Philly’s pedalling population pushes demand for custom-built bicycles

Philly’s pedalling population pushes demand for custom-built bicycles
Bike Expo

Philly is touted as a bicycle-friendly city and the growing population of cyclists is creating an increasing demand for bikes, especially custom-made bikes.

One place to view custom bikes or do research on builders is at the Philadelphia Bike Expo this weekend. Frame builder Stephen Bilenky organized the first convention in 2010 after attending similar events in California and Texas.

“I said ‘Let’s put on a show!’ and we did,” he said. “Philly’s a great bike town. And we’re not just about hand-built bikes.”

The expo attracts almost a hundred bike builders and companies and thousands of visitors. Bilenky hopes that this will be the biggest and most attended expo to date.

“There’s a contingent of bicycle aficionados,” said Bilenky. “They’re like model railroaders. They collect.”

Bilenky builds custom bike frames at his store in North Philadelphia. He said that the interest in custom bikes has increased over the years. His own company, Bilenky Bicycle Works, has enjoyed a steady business, even though the number of frame builders in Philadelphia has quadrupled in the past decade.

The Philadelphia Bike Expo has boomed since its first year. The Expo was originally held at the Armory on South 23rd Street, but it outgrew the venue and moved in 2014 to the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Steve McGuire calls the expo a “must for the frame-building world.” He is scheduled on Saturday to conduct a seminar called “Design, Build, Ride,” which covers such topics as how to weld and build frames.

McGuire, who teaches bike-frame building courses at Iowa University, can build a bike in a day if he needs to. However, the process is usually much more time-consuming.

“A brazed frame will take 40 to upwards of 80 hours if it’s really involved,” he said.

“The bicycle is such a personal object,” he added “The difference between custom bikes and a bike that’s made on the shop floor is that it’s made exactly for you and your riding style. I tell people that they haven’t ridden a bike until they ride one that’s made especially for them.”

Other panels at the expo cover such subjects as cycling attire for women, endurance cycling and the street smarts of cycling. Bilenky said that 40 percent of vendors and presenters at this weekend’s event are new to the Philly Bike Expo.

The Philadelphia Bike Expo is held Saturday and Sunday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center (1101 Arch St.).