Ezra Caldwell’s father was a custom wood furniture maker. He grew up playing in the wood shop. He now lives in Harlem and builds custom steel bicycles. He was also diagnosed with cancer, both devastating to his life and what he had built his life around. He was given 8 months to live. That was in 2008. Made by Hand has released another film in their series that covers people who make things by hand. The new film is called The Bike Maker and features Ezra, who tells his story and shows how making bicycles is as much about making time for what’s important as it is about working within constraints.
Living in the Fast (Bike) Lane
“Actually making stuff has always been a drive.”
Fast Boy Cycles is where it all happens–A one man shop that takes on everything from design to fabrication for the one of a kind bikes designed around the person. Many years earlier, Ezra Caldwell had started out on the path of Industrial Design until he became disenchanted with how almost everything he saw was being formed from Styrofoam or done behind a computer. In a moment of inspiration, he switched his major to Dance. He taught dance for many more years and as the years went on, the realization that he didn’t like dance at all grew more pronounced. Trying to quit, he ended up getting paid to teach dance for 9 hours a week, leaving more time and an interest from students in his commuting habits via bike. Once he did finally leave dance altogether, he realized that building complete bicylces for people is what he wanted to do. That was only the beginning of his adventure. The 10 minute film from Made by Hand tells the rest of the story.
- Working in an artform where there are people you look up to provides a lot of excitement and encouragement.
- When you find out you have rectal cancer, and you like riding bikes, and the doctor tells you you can’t ride bikes, your perspective changes.
- You might die tomorrow, but what happens if you don’t?
Ezra on the bicycle building process:
The nicest things I’ve made have been in response to clear constraints. Simply heading to the shop to make something, anything at all, can inspire a kind of paralysis that writers have a name for. As a set of constraints, the bike itself is a pretty good start. It’s an elegant, beautiful design solution. But even there, even with the requirements of a frame and fork and two wheels, there turns out to be a lot of room for variation. It helps me to have a rider in mind. For me, the gears really get turning when I’ve got someone’s personality, skeleton, and needs to work around. So I’m looking for riders. I want to make you a bike that is built to your likeness. Your bike portrait.
If you’re interested in having a COMPLETE bicycle built by Ezra, you can order one though Fast Boy Bikes. Starting at $2200 US for a frame and fork, they don’t come cheap, but you can be sure it will be “built to your likeness.” Ezra also has a process blog on the site and a few process videos on his personal Vimeo channel, showing just what goes into making the custom steel bicycles.