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Second Time’s the Charm: Turn bike parts into art and more

Behind the counter hangs a rim with stained glass, made by co-owner David Zell’s father-in-law.
Behind the counter hangs a rim with stained glass, made by co-owner David Zell’s father-in-law. jleonard@newsobserver.com

Bike repair generates a lot of trash.

Bent rims, worn-out chains, popped inner tubes – all these things get thrown out in the process of getting a bicycle back in riding condition. Oak City Cycling Project, a basement cycling shop on the edge of Raleigh’s hip Oakwood neighborhood, doesn’t let it go to waste. Beside the trash can, the shop has a bin for ruined bike parts. Once a month or so, Mark Mitchell of recycledbicycleart.com picks them up and takes them home to make art.

“I work with about 40 to 50 different bike shops,” Mitchell said. Many were throwing away old parts, so he offered them an alternative. Riding bikes and being environmentally conscious go hand in hand, so it wasn’t a hard sell.

Mitchell’s creations range from candleholders made of bike chain to fruit bowls made of old gears. A combination pencil cup and business card holder – also one of his works – sits on the counter at Oak City Cycling.

Mitchell maintains he’s never really been artistic, though he’s always been mechanically inclined.

Two Christmases ago, he was in his garage, fixing various folks’ bikes and generating a pile of ruined parts, when his wife asked what he was getting his friends.

“I said, ‘Nothing. We’re guys. We don’t really do that,’ ” he recalls. “She looked at the pile and was like, ‘Why don’t you give them back what they gave you?’ ”

So he started making art, and it came naturally. He’s not the only one doing so, either.

Behind Oak City Cycling’s counter hangs a bike rim with stained glass between the spokes, a creation of co-owner David Zell’s father-in-law in Florida.

Overhead, photos on twine hang from a suspended rim, while elsewhere in the shop old bike parts are used in unlikely, though practical ways – many not requiring advanced skill. More creations are likely on the way.

“I definitely would like to make some more fixtures in the shop for displaying clothing or a bike rack outside, a more permanent one,” Zell says, mentioning that the nearby Person Street Bar is making a bike rack by setting old bike frames in concrete. Ruined bike parts, it seems, are great materials.

Mitchell and the owners of Oak City Cycling offer these tips for reusing bike parts:

Bicycle rims: Hang clothes, postcards or photos from the spokes of bicycle wheel tire and tube removed – suspended from the ceiling. In a house with limited storage space, it can serve as a nonraditional coat rack or as an extension of closet space.

Mitchell has seen people remove the spokes from old rims and weave twine through to make large dream catchers. You can also make a magazine rack by putting the twine through horizontally, he says, and then hanging the rim on the wall and attaching magazines to the twine.

Inner tubes: “Everybody pops tubes all the time,” Mitchell says, making them one of the most commonly thrown away bike parts. To keep them from going to waste, cut up the tube and make rubber bands. You can get a few hundred rubber bands out of each tube.

Or use the popped tube as a bungee cord. While it doesn’t have the hooks a store-bought cord does, you can still cut it and tie the ends around your car’s cargo racks. If it’s not cut, you can double- or triple-wrap it to hold things together.

If you have a workshop, you can double-wrap the popped tube around a 5-gallon bucket and stick your tools between tube and bucket.

Crank arm: The changing room door at Oak City Cycling has a pull made of a crank arm – that is, the metal bar that typically attaches to a pedal on one end and a gear on the other. Metzger built this too, Zell says. A large bolt is driven through the crank bolt hole, and large washers on the other side of the doorknob hole hold it in place. A quick release axle screwed into the doorjamb latches the door closed, ensuring privacy.

Chains: Oak City Cycling has a rack of earrings that artist Sarah Mills fashioned out of bike chain, while the bathroom door features male and female silhouettes made of the same material. “We had to break the chain in a few places to get the humans to look more human-like,” Zell says. Then they used epoxy to attach the chain to a board, which now hangs on the bathroom door.

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