World’s Smallest Bike Shop Goes “Steampunk”

On sunny afternoons, Dale Matson, bicycles to The Claremont Velo (242-B, W Foothill Blvd), which he describes as “the world’s smallest bikeshop.” He leans his bike against the front window of his tiny storefront, which is completely filled with his rolling stock, some bikes ready to be sold and some still in the process of reconditioning. He puts his sign “Cash for Bikes” on the sidewalk near Foothill Boulevard, and then sets up his repair stand on the sidewalk closer to the store. Dale is ready to meet the world.

His specialty is classic steel bikes like a 1972 Paramount, with original equipment including Fiamme sew-up rims. He also deals in old bikes that he fixes up for town and campus use. He tells his buyers to bring them back and he’ll repair them for free.

My Claremont lodgings are next door to The Velo, which was especially good for me on this year’s visit. I arrived with a front wheel that would go flat and a frame pump that didn’t seem to work right. For $14 Dale provided new tube and labor on the wheel and may have coaxed my pump into action once again.

Then he showed me the bike he’s riding right now.

It’s a 1955 Olmo, with the paint removed and finished with non-glossy clear coat. It has a 3-T adjustable shop stem, a very early T. A. front rack, and leather wrapped grips. A Lord and Taylor leather purse (bought at a yard sale for $1.00) hangs on the handlebars and provides easy access to stuff he needs as Dale rides around town. The rear rack is early Jim Blackburn, dating back to the time when Blackburn was doing the work himself. Other components are from earlier times, and the modern Honjo fenders seem to fit the ensemble.

“It’s my steampunk bike,” Dale explained. When I indicated total ignorance of the term he continued, “Google it and you’ll find out what I mean.”

I did and discovered that the term steampunk was first used to describe a certain kind of literature but has expanded until it now is a genre of literature, a design aesthetic, and a philosophy. A blog entitled explains the idea.

“To me, Steampunk has always been first and foremost a literary genre, or [at] least a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that includes social or technological aspects of the 19th century (the steam) usually with some deconstruction of, reimagining of, or rebellion against parts of it (the punk)…But steampunk has become a lot more. What with all the cool contraptions in the stories, it was only natural that some people would decide to make some of them (or at least things like them). Thus, steampunk gadgets came into the real world. People has [sic.] ‘steampunk’d’ everything from computers, desks, telephone, watches and guitars to cars, motorcycles, and whole houses. These objects can vary from a grungy look of a forgotten antique to the shiny overwrought newness of a Victorian gentleman’s club. Think brass and copper, glass and polished wood, engraving and etching, and details for the sake of details. So, steampunk is also a design aesthetic.”

The blog quotes Jake von Slatt: “To me, it’s essentially the intersection of technology and romance.”

A web search brings up pictures of bikes that have been steampunked more elaborately than Dale’s “Red1” (“redone, spread out,” Dale explained).

As I bicycle around Portland, I see many city bikes that would be good candidates for steampunking: old steel frames, fixed up with improvised appointments, bikes that defy the passing fads of fancy bike shops. Dale, of course, will stay in Claremont where the California sun always shines.

But despite Portland’s rainy skies, this is a town where steampunk is right at home.

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