If you were to open a bike shop as a business, you know, a profitable business, you’d probably pick a location near people with money, you’d stock gucci brands with high-end models, and make sure you had plenty of gram-shaving bling and ELS to tempt the weight weenies. You most definitely wouldn’t put it in a blue-collar hood in North Philadelphia, next to a junk yard, and do everything you could to repair, not trash, your customers’ rides. And then build bikes that are flashy only in their attention to the subtleties and details. But clearly, Stephen Bilenky and Bilenky Bikes are not about the money.
In this short, flawless profile by filmmaker Andrew David Watson, Bilenky offers wisdom, insight, and a wry, knowing perspective on his role in the community.
We’re in “kind of an island in the midst of a residential neighborhood,” he says. “And this island is mostly inhabited by this junk yard. The location works perfectly because there’s really nothing frivolous about where we are or really what we do. Right here we see the end of automotive culture and other fabricated items that aren’t useful any more. Out of the environment, we’re making new, useful items that people want to keep for a long time.”
Of all sports, bicycle retail offers a home for the counter-cultural perspective, perhaps because bicycles play such unique and diverse roles in people’s lives, from fetish to utility to toy, and perhaps because even under the best of circumstances it’s a tough business. Guys like Bilenky aren’t rare, but to have their stories this well-told is.