Stephen Bilenky was unsure of what to think when he received an email from the US State Department on May 23 asking if he could make a bicycle – in less than two weeks.
That was a big demand for Bilenky Cycle Works in the Olney section of Philadelphia, a small business whose customers may have to wait at least six months for a bike and sometimes up to 18 months, depending on the degree of customization.
In addition, the budget was only $ 1,500. Prices for the roughly 75 bikes Bilenky makes each year start at $ 4,500.
But when he learned of the potential runner’s name – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – he decided to continue. “This is the opportunity” to promote his store, he thought at the time. “Controlled chaos” followed, said Bilenky, who has been in business for 37 years.
Bilenky, 67, and his three employees managed to finish the custom Columbus steel frame and paint it before Memorial Day weekend. The aim was to prepare the bike as a gift from President Joe Biden to Johnson, an avid cyclist, at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England. The summit begins on Friday.
The bike is painted blue with red and white decorations to evoke the British Union Jack, the signatures of the two world leaders on the crossbar and the American and British flags on the head tube. It was shipped on June 4. The matching, custom painted helmet took longer and had to follow on Monday.
One of the challenges of the State Department’s request was for the bike to have as many US-made components as possible.
The rims were from Velocity USA in Michigan. The hubs, cranks and helmet are from White Industries in California. Sram in Chicago supplied the derailleurs and shifters. The saddle came from Selle Anatomica, also in California.
“It was 10 crazy days,” Bilenky said.