Sunday, November 1, 2009

Peacock Groove - Erik Noren: the most misunderstood bike builder in the whole fucking world

I first met Erik Noren at the 2007 North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) in San Jose.  The show floor was loaded with hundreds of booths, all adorned with the best that the world's greatest frame builders could muster.  Most of the wares were fragile looking sparkly things that urged you not to touch them for fear that they'd break, or worse, get smudged.

Then there's Erik.  His bikes were strewn about his booth haphazardly.  Some crept out into the aisles, and these had a different story to urge you.  The Peacock Groove bikes clearly said, "go ahead and touch me, but I may bite." The first bike I saw was his "Nuge."  A big 'ol tip of a snakeskin cowboy hat to Ted Nugent.  This beefy mountain bike was loaded with hefty racks, a camo paint scheme, and looked fully capable of going into the woods with Ted and hauling back big game.

I interviewed Erik for the Fixed Gear Gallery then, and you can hear those original audio tracks by clicking the link to the right in the sidebar for my Utterli account.

So now it's a couple years later, and I'm planning a trip to Minneapolis. I give Erik a shout and suggest that we meet. He's all for it. I've been wanting to see his new studio/workshop. I show up in Minneapolis with my Coppi S and S coupled bike, and ride on over to the Peacock Groove jungle on Saturday.

Erik meets me at the door of this very cool old factory, now a collection of artist/artisan spaces. I spend a few hours and get the whole tour. Midway through the day, two friends from Quality Bike Parts show up to get assistance on reaming threads and facing the BB and head shell of a couple brand new bikes.

Erik is a friggin' philosopher on just about any subject. He's neither shy, nor lacking the ability to reach for jaw-dropping metaphors. One such metaphor got him in trouble last year when he showed up to NAHBS with a new concept bike. This one was a tribute to Guns n Roses' album Appetite for Destruction. You Metal rockers out there might remember that there were two album covers that hit the market. The original, a cartoon depiction of a rape scene by master illustrator Robert Williams, was taken off the shelves after MTV threatened not to play the music video because of the cover's violent subject matter. It was replaced by a toned down version of the band's tattoo-esque logo.  The original cover, however, is something of legend in metal circles.

Noren decided he wanted to use the original album cover as a statement about rape, (the artist's depiction also includes an avenging angel poised to bring his wrath upon the perpetrator.) According to the original artist, Williams, that was the intention.  When the bike hit the show floor, it set off a firestorm of controversy at NAHBS. People demanded the bike be removed from the show. Erik, while outwardly defensive, was nonetheless perplexed and embarrassed by the incident. And it continued long after the show was over on bike forums around the Internet. The main dialogue was contained on the Serotta bikes web forum. You can dig it up there if you so wish.  But that's not what this story is about.

Nevertheless, that story is enigmatic of Erik. He tends to fall into these type of situations.  It happens because of his philosophy, which as much as I could tell, is all about not fitting in. Conformity in life, and in bike building, are things you should not expect of Erik.

What you should expect are new ideas, done in an assertive manner.  Erik isn't much for constraints and falseness of circumstance.  He's direct, some would say aggressive, when he says anything.  It's just his way though.

Peacock Groove makes some stylish, badass, no excuses machines, that fit between your legs.  Sure, Erik can come off as an opinionated jerk.  But I challenge anyone with that opinion to shut their own traps and listen to him for a while.  Moreover, look at what he does. He's a bike builder!  Don't judge him on his ability to speak in public, or make politically correct decisions.  Judge him for his bikes, how they look, how they ride, and how the make you smile and giggle out loud like a little kid again.

If you watch the video below, you'll see Erik in all his glory.  We were joined that day by two of Erik's friends, Chris and Peter.  He took this number as being a real audience and gave us a command performance.  From dissertations on his being wronged at the 2008 NAHBS event for his Guns n Roses bike, to railing on Rush Limbaugh, comparing himself to Liberace, or preaching the Gospel of Patrick Swayze.  It's all Erik.  Take him as you will.  Maybe wear your work gloves, so as not to scratch your supple hands when shaking his, or bring along that extra thick set of skins you've got in reserve.  He'll surely wear through the first few layers in a matter of minutes.  But, dear people, take him.  He's one of the most unique and original people I've met in this ever more jaded world of bicycling.

Peacock Groove - Erik Noren, the world's most misunderstood bike builder from Bill Palladino on Vimeo.

Big thanks to Erik for his time.

Thanks also, to his friends Peter and Chris who stopped by with beer to feed the crazed journalist in their midst.