Craft Culture: Two-wheeled transformations at Peacock Groove

Erik Noren stands in his workshop where he fabricates custom bike frames under the Peacock Groove brand // Photo by Tj Turner

Erik Noren stands in his workshop where he fabricates custom bike frames under the Peacock Groove brand // Photo by Tj Turner

Before Erik Noren started building bikes worth thousands of dollars, he paid someone $40 to steal one for him. He painted the two-wheeler blue, and then dunked his hands in purple paint and splashed it across the frame. At the time he was 18 years old. He only rode occasionally in high school and didn’t have enough money for his first high-end bike. After the heist, though, Erik hit the trails every day. Biking became a way of life.

“It’s about discovery. A bike can go so many places you can’t in a car. It’s like capturing the essence of being a kid again. They’re empowerment,” says Erik, 43, who later got a taste of karma for his early misdeed when someone stole the first bike he ever built.

Unusual experiences tend to follow Erik when he rides a bike. First, there was the time a Russian gangster named Vlad supposedly invited Erik into his tent for a sandwich. Then there was the time he ate lunch with Anthony Bourdain. Just the other week he saw a man walking a pig on a leash in St. Paul. But of all the odd paths bikes have brought him down, the most surprising to Erik is a career that spans more than 20 years.

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In that time, Erik has earned a reputation as the Liberace of bicycle frame building (a photo of the flamboyant entertainer hangs on the wall behind his desk). He launched his business, Peacock Groove, in 2002 with an adventurous flair for bending steel into rideable art that refuses to heed simplicity, tradition, or rules. In a world of bikes painted Robin’s egg blue, Erik’s tendency toward ostentatious design isn’t so much an aesthetic choice, but a need. When the 43-year-old fabricates a new design, he wants people to say one thing: “I’ve never seen a bike like that before.”

“I have to stand out. I have to create something different,” he says. “Every bike that I make, much like a peacock, has to be completely on display at all times: proud, loud, and beautiful.”

Erik Noren, the custom frame builder behind Peacock Groove, pops a wheelie on his Cake fat-tire bike // Photo by Tj Turner

Erik Noren, the custom frame builder behind Peacock Groove, pops a wheelie on his Cake fat-tire bike // Photo by Tj Turner

Ride or Die

As a kid, Erik felt a disdain for anything boring or basic. He stole sparkly nail polish from his sister to spiff up the look of his Matchbox cars, and was even disqualified from a Dungeons & Dragons figurine painting contest for adding a homemade arrow to one of his entries (only paint was allowed). Even back then, Erik had a penchant for breaking with convention.

“People think I’m spitting in the face of tradition, but I’d like to think I’m bringing it forward into my tradition,” says Erik, who borrows inspiration for his current designs from pop culture, Japanese anime, and cult-classic movies.

At 19 years old, Erik broke into the cycling industry when a friend got a job at Croll Cycles and told him to apply. Erik went in for an interview and when his future boss asked if he knew how to TIG weld, Erik lied and said he could. He got the job. At the time, Erik worked as a soda jerk, but overnight he went from making malts and riding bikes to actually welding them together. The new gig felt like walking in Wonka Land, full of unbounded possibility.

With two weeks of practice, Erik learned to weld like he originally promised. From there, he started to take on more responsibilities at Croll Cycles until the business folded in 2001. After that Erik rented a small studio space, borrowed $10,000 from his dad to buy a welder and a frame fixture, and opened up his own shop. The following year he launched Peacock Groove.

Erik’s approach to custom work takes on a new level of virtuoso and attention to detail few builders in Minnesota can match. For his most intensive projects, the frame builder modifies nearly every piece that goes into the finished bicycle—from the steel tubing and frame set, to the lugs, fork and head badge.

A few years ago Erik built a bike based off “Highlander,” the 1986 movie that coined the iconic phrase, “There can only be one.” To construct the frame, he picked a rare Columbus MS steel tube set the Italian manufacturer only produced briefly in the ‘80s. Then, he rolled the top tube of the frame into a smile, bent the chainstay into the shape of an “S” and added lugs to each socket.

Photos by Tj Turner

“Some people would say I butchered it, but I made it my own,” he says. “I took something people pay a ridiculous amount of money to get, threw it out the window, and made a completely different bike. The masters of building from around the world said, ‘I can’t believe you did that.’”

To the untrained eye, the construction of the Highlander bike might not stand out. However those at the top of the field are able to look past the extravagant style and recognize Erik’s level of craftsmanship and skill. In 2014, the tartan-clad bicycle nabbed President’s Choice at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. When Dario Pegoretti, arguably one of the best contemporary frame builders in the world, saw the bike, he called Erik crazy. “How did you do it?” he asked. It was then Erik knew he had made it.

Next Page: Building dream bikes

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