Stephen Bilenky wasn’t sure what to think when he got an email from the U.S. State Department on May 23 asking whether he could make a bike — in less than two weeks.
That was a big request for Bilenky Cycle Works in Philadelphia’s Olney section, a small business whose customers may have to wait at least six months for a bicycle and sometimes up to 18 months, depending on how customized.
What’s more, the budget was just $1,500. Prices for the 75 or so bikes Bilenky makes annually start at $4,500.
But when he learned the name of the eventual rider — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson — he decided to go on with it. “This is an opportunity” to raise his shop’s profile, he thought at the time. “Controlled chaos” followed, said Bilenky, who has been in business for 37 years.
Bilenky, 67, and his three employees pulled it off, finishing the custom frame made from Columbus steel and painting it by Memorial Day weekend. The goal was to have the bike ready as a gift from President Joe Biden to Johnson, an avid cyclist, at the G7 Summit in Cornwall, England. The summit starts Friday.
The bike is painted blue with red and white decorations to evoke the British Union Jack, signatures of the two world leaders on the cross bar, and U.S. and British flags on the head tube. It was shipped June 4. The matching, custom-painted helmet took longer, and had to follow on Monday.
One of the challenges of the State Department request was that the bike have as many U.S.-made components as possible.
The rims came from Velocity USA in Michigan. The hubs, cranks, and headset are from White Industries in California. Sram, in Chicago, supplied the derailleurs and gear shift levers. The saddle came from Selle Anatomica, also in California.
“It was a crazy 10 days,” Bilenky said.