Built to Suit

Stephen Bilenky works on a bike at his shop Bilenky Cycle Works. | Photo courtesy Bilenky Cycle Works

Custom bike building sees a resurgence in Philadelphia

While all bikes are good, some are extra special. At Firth & Wilson, the Spring Garden bike shop Simon Firth co-owns with David Wilson, the two will happily fix a flat, adjust a derailleur or upgrade a set of handlebars. Under the name Hanford Cycles, Firth also builds custom bikes, and is one member of a growing community of craftspeople doing so here in Philadelphia.

Custom bike-building, like fitting a suit, begins with a person and a specific set of measurements. While standard bikes are built to bear the weight of the heaviest potential person the manufacturer anticipates will ride them, Mark Weaver, of Weaver Cycles in Collingswood, New Jersey, says that he, and other bike builders, take into consideration a person’s height and weight, as well as the length of their torso, arms and inseam to determine frame shape and size, and the gauge of the tubing for the frame, whether it be steel, aluminum or titanium. Some materials are lighter, some heavier, but just as a suit can be made of wool or linen, “it’s all about the fit,” according to Weaver.

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Along for the Ride: Stephen Bilenky

If, like me, you routinely lust after the beautiful bicycles populating our fair city, then chances are you’ve probably coveted one of Stephen Bilenky’s custom creations. My first encounter occurred last spring on a ride with Curtis Anthony, owner of Via Bicycles. We were taking a rest under the cherry blossoms along MLK Drive when an insane tandem rolled up. It was light teal and deep purple.
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