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 V.15 No.19 | May 11 - 17, 2006 

Gallery Review

Chitty Chitty Bike Bike

Ben Lowney lets me take his antique bikes for a spin

Ben Lowney takes a cruise on the weirdest bike in his collection. “I saw an ad for the 'Swing Bike' in 1975,” says Lowney. “Donny Osmond used to ride one on stage during 'The Osmond Show'.” The rear tire has its own fork that's attached to the frame with springs. This allows both the front and the rear tire to turn. Lowney says you can do all kinds of tricks on it, including riding with one tire on the curb and one in the gutter. When I took it for a spin, I could barely stay on it—it made me feel drunk.
Wes Naman
Ben Lowney takes a cruise on the weirdest bike in his collection. “I saw an ad for the 'Swing Bike' in 1975,” says Lowney. “Donny Osmond used to ride one on stage during 'The Osmond Show'.” The rear tire has its own fork that's attached to the frame with springs. This allows both the front and the rear tire to turn. Lowney says you can do all kinds of tricks on it, including riding with one tire on the curb and one in the gutter. When I took it for a spin, I could barely stay on it—it made me feel drunk.

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.

Four months ago, Lowney purchased this Japanese bike off eBay. The “Road Puppy” is a fold-up model designed in the mid ’50s. It’s got 14-inch wheels, one of which is currently missing.
Wes Naman
Four months ago, Lowney purchased this Japanese bike off eBay. The “Road Puppy” is a fold-up model designed in the mid ’50s. It’s got 14-inch wheels, one of which is currently missing.

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 constructed this flying bicycle 10 years ago for an exhibit up in Santa Fe. He calls it his “chitty chitty bike bike” and claims it's extremely difficult to ride. For some reason, he wouldn’t let me take this one out for a spin.
Wes Naman
Lowney constructed this flying bicycle 10 years ago for an exhibit up in Santa Fe. He calls it his “chitty chitty bike bike” and claims it's extremely difficult to ride. For some reason, he wouldn’t let me take this one out for a spin.

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?'”

 
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    Peter J. Woods 7.23.2014