has been making old bicycle parts available outside the alleyway by Durango Cyclery so people can make art.

Bailey said there is a lot of interest in making crafts for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge because Durango will be the Aug. 20 start of the bicycle race across Colorado.

“You have an event where 30,000 people are going to be here, you have artists getting together to capitalize on it,” Bailey said.

The artists often don’t know what they are going to make when they come for the old sprockets and chains because creativity does not happen until the pieces are assembled for a project. Then “the flow just goes,” Bailey said in describing the creative process.

“A lot of (artists) are probably fresh to working with bike parts as art, so their minds are just rolling in so many great directions,” Bailey said.

Bailey is grateful for the artists because he does not like to waste even old bicycle parts.

“It’s hard for us to take it to salvage because it will be melted down,” he said. “As much as we can keep it alive, great.”

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