Sumoud Cycle Works is a one-man (at least for now) shop, fabricating hand-made, custom-built bicycles in the belly of the beast: Washington, DC, USA. From the outside, an observer might say that my focus is on “transportation bikes” or “utility bikes”, as distinct from flashy show-pieces. I don’t like this artificial division between utility and art, though. Every bike has some form of utility, at the very least for transportation. Otherwise, it’s not a bike, it’s a sculpture. Even the much-maligned hipster walking his or her color-coordinated, aero-spoked, top-tube-padded fixie down the sidewalk in a trendy shopping district is deriving some utility from it—attracting a mate, perhaps. And, really, what more utilitarian, materialist aim could there be than the reproduction of the species?
So, yes, I do endeavor to make sure that my machines are of some use to people, and I admit that I tend to place some precedence on a bicycle’s utility in the realm of transportation (call me crazy). But the point for me of making custom, “bespoke” bikes is to optimize the usefulness of the bike to its rider, not just to get from point A to point B, but to do so pleasurably, with perhaps some inspiration to make a jaunty detour to grandma’s house at point Q or a scenic spot at point M or the union hall at point W or to join a community bike ride with no point at all. A good custom bike, in the end, is the one that best helps the rider to expand horizons, create possibilities and multiply and deepen connections.
Even if all you want is a solid commuter bike, it would be a poor tool indeed if all it could accomplish is to get you to work and back. It should also give you energy and free up resources to do the things that are most important to you. Sure, you could spend a fraction of the cost on a department store bike, but instead of your time on the bike becoming the part of the day you most look forward to, within weeks your “commuter bike” will simply feel like a poor substitute for a “commuter car”—a sacrifice you make to save money and the planet. Your energy will be drained, and those resources you’ve saved? That department store will be happy to keep taking them from you in exchange for filling your basement/garage/closet (circle one) with junk. A custom bike will rarely—if ever—be a chore to ride. There’s no need to convince yourself that you’re “doin’ the right thing”, it just feels right. It feels right in your legs, it feels right in your gut; at the risk of sounding ridiculous, I dare say it feels right in your heart.