Craft Culture: Two-wheeled transformations at Peacock Groove

Dream Bike Designs

Erik Noren of Peacock Groove shows off one of his custom creations // Photo by Tj Turner

Erik Noren of Peacock Groove shows off one of his custom creations // Photo by Tj Turner

Even though he’s in his 40s, you can still catch Erik riding a trike around town. Unlike the children’s toy, Erik designed his nine-foot-long, 200-pound behemoth to plow through a snowy January day, haul hundreds of pounds of cargo on its platform trailer in the back and even accommodate seven neighborhood kids on a spin around the block.

“We’re like the tailors of the bike world,” says Erik. “We make the pants and the jacket that fit you. We don’t make you fit the bike.”

To build a dream ride like that, Erik spends a few hours with each customer. First, he’ll ask them what they need out of a bike. But more importantly, he’ll follow up by asking what they want. Sometimes it requires bending physical frames. At only five feet tall and 90 pounds, one of his clients requested a bike that fit their small frame. Erik fabricated one heavy enough to prevent the wind from tossing the client around when they ride. Sometimes it means bending time frames. When one of his clients confessed that they had cancer and wanted to know if he could finish their bike sooner so they could race and keep up their strength while on chemo, Noren put his other projects on hold.

“I put [the client] to the head of the line because, fuck cancer,” says Noren. “It was a truly great, teary life-changing experience. ”

When the designs are in place, Erik puts steel tubing to a flame and beings to work the metal into unexpected shapes as it heats up. What he hands back to each rider is a small piece of freedom customized to match his or her definition of liberation. After getting to know each person who buys a Peacock bike, Erik makes sure to sneak in a few surprise details that match the rider’s personality or story.

In 2009, Erik took Peacock Groove from a part-time business to a full-fledged career, but after a few years those custom frame requests turned into nightmares. By 2014, Erik was struggling to scrape together enough money to pay the bills each month, and even moved back home with his parents to save on rent. The full weight of running a business alone—from answering emails to placing orders—started to chip away at Erik’s creative spirit. Nothing he built looked beautiful to him anymore.

Then the Prince bike came along.

It was a project his friend, Anna Schwinn, asked him to work on; an homage to Minnesota’s own hometown legend. When Erik built the purple number in the fall of 2016, there were still days he considered retiring the Peacock Groove name for good. But something started to change. The 20-year veteran began to fall back in love with the process of hand building bikes. There was the feel of the metal, the heat that radiates off a tube when you’re welding it, and the progression of watching a bike emerge from an idea on paper to an object sitting in front of you.

Erik Noren's Prince-inspired bike // Photo by Zane Spang © 2017

Erik Noren’s Prince-inspired bike // Photo by Zane Spang © 2017

“I’ve never claimed to be a good businessman,” he says. “I’ve only claimed to be a good frame builder.”

So he got back to doing what he does best. From one his darkest times came his most award-winning and recognizable bike to date—with stainless steel cut-outs of the Prince symbol, Purple Rain lyrics painted on the wheel rim and laser-etched crying doves on the brake levers. Last fall, Erik’s Prince bike won the People’s Choice award at the Philadelphia Bike Expo. His frame wasn’t even listed on the ballot, but took home the prize as a write-in nonetheless. A few months later at the 2017 North American Handmade Bicycle Show, Erik’s bike swept two categories: best theme and the biggest award of the night, best in show.

“I’ll admit I cried later thinking about it,” says Erik. “Prince gave so many people so much joy. I have not had a more proud moment.”

Making that bike kept the doors open at Peacock Groove. The two months it took him to construct it gave Erik a new perspective on his work.

He cut back on 14-hour days at the shop, brought his sister Ann in to help him sort out the administrative side of the business, and now plans to expand Cake, his line of 24-inch fat tire bikes, to support his work at Peacock Groove. After all, bike racks are full of too many unimaginative designs, and Erik isn’t done rustling feathers yet.

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