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Friday, October 22, 2010

San Francycle: Where the Art Bikes Are

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 1:42 PM


Last week, we asked, "where are all the art bikes?" And delightfully, you answered.

And better yet, there's an opportunity to see a bunch this weekend.

For nearly 25 years, a man named Slimm Buick has been crafting bikes into works of art. You can catch a glimpse of him in Automorphosis, Harrod Blank's renowned art-car documentary, or just keep an eye out for him whenever you're in the East Bay.

One of Slimm Buick's incredible art bikes.
  • One of Slimm Buick's incredible art bikes.

Initially, he wanted to make art cars, Slimm told us. But he found that working on bikes has its financial advantages.

"Part of it was not having enough money to do a car or motorcycle," he said. "Then I was like, 'well, I like this better.' It's really difficult having a car in San Francisco. You could do one good car, or you could do many bikes."

Sometimes, an art bike starts with something as simple as a nice frame. Slimm picks up bits and pieces of bikes at shops and swaps, and estimates that he has enough spare parts lying around to make six or seven bicycles.

"I strip 'em down and add stuff and paint 'em," Slimm said. "I've done themes like an Elvis bike, and a red devil bike. One covered in cowhide and leather. Sometimes you want to do a big cruiser Harley thing, and sometimes it's like the lightweight French town-bike look."

It's impossible to hear Slimm talk without catching his infectious love for customizing bicycles. He's got a million ideas for what he can make, and he's so excited about all of them that he's frequently working on more than one at a time.

And what's even more impressive: Slimm doesn't have much of a workshop to speak of, since he frequently moves.

"Sometimes it's the living room or the back porch," he said. "I haven't had a workshop since I lived in an antique store."

Wait, what was that? Well, it turns out that as a fourth-generation San Franciscan, Slimm has a strong historian's streak. He's a vintage record collector and DJ, organizes "period" events, does antiques promotion, and in general seems to have lept here from about 60 years ago.

Even his dedicated work-ethic has an old-fashioned flair. He's ready to roll up his sleeves at a moment's notice, even if it means learning a new craft.

"I have a lot of bike tools, and sometimes you need drills or dremels or leather tools or metal tools," he said. "There's some stuff I learned out of necessity, like tooling leather." In the quest for the perfect art bike, nothing can stand in your way.

Looking to build an art bike of your own? Keep your eyes peeled for bike swaps. And we do mean PEELED. The SF Bike Expo used to do one, there was an annual August bike swap that stopped advertising but still happens, and Sports Basement hosted one almost exactly a year ago.

Or you can just check out Slimm's work this weekend at the Easy Bay Mini Makers Faire in Oakland. He'll also be at the Bicycle Art Salon, November 13 in Richmond. If you're going we recommend bringing your bike on BART, rather than trying to ride it over the Bay Bridge.

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Matt Baume


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