(Photos © J. Maus unless otherwise noted)
[Welcome to Meet Your Maker, a new column where I’ll take a closer look at the many talented makers in our community.]
At first glance, 26-year-old Johnnie Olivan’s bike creations might seem more like art than functional bikes. But for the 26-year old Olivan, his Rejuiced Bikes are all about utility. I dropped by his shop in North Portland last week for a closer look at his bikes and to learn more about how and why he builds them.
One of the interesting niches Olivan has found for his bikes is among people with disabilities. “I got into that accidentally, but after I realized it works for them, it’s felt better than anything I’ve done. People are really stoked.”
For a recent client, Olivan created a custom trailer for a woman whose son has cerebral palsy.
Bikes for people with disabilities aren’t that easy to come by and Olivan’s can be made custom for any use. Previous projects have included a “wheelchair accessible social tricycle.” Check it out below…
Not only can Olivan make custom solutions for the disabled riders, he’s found that his bikes — which he makes exclusively using old used frames and parts that cost bout 50 cents a pound — are much more affordable than other adaptive bikes on the market. “And people are already tackling medical and insurance bills,” remarks Olivan.
What strikes me about Olivan’s bikes is how well they are put together and how smooth they ride. They may look a bit outlandish, but don’t let that fool you. These bikes are made to be ridden… and ridden by people of all ages.
And check the details…
But don’t start pedaling a Rejuiced Bike if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere. “My bikes are also about slowing down, seeing the neighborhood,” says Olivan, “you’re not going to go fast.”
One of his more intriguing projects is the Water Bike. It’s a three-seater with a roof that doubles as a rain-catching device. A series of tubes capture the water and then funnel it into barrels pulled by a trailer. It’s perfect for anyone who needs a mobile, human-powered irrigation device.
“I was thinking,” Olivan says about the water bike, “I’ll build something that would occupy the same space as a car when it’s parked, but it would actually do something while it’s sitting there.”
Another type of bike Olivan makes that does a lot while not moving at all are his custom food cart bikes. Olivan is excited about building more bikes like the one he built for Paige Common and her Eatin’ Alive food cart business.
Speaking of food, Olivan recently shipped one of this standard cargo trikes to Simply Grown Beef, a company in McMinnville that plans to use it to deliver meat to local customers.
Olivan estimates he spends about 100 hours on a typical bike project (he also paints them himself). With a price range of about $1,500 bucks, he’s not growing rich by any means; but like many local bike makers he is passionate about his work.
Making a living as a solo builder of unconventional bikes — especially when you rely on salvaged parts as your source material. Olivan says it’s becoming harder and harder to track down good used frames and parts. His vision is to someday recreate a bike manufacturing and salvage operation similar to one in his hometown of Tucson.
BICAS, the Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage is a space in downtown Tucson where anyone can go and cobble together used bikes to build any number of things. Missoula Montana has a similar facility.
For Olivan, bikes are all about utility, being resourceful, and using what we already have to do even more. And of course it’s also about having fun.
“When I think of being eight years old on this bike,” Olivan says as we pedal one of his trikes through his North Portland neighborhood, “I could ride all over the neighborhood with all my toys… Actually, I feel like a big kid now.”