Love on wheels

From electric hawkers to video high-flyers: this year's movers on the bike scene

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In honor of our annual bike issue, we wanted to highlight a few of the free-wheeling people that polished our spokes this year. Keep on pumpin'!

KAREN WEINER AND BRETT THURBER, NEW WHEEL

On a family-oriented strip of Cortland Avenue perched halfway up the precipitous heights of Bernal Hill, husband-wife team Karen Weiner and Brett Thurber have invested their all in an enterprise some would deem experimental: the first electric bike shop in San Francisco.

Photo by Mirissa Neff

"San Francisco is really the perfect place for these bikes," said Thurber when we went on a test ride with him and Weiner around the city. Iron-thighed fixie fans notwithstanding, he's right — there are some neighborhoods in this city where the average bear will only be able to bring a bike if he or she pushes it up the final blocks of incline. For older bikers, the e-bikes (as they are lovingly dubbed by their adherents) make it possible to zip around town, car and fancy-free. Plus, they are disturbingly fun — when else can you cruise up Twin Peaks and still be breathing easy when you reach that panoramic view?

Other stores around town do sell certain models of e-bikes, but Thurber and Weiner's new New Wheel is the first place to specialize in them. It stocks European and Canadian-made models in addition to retrofitting kits so that normie bikes can be tricked out with motors capable of doubling one's pedaling power.

Thurber says business has been steadily growing, and that he's noticed that the electric bike is not a purchase taken lightly by consumers — often times a customer will come by the store six or seven times before taking that heady ride into pedal power (perhaps indicative of the bikes' spendy pricetags.)

"People are really making this mindful shift instead of listening to us be like 'just do it,'" says the man who hopes to be SF's e-bike proselytizer. (Caitlin Donohue)

New Wheel, 420 Cortland, SF. (415) 524-7362, www.newwheel.net

 

PAUL JORDAN'S BIKE CAVALRY

Twenty years ago, Critical Mass began demonstrating the power and potential of mass bike rides to make a political statement by seizing space from cars and confounding the authorities. Almost 10 years ago, anti-war cyclists in San Francisco borrowed Critical Mass tactics to interfere with business as usual on daily Bikes Not Bombs rides that also proved effective and hard to police. Today, as the tides of protest again rise with the Occupy Wall Street and related movements, Paul Jordan and other founders of the new collective SF Bike Cavalry ( sfbikecavalry.org) are reviving and expanding the concept.

Photo by Tim Daw

"It's all kinda new, definitely more of a buzzword at this point," Jordan, a 38-year-old painting contractor, said when we caught up with him and his cycling comrades during last week's May Day marches. "But the idea is to use bicycles for activism."

As they demonstrated on May Day, even a dozen or so cyclists can send loud messages to passersby or nimbly create opportunities for marchers to safely seize the streets, all while riding more-or-less legally. And they can use whimsy — silly costumes, funny signs, big smiles, blowing bubbles — to defuse any tensions.

"It's hard to be mad when you're stuck in traffic if you see bubbles," Jordan said as he reloaded the bubble machine on the back of his bike. "I see bubbles as a very good activist tool."