FACTORY FIVE is a fixed-gear bike workshop which opened in 2010, run by bike-enthusiastic trio Tyler, Jeff and Drew. Originally from Canada, the U.S. and England, these three urban cowboys shake up the biking scene and bring the fixie lifestyle to Shanghai. This weekend, April 6th till 8th, they are organising the Shanghai ALLEYCAT race (check out pics here), a unique and non-linear bicycle race. Shanghai247met up with the F5 team, who took us on a ride through their two-wheeled universe.
S247: Tell us a little about the background of Factory 5.
Tyler: Well, in most western cities there is some kind of bike community space or workshop. They're just places to go and gather, use tools and hang out. When we started, there was nothing like that in Shanghai, no places for bike and like-minded people to hang out, so that's what we started with. We had a little bit of funding left over from our last ALLEYCAT race, which we used to buy tools and some furniture. It used to be an old room in a lane house with a little garden where you could turn up with your bike, fix it and hang out if you wanted.
S247: So what makes your workshop so unique?
Tyler: What is unique about us is that we're the only store in Shanghai that starts high-end, and the only one that makes fit bicycles, every bike is custom ordered. We don't have a factory just turning over the same thing every time - everything is uniquely done. We're also one of the few shops that assemble everything in the house, because we don't get our bikes preassembled.
Drew: Our initial concept was that we do something community-based. Our customers are guys who want to hang out, hence the lounge. They’re just people who are into bikes, people who see the benefit of cycling around town, and who have switched on to the kind of lifestyle that comes with riding a fixed-gear around town.
S247: How does the biking scene compare here?
Drew: In the past two or three years it’s really come along, but it is still at an early adoption stage. In London and New York it has reached a saturation point: 2 out of 3 bikes have a fixed gear, everybody’s on. Shanghai is still a little bit behind, but there are stores around introducing people to bikes and some sell really cheap stuffs. And when a customer wants something that is a little bit better, that is where we come in.
S247: How do you choose which frame to build and what components to use then?
Tyler: We don't really sell anything to clients that we wouldn't personally want to have under our ass, so no shitty components! In terms of frames, we started building and designing our own frames that we saw available in China.
Drew: We kind of started with this concept that said ‘find stuff in China that is well made’, this was our mission. There are about 58 items that make a bike, so we went out to find them. And we wanted a good version of each item; we wanted the guy who makes tires, and only tires, the best tires you can find. Our concept is to bring out something new at least every quarter; we’re now up to three frames that are our signature builds. We do all the graphics on them and they are all custom made.
S247: Where do you get your frames from?
Tyler: The frames we use are new old stock, they are made like 50 years ago, but never sold and were just stored in a warehouse. We’re taking these vintage but unused frames, which have beautiful graphics on them, and just strip them completely, rebuilding them to be like a brand new bike. Working with new frames is a lot easier, because we design everything and don't have to make any changes. Working with old frames however... people underestimate the amount of work you have to do to a Chinese frame to make it actually workable.
Drew: The nice thing with those frames is that you can't build a bike that looks bad, though!
Tyler: Yes, no matter what colour and design the client chooses, it always comes out looking good.
S247: Why do you think fixed-gear bikes have become such a fad?
Drew: It looks good! You look cool and you can get around. It is straightforward and easy to jump on and off. Most importantly, it’s a lifestyle, it comes with the whole package and you can integrate it - you don't have to throw on your cycling trousers.
Tyler: Yeah, it is aesthetically appealing, and it is also very practical: you only need two tools to take apart your entire bike and put it back together, you don’t need special tools to deal with all this cabling and gears and hydraulics.
Drew: We did a project with Lee Jeans who wanted to create a line of cycling jeans. The concept was relating to Lee Jeans being the cowboy's jeans, because actually fixed gears are similar to that - it's the urban cowboy of the modern age!
S247: Factory Five are also pretty active outside your workshop, what kind of events do you put on?
Tyler: Every Tuesday we host group night rides, they’re just really informal and casual. People show up between after work to 9pm. We have a beer fridge sponsored by Cheers In, so you can get super cheap nice beers, and you can hang out. And then we go on a ride.
Sometimes we also do beer bashes, where we pick a chain of convenient stores, pick a direction to ride through the city and each time we see a Family Mart we stop, everyone has a drink and then we go on. Now that the nice weather is rolling around we do themed ones. We did one for Saint Patrick's day, everyone had to wear green and got free Irish Car Bombs at our shop.
On Sundays we sometimes organise longer rides, up to 100 or 200 km, to go to Suzhou for example.
A lot of times we help out with other local events, at Yuyintang or help promote DJs.
All these events keep the community going and you never have to pay for anything as long as you sign up. Our events are always free, it is like giving back to the community. So things like the ALLEYCAT is our best way to really say thanks to all the people that support us.
S247: Tell us about the ALLEYCAT!
Tyler: The ALLEYCAT race is a free and non-linear bicycle race. You show up, we give you a list of checkpoints, such as local shops, stores, bars. You then have to go to each one of those places, pick up something and make it back to the finish line before everybody else. You can go anywhere you want and go to any checkpoint first, it's up to you.
We let anybody with any bike race, but we have categories depending on if you're man or woman, whether you live in Shanghai, and whether you're riding a fixie bike; everyone gets fair competition. It’s a big event and we turn it into a full week-end celebration. And everything is free!
Check out our photo gallery from this year's Alleycat race here!
WORDS: CAMILLE / JENNY / F5
PICTURES: CAMILLE GAZEAU