Pedal to the Metal

An East Village boutique offers vintage bicycles to newcomers and aficionados, alike.

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Speedy cyclist Lance Armstrong may have won the hearts of women from Hollywood to New York, but when it comes to actually riding bikes, it seems the trend these days is less Tour de France 10-speed and more wicker basket. Certainly that would be the case at the Landmark Vintage Bicycles store, where owner Chung Pai lives by the motto “One pedal, one block.” Not exactly a recipe for competitive success.

But then again, the cinematographer-turned-cyclist specialist is a big believer in maximum distance with minimal effort. His shop at 136 East Third Street in Manhattan is chockablock full with old-school Schwinns in offbeat shades like root beer, canary yellow and olive. Beyond the Schwinn Breezes, Collegiates and Suburbans, Landmark Vintage Bicycles has a few relics like a 1936 Sports Roadster with a tractor seat and a ruby red Triumph from the Fifties, as well as brand new bikes that are designed to look like old-timers from Cykel. All the better to suit his clientele, like downtown girls Agyness Deyn and Amber Tamblyn, who are nostalgic for childhood days of tooling around on a two-wheeler. Then again, maybe they just like the ice cold Slush Puppies he serves for free.

Sometimes the shop’s draw goes beyond the inventory of wheels, bike baskets and vintage handbags. Passersby often drop in to pet Pai’s Yorkie named Breeze, who can typically be found trouncing about in the window. The dog shares a name with one of the most sought-after Schwinns in the store, along with Collegiates and Suburbans, most of which hail from Wisconsin and Indiana, or what Pai calls “Schwinn country.” Founded in Chicago in 1895, the brand sold bike frames with a lifetime guarantee, and their double chrome finish outlasts what contemporary manufacturers sell today, says Pai, who started collecting Schwinn bikes two years ago and shooting the short “Love on a Bicycle,” his ode to the brand’s banana seat no-speeder.

Most of Pai’s two-wheelers go for $400 to $500, but 24-hour rentals can be had for $35 for singles and $50 for tandems. Trade-ins and upgrading old bikes with new wheels and seats are other options. But Pai prefers not to mess with their authenticity. “These bikes are kind of works of art so we don’t want to paint over Picasso, you know what I mean?”
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