Steve Mitchell's Swing Bike
If you’ve ever been to one of our Show n’ Shines, chances are you’ve had a glimpse of Steve Mitchell’s (in)famous swing bike. You may have even had a ride on it, which is a mixture of terror, frustration and pure exhilaration. Steve is kind enough to leave it here at Chromag HQ so we can rip it around out front whenever we need a break, or just some light entertainment (either watching or riding).
We got Steve on the phone to tell us a little bit about this one of a kind whip.
Chromag: Thanks for sitting down to chat Steve, I guess the best place to start is at the beginning! How did this machine come into existence?
Steve: Well you guys know I'm a bit of a bike nerd/self-proclaimed archaeologist of mountain bikes (ed. Steve has arguably one of the best bike collections in Canada if not the world!) and I have a fair collection of odds and ends here, so... what do you get a guy who has everything!
I dabbled in some art sculpture and whatnot, kind of just static non-moving things and Ian had given me a bunch of Chromag frames that I was gonna cut the head tubes and dropouts off and use them for art sculpture and had a few of these extra things lying around for the longest time.
So what prompted you to make the jump to something more alive?
It was actually The Show and Shine. For quite a while it was like, okay, I build a new bike each year, and then I think three years straight I had the same bike. So it was time to do something to make someone laugh! Who’s gonna show up with a Chromag no one has seen before ya know?
Well you certainly did that. Do you know what year that was?
Well we didn't have a show this year, and I had the swing bike at two shows prior to that, so it would have been three years ago, 2017.
I had seen swing bikes before and I've never really had much of a passion to build one but I looked at the junk I had and thought I could probably figure out how to do this. Like I say, I have a welder, I usually just make junk art sculpture out of it. I don't ever really do anything structural. I've never proclaimed to be a frame builder by any means and you can tell by the workmanship on that thing!
Oh right, so you actually welded the thing then?
Yeah, it was just done with a MIG welder and a gun. It wasn't TIG or anything.
Did you have a plan or a design or did you just start hacking at tubes?
I think I had one frame that I hadn’t cut apart yet for the sculpture stuff. I just basically laid it on the workbench and started laying stuff on top of it and taking some measurements. I didn't have a jig or anything, I just eyeballed it all and started cutting tubes!
I’ve got it in front of me here, it actually looks like it worked out pretty well!
I haven't seen that bike for a while, you know COVID and all, but it was a real hack and slash job. No real plan, just started at one end and worked my way to the other. I think it worked out pretty well, I didn’t have to go back and fix too much on it.
There’s lots of little details and touches on it, did you add them as you went?
I kind of got it to a place where I thought it was gonna work, and then I started adding those details. Like little chrome headbadges so that I could kind of brand it and make it cool and fill in a bunch of the gnarly cuts.
I’ve made a few basement bikes, I know a thing or two about gnarly cuts!
Yeah, no tube cutter here. I cut that thing with an angle grinder. Try to make circles with an angle grinder, not easy. You can kind of put a triangular notch in them and then file and grind and try to make it as round as possible.
The welds look pretty bad, but it was the best I could do without the right equipment. But it was all part of the fun.
There’s some pretty rad components on the thing as well.
I mean that’s a whole ‘nother story. I tried to put the most ridiculous sh!t on there. I mean Deemax wheels, King headset and a Boxxer for starters.
Ah yeah the Boxxer 151 is a highlight! Even the tyres are sick.
The weirdest is one of those HammerSchmidt things.
That works surprisingly well though. I know you didn’t put a front brake on, which makes a lot of sense having ridden it. Did you actually think about that or was it just luck?
I mean, yeah, I thought it would be dangerous having a front brake on it. I only had one brake anyway and that went on the rear and that's how it stayed. Anyone's welcome to try to put a front brake on, but I don't see any good that's gonna come of it! I think someone's gonna jack knife it.
Yeah it would just fold up I think.
Yeah and you certainly wouldn't want to be doing any sort of nose manuals on it.
Do you know what two frames you used? I think one of them is a Monk.
I think there’s at least 5 frames in there.
Three that are the main bones of it and then probably two others that are just little details for the gussets and holding up the pivot in the middle and stuff. And that extra part of the rear triangle.
What is that for? Just to stiffen it up a bit?
I had some extra chain stays and thought yeah I wanna put a support between here and there. I think it was off the Samurai or something. One of the hand built ones that had the nice machining on it. It was a cool piece and I thought let's do something wacky. It wasn't really needed but I wanted it to look super rat rod with different colours and as many different bits on there as I could put it without looking cluttered. I had an aesthetic in mind.
It's one of the most fun bikes I've ever ridden.
Yeah. In fact, I miss it.
Please don't take it away!
It's been there forever so I just have to come up and ride it more.
It's awesome. So fun, like initially you get on it and you don't know how people even do it. It's that difficult and that different and then when it clicks, you can bank that thing into a corner so hard.
Yeah, it's amazing, and you know it's watching people get to grips with it that's probably my favorite part of it. I mean aside from me getting good on it too, watching people at first when they don't think they can ride it, or those that think they can do it and can't. It's really funny you can get on that thing and ride it, or you can't and it's hilarious both ways but when you see people who really click with it, that's where it's pretty cool.
Watching people carve that thing is fantastic.
My favorite to watch is Matt Ryan, props to him. I think he was the first guy to jump on it without ever trying it, and was ripping it super hard and banking it into the corners. But then you go okay, well the guy’s a rally driver and spent time drifting cars and stuff so he just gets it.
And then a few other people come out of the woodwork and a few people that thought they could ride it and then bail. Everyone gets the hang of it eventually, but it's kind of not what everyone thinks it's gonna be at first.
I think I went through that exact sort of thing, where I thought I would just be able to get on it and go, because I saw people ripping around on it. I thought oh yeah, I'll be able to do that. But in the first couple of goes I just had no idea what to do.
It's difficult, people bind it up and push their hips the wrong way. It's kind of intuitive to a lot of people and a lot of people just don't get it at all.
I see there’s a Toonie welded in there!
Oh yeah there’s a bunch of hidden gems in there. Extra headbadge on the BB.
Did you win the Show and Shine that year?
I think it got forth or something that year, didn't make the podium.
Tough crowd eh, I think it deserves a medal.
You never know but I think the cats out of the bag, there won't be the shock factor if I enter it again.
I guess I have won two medals before in the Show n Shine. I’m no Tony Horn or anything but I have a gold and silver from previous bikes, that's pretty good.
That's not bad at all!
Yeah, that's right man.
Well I love riding it. Honestly, like at lunchtime if I need to get out and just get some fresh air or get away from the screen. Just going for a couple of turns on it brings a grin to my face.
You guys actually have a good place for it, plenty of paved space out front. I’ve taken it to Retalak and Revelstoke before but it’s super hard on gravel. We ended up getting drunk and riding it inside the lodge. Had plenty of bruises the next day I can tell ya.
Oh yeah, we sometimes try to ride it inside here at Chromag when the weather is sh!tty outside, far from easy.
It doesn't like to go slow. You’ve really got to sort of lean and commit into like corners and just keep the pedal tension just right.
It’s like your core, you have to keep your core tight. Almost push the bars away from you if you want to keep it from collapsing at slow speed.
It's weird yeah, you have to have a bit of momentum around the corners otherwise it'll just collapse under you, yeah exactly.
It's a beauty, I know that much! Thanks for taking the time to have a quick chat, and for lending it to us for so long!
Well as long as it keeps making smiles, I’m stoked it’s up there being ridden!
Hopefully it’s not too long before we can come down and shred North Van with ya.
For sure man, same for me coming up to Whistler. See you guys soon.