Chitty Chitty Bike Bike
Ben Lowney lets me take his antique bikes for a spin
My job isn't always a big sloppy barrel of monkey fun. Last week, though, when Ben Lowney let me take his antique bikes out for a roll, I honestly felt like I had the best job in the world.
Lowney is a prop master in New Mexico's burgeoning film industry. His job forces him to spend a lot of time shopping in antique stores, and he uses these occasions to further his hobby of collecting antique bicycles. “I've got a lot of stores pretty well trained to set bikes aside for me,” he explains.
Lowney also occasionally buys bikes on the Internet, although this method of acquisition presents serious risks. He indicates an Elgin Twin Bar, an art deco bike retailed by Sears in the late ’30s. “I got a pretty bunk deal on that one,” he says, explaining that an unscrupulous seller failed to alert him to the fact that incongruous fenders and forks had been installed on the original frame.
One of his best-looking bikes is a 1937 girl's model. “It's easier to find girls' bikes in good condition,” Lowney says, “because girls don't trash them as much.”
Other sweet rides include a Murray from the late ’50s, a Hawthorne from 1940, a Spaceliner from 1965 and a super heavy-duty Japanese Kikuichi model from 1957. I rode most of these and a couple others in loops around the parking lot just outside of Lowney's studio. Every one of them, in its own way, is a beautiful machine.
When asked about restoring his babies to a more pristine appearance, Lowney says he generally doesn't mess with cosmetics. “That's the way antique car collecting is going, too,” he explains. “Collectors want to see the whole history of the thing.”
Lowney moved to Albuquerque from Portland 11 years ago. He says that although Portland is supposed to be heaven on Earth for bicyclists, Albuquerque certainly holds its own. With a very small amount of investment in infrastructure, he believes Albuquerque could become a worldclass bicycling city.
Even as it is, Lowney enjoys biking around Burque, and who wouldn't with his collection of smokin' hot two-wheelers? “They offer a classic Sunday ride,” he says. “I love waking up and thinking 'Do I feel like a 1940s trip to get coffee or a 1968 low ride?'”