Dazed Digital


People's Bike's Tyler Bowa

April 13, 2011

Introducing the man who's created the fixed gear community in Shanghai

  • Text by Satellite Voices

Guest feature by Nicola Davison

Though China is somewhat synonymous with bikes, a fixed gear scene has only blossomed in the last few years. In Shanghai, this is largely down to People’s Bike, a web-based community organising group events, such as Alleycat races and bike polo, as well as where to get a good saddle. Behind People’s Bike is Tyler Bowa, a 23-year-old Canadian and Shanghai-resident, who along with four other fixie enthusiasts, this month is launching a ‘bike hangout’ called Factory Five. Factory Five specialise in customising rusty Chinese bike frames – the sort of bikes you still see oldies pottering around the Shanghai streets on – and making them into sleek, retro fixies.

Satellite Voices: Can you tell us a little bit about the old Chinese frames you're using?
Tyler Bowa: The frames we use to complete our builds are old classic lugged frames, from in and around the 1980s. At the time they were the cream of the crop, finished with beautiful artwork and cherished by all. But now they seem to have been lost, and we're trying to bring them back. Sometimes we come across some truly special ones, like a bundle we found of some Chinese Olympic Team frames. China used to be a world leader in quality bikes, and again is on the rise. So being here gives us a nice advantage to source out some really cool things.

SV: How are you adapting them?
Tyler Bowa: Like any good bike a lot relies on the components. We say you’re as fast as your slowest piece of kit. In that sense, we completely strip the old frames of everything, and build them with entirely new parts. Bottom brackets, hubs, rims, bars, seat posts, stems, pedals, cranks, chains - the works. We source the best of the best for our builds, to ensure quality for years to come. The biggest challenge has been finding parts that fit the old dimensions of these bikes, but it’s a learning process for us and we enjoy it.

SV: How has the fixed-gear scene changed since you’ve been a part of it?
Tyler Bowa: To be honest, when I arrived in Shanghai there was no scene. Nothing online, no events, just nothing. Then after starting the first bike polo blog in China, followed by China’s only bike blog website, things have really grown. It went from me trying to organise polo sessions and night rides, to now organizing the largest Alleycat Races in Asia. My site still remains the only English bike blog in China, and the only resource for bike related things in Shanghai. In the last year it seems like over ten new shops have opened up that have fixed-gear related things, and it’s only growing.

SV: How does the fixed-gear scene, and bike culture in Shanghai generally, compare to the rest of the world?
Tyler Bowa: I think that Shanghai is a one-of-a kind fixie community. For most riders here, fixed gear is a completely new concept. It’s fresh and untouched until recently in China. The cool thing about that is that there’s a lot of open interpretation: there’s no biased opinions that have been lying around from old communities here. Everyone is welcome, and we all form this super big collective. It’s a great feeling, and I’m yet to see that in any other city in the world.

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