Cargo Bikes and Wheelie Kids: Transport Cycles makes bikes fun again

Dirt Rag’s web team (Webatron5000) took a road trip to Philadelphia to check out some local trails, eat ice cream, and meet some of the frame builders and bike shops who keep the city rolling. We had the pleasure of meeting the crew of Firth and Wilson Transport Cycles and talking with Simon Firth, co-owner and fabricator. Transport is the local shop I wish I got to hang out in as a kid, full of cool bikes and all sorts of wild stuff strapped to the walls and hanging from the ceiling: life-sized fiberglass lion, giant head, old street signs, graffiti painted on the walls.

Victoria, Simon and David holding it down

Simon, mechanic David Wilson, and sales manager Victoria Firth invite the newest generation of shop kids to hang out and be curious. They have a designated corner under the giant head; the spray paint on the wall reads “wheelie kids” to let them know they are welcome right next to the small workstation for people to do easy fixes themselves. Other creators—frame builders who share machines, and even a glass blower—maintain other corners of the space. It is run more like an artists’ collective than a capitalist industry.

The Wheelie Kids are Alright

Transport’s focus is on city bikes—cargo bikes, commuters and hybrids, electric assist, and anything else you might want for living life on a bike in a relatively flat and expansive urban area. A bike on the floor that was in for repair was a Row Bike, which is exactly what it sounds like: a rowing machine on wheels. It felt exemplary of the weird, inviting, creative, and mobility-focused atmosphere of the shop.

Simon showing off his row-bike skills

“We started the shop as a cargo bike shop, a family cargo bike shop, and it’s sort of turned into a wheelie kid shop,” Simon said with a smile. Then he quoted Mike Flanigan of ANT cycles: “Not sport, transport.”

While Transport sells a number of brands, their own bikes are inventive creations that play on different uses of human-powered transportation. A classic frame hung in the foyer between the machine shop and the glass blowing station, painted like the trolley that runs outside the shop. In the shop showroom, a particular bike caught my eye. It had geometry suitable for hauling a house and finished, color-stained wood trays with notches cut by the corners for bungee straps, old tubes, or whatever the owner wishes to use to strap down their belongings.

Waiting for its finishing touches

“The sophisticated milk crate bike,” Simon said. “I prefer to build city bikes, commuters, randonneuring bikes. Cargo bikes.” I asked how much the market price was for the bike in front of us that had struck my fancy.

“$2850 as a fit like this. Generator Hub, hydraulic brakes.  It’s a nice bike, I love mine. That’s all I ride.”

Simon started building bikes in 1996 with Steve Bilenky. He left Bilenky in 2010 to work for himself and moved into this space five years ago. It’s shared with the other artists to help with rent, but the creativity milked from having multiple visionaries sharing oxygen will hopefully help them keep moving into the future.

Stay tuned for more stories about our Webatron500 Road Trip including an interview with Chris Hensel of Hensel bikes (which shares space at Transport), and check out previous stories like this one about carving up The Wiss.

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