Custom Bikes from North Philadelphia.


Stephen Bilenky has been making bicycles in North Philly for the past 30 years. His company Bilenky Cycle Works started out as a repair shop, and then soon after morphed into a custom manufacturer of great looking and highly functional bicycles. The operation was recently the focus of a mini-documentary which beautifully illustrates the commitment of American small batch bicycle fabricators. The film illustrates the commitment and skills that it takes to make high quality bikes like these. And while a Bilenky bike carries a significant price tag, one can easily see that these people are not exactly in this to get rich. Things like these bicycles take time, effort and know-how – money seems like it is the last thing Stephen Bilenky is interested in.

While it seems that there are hundreds of small batch bicycle makers across the U.S., when you take a closer look at things you can see a movement that began decades ago likely because these guys wanted to do things better. Interestingly, the past few years have seen a resurgence in companies like Bilenky Cycles Works based on the same type of thinking from consumers: quality. There seems to be a critical mass of a certain type of consumer that is interested in quality and is willing to pay for it. Though, I have to admit, that the recent resurgence of small batch manufacturing has been mostly based on the same few categories of products like bicycles, small leather goods, jeans etc. I’m eager to see manufacturers take a leap and expand the circle to other types of products.

With that said, I don’t want to take anything away from people like Bilenky who have fighting this fight for decades and continue to turn out heirloom quality goods. While everyone can’t afford a handmade bicycle, it is good to know that there are people out there that are willing to keep these types of places busy. [Vimeo via Andrew David Watson]

Comments on “Custom Bikes from North Philadelphia.

    18milesperhour on February 23, 2013 7:34 PM:

    Great bikes. Even better vibe. YouTube search for “bilenky junkyard cyclocross” and you’ll see.

    cork grips on February 24, 2013 10:27 PM:

    nice to see bilenky on acl michael, come on out to next year’s junkyard race!

    mat on February 25, 2013 5:10 AM:

    really enjoyed that, you don’t hear much about “fixers” over here

    Andrew on February 26, 2013 8:36 PM:

    @18milesperhour @corkgrips the junk yard race is so awesome! I filmed one of the first ones and had always wanted to go back and do a proper piece on Stephen. Glad I finally got the chance!

    Ted Lichtenberger on February 27, 2013 11:35 PM:

    Long time reader here, I’m working on a documentary for one of my college classes on Whiskey in Virginia and really enjoyed this short doc. Got to respect that hustling attitude of just going out and doing the things you respect and want to see done.

    henrik on February 28, 2013 12:02 PM:

    @ ADW, great mini-doc.

    tim on March 9, 2013 1:10 AM:

    i’ve ridden different styles of bicycles over the last 25 years or so (more than half of my life); and the custom builders have been out there for as long as i can remember. the original customer base was very educated about how each of the tubes intersected, and how that would affect the bike’s handling. these bikes were built (out of steel) to last indefinitely. as proffesional mountain biking and road biking became more competitive, larger bike manufacturers moved away from classic steel framed sculptures towards aluminum, titanium and carbon-fiber speed demons. due to changing technology in components and in the sport itself; these bikes were obsolete after a season, maybe two. i believe that the same market influencers that are causing more and more people to buy quality products that will last, and be worth repairing (or maintaining), are pushing bicycle customers towards these small builders. it is great to see the little guys get the respect they have long deserved, on a non-bike page at that! thanks for the great article!

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