Recently, I had the opportunity to spend an hour at Toledo Bikes!, the downtown-based bike NFP "...dedicated to the recovery of used bikes, recycling those bikes through our volunteer and education efforts into the hands of others. Toledo Bikes! also helps to promote bicycling awareness through community outreach, education, and cycling events."
The shop is managed and run by Erik Bang, a sculptor and metal fabricator who also works as a teacher and mechanic in his various roles.
RT Photography: How long have you been working on the bike scene between Tuscon/Minneapolis/Toledo?
Erik Bang: I’ve been working on bikes since I was a little kid and at the age of 10 I started riding my bike 3-5 miles to school. Riding 10+ miles a day I needed to learn how to do my own maintenance on bikes and got books from the library and just started taking things apart (not always with the best results). After high school and in my 20s I traveled the country quite a bit and started visiting other bike co-ops, collectives, & community centers. In 1998 myself & a couple other people started the Milwaukee Bicycle Collective. Since then I’ve been involved in various other community cycling efforts from Critical Mass & community bike rides, to participating in national conferences of bike collectives (BIKE!BIKE!). In 2007 Erin and I moved to Tucson where she got her MFA and I spent my time working with BICAS. A bike collective that had paid staff and also a very wonderful art program. That’s where I transitioned from just making weird bikes and other functional projects to starting to flex my more artistic muscles.
RTP: What motivated you to start in on a career in bicycling/education/maintenance?
EB: Since I never had anyone to teach me bicycle mechanics, it’s always been my goal to help other learn how to repair and maintain their bikes. Most of the community bike spaces I’ve been to put priority on people fixing their own bikes with help from volunteers or staff. It’s only been since visiting BICAS in Tucson that I’ve come into contact with structured classes for bicycle repair.
RTP: What role does Toledo Bikes! play in the community?
EB: Mostly, having the ability to use volunteer work to earn a bike. It has also become a hub for people who bicycle to meet like minded. There is also the tools and workbenches available for use that allow people to do their own upkeep. All of this has defiantly helped people understand they are not alone as cyclists. Also the need to take responsibility for the maintenance of their own vehicle.
RTP: Do you see Toledo Bikes! growing larger?
EB: Yes! The how is the difficult part. Honestly the best we could do is be open for more hours. It’s been tough finding people who can staff so we aren’t constantly overrun. Also with having classes it would also be problematic to either close the shop during class times & almost impossible to have the class the same time as open shop. My dream is to see Toledo Bikes be able to have 20 hours a week of open shop & have a staff member who has the sole purpose is to help people fix their own bikes rather than doing repairs. Also being able to do more outreach events where we go to schools and fix kids bikes, or even better have the time and resources to teach the kids to work on their own bikes.
RTP: What do you like about Toledo? Do you see positive things for the city going forward? What do we as an urban environment lack that you’d like to see?
EB: Right now Toledo is being forced to change and adapt to a world where manufacturing is no longer a sure thing, and urban sprawl is not sustainable. More people seem to be moving back to the city center and amenities such as grocery stores, entertainment venues, and other shops seem to be popping up. Along with some of the roads being redone there are also some bikes lanes coming in to connect different parts of the city. I’m looking forward to that a lot. After living in cities where I didn’t even need a car (didn’t even get my license until I was 30 and it was needed for handyman work), this is the toughest city to bike in yet. When moving to Tucson I didn’t move my car for over 6 months after moving because everything was so accessible by bike. Glad to see that changing here. I’d like to see more bicycle parking downtown though.
RTP: When and where did the metal fabrication come into play?
EB: In Milwaukee around 1999 a small rag tag circus group call The End of The World Cirkus came to town and one of the builders taught be some basic welding skills. After that our bike collective managed to get a welder and I then spent the next several years trying to stick various pieces of metal together. I moved to Portland in about 2002 and managed to carve out a tiny studio where I worked on making weird and unusual bikes. Most of the bikes and ‘things’ created where part of creating visibility for a group called The Big Bang Cirkus Sideshow.
RTP: How long did it take for you to decide to try and put yourself out there as a sculptor/artist in the community?
EB: Well after welding for almost 20 years and creating more artistic objects for almost 10, I made that leap this February. Speaking aloud at a bar I mentioned how I wanted to market my art and maybe start an Etsy store. I’d already displayed my kinetic & other artistic work through BICAS, Art-o-Matic, & at Toledo Bikes!. My friend said I needed a deadline so I decided April 15th to open the Etsy store. With starting to build more stuff I was asked to do a few art walks and needed to open my online store early. Then after doing the art walk I was asked to apply for an art fair. It’s all just been snowballing since then. I’m actually having trouble keeping up with it being way too hot to work in the studio safely on some of these summer days.
RTP: Where do you find the motivation and inspiration for your art?
EB: From visual aspects I see in nature and representational mathematical patterns found in the world around us. I also take a HUGE amount of inspiration from the material themselves. There are already patterns, shapes, and visual associations with various different bike parts. Making functional objects such as tables and lamps comes partly from a practical side, but I do also love people being able to feel the texture of my work and playing with lighting.
Toledo Bikes is located at 1114 Washington Street, Toledo, OH 43604. You can learn more about their work and business hours here.
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