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(Photos © J. Maus)
Neal Fegan will exhibit his distinctive bikes at the Oregon Manifest Handmade Bike Show (October 10-12 in Portland).
In some ways, Portland seems like the most obvious, and yet most unlikely place for Neal Fegan to have ended up.
Up until just a few months ago, the 32-year-old art school graduate and former bike messenger on the mean streets of Manhattan, was plying his trade in a shop under the big skies of Bozeman Montana.
Early this spring, he entered a few of his “sculptural velocipedes” in an an art bike contest being held in Portland. Then, one week before his planned trip west, he got evicted from his apartment in Bozeman and decided to pack up and move to Portland for good.
Trained as a sculptor, Fegan built his first bike on a whim about two years ago and was immediately hooked. “I remember the first one I built,” he recalled “I thought, holy crap, I can make it and ride it.”
“I’m a pretty quiet guy. I’m not like, ‘hey look at this’. I keep that for the bikes.”
— Neal Fegan
Since then he has launched Montana Transit Authority and creating art bikes has become his passion. “I wish I could just do this all day” he told me, scanning the bikes in his shop.
But for now, Fegan works as a breakfast cook at a bar in St. Johns, escaping into his shop under the St. Johns Bridge where his wild creations come to life.
Fegan’s bikes are a stark contrast to his subdued personality; they are equal parts chopper, rolling topiary, and kinetic sculpture. As he rode one of them (which he calls “Dog” because of its head and tail) in the parking lot in front of his shop, it struck me as something Batman would ride after Peak Oil hits.
But despite their eye-catching lines, he’s given them generic names like “Red”, “Blue”, “Wave”, and “Grey”. “I’m a pretty quiet guy,” he admitted, “I’m not like, ‘hey look at this’. I keep that for the bikes.”
And, at 10-14 feet long and upwards of 80 pounds a piece, his bikes have no trouble turning heads on their own.
Fegan attributes his building style to his parents and Legos.
His dad was an engineer for the Navy and his mom was an artist. “I grew up looking at art and engineering books,” he said. That might explain how he arrived at his distinctive 8-point steering design.
Several of Fegan’s bikes have a nifty steering system that he says was developed after seeing chopper motorcycles. “I like the way they look, but you can’t turn them because they rake the neck out. If you can’t turn, who cares how good it looks?! I’m a sculptor, I play with Legos, I wanted to do it differently, and it ended up working really well.”
Riding one of the bikes with the 8-point system, the first thing you realize is that both of your hands steer independently. It takes some getting used to, but once you’re rolling, the ride is smooth and you feel like you’re piloting something more than just a bike.
For Fegan, going beyond the ordinary is his main inspiration. About his “Dog” bike, he said, “When I was a little kid, I always tried to ride my dog…so I figured, now I’m making bikes, I might as well make a dog I can ride.”
See the “Dog” and more from Neal Fegan in the slideshow below:
Come and meet Neal at the Oregon Manifest show (October 10-12th). At the show, you can find out what makes the “Dog” so special (you can’t see it in my photos) and you can also get a glimpse at his latest creations (including a new pedicab/utility/work-bike design that could be revolutionary).