- This Week
05.10.11 - 6:02 pm | Steven T. Jones |
Paul Freedman, a.k.a. the Fossil Fool, is a singer-songwriter and builder of elaborate art bikes who lives in San Francisco's Mission District. Since 2001, when he decided to apply his Harvard University education to building custom bikes, accessories, pedal-powered products, and mobile sound systems, Freedman created Fossil Fool and Rock the Bike to sell his creations and provide a platform for his performances and alternative transportation advocacy work.
But anyone who's watched Freedman build and ride his creations — such as his latest, El Arbol, a 14-foot fiberglass tree built around a double-decker tall bike with elaborate generator, sound, and lighting systems and innovative landing gears — knows this is a serious labor of love by an individual at the forefront of Bay Area bike culture. We caught up with him recently to discuss his work and vision.
SFBG How did Rock the Bike start?
FOSSIL FUEL I was working at a shop in Berkeley and I decided to make my first bike music system, which I called Soul Cycles. So I had that other job at a bicycle nonprofit, which is cool, and that was the first impetus. I did two innovative things with my first bike music system: I put the controls on the handlebars, which I'd never seen anyone do, and I put speaker back-lighting to make the speakers look nice at night. I used a really nice CFL fluorescent lamp, and I started playing around with those and it looked great, so that was our first product for those first three or four years.
SFBG What was going on in the larger culture at the time that led you to believe your interest in bikes and technology was going to be fruitful or make an interesting statement?
FF I care deeply about biking and a lot of the people I was with did too, but I felt like the bicycle advocacy scene was not very effective when it came to actual outreach. I felt like the thing that had been really formative for me was this person-to-person interaction, in my case by hanging out with the guys who started Xtracycle, and going on quests to get ingredients for dinner and riding late at night with the music systems on the tour. I felt like those experiences were what made bicycling appealing, but the bike advocacy scene was using guilt trips and telling people you should ride a bike because you're too fat and you should ride a bike because there's too much traffic. And I felt like we needed to shift that mindset and really start focusing on the fun aspects of biking and the social aspects to grow the scene.
SFBG Do you feel like it has, and what effect do you think it had on those who weren't already riding bikes?
FF I think it's moving that direction. Even within traditional bike advocacy groups, those people are starting to really focus on their events and creating community, in a good way, and challenging themselves with doing so. And I think that's really positive.
SFBG Your timing also dovetailed with heightened green awareness — with a push for renewable energy, concerns over peak oil, and things like that.