The first bike Anthony Albers owned was a hand-me-down Huffy from one of his older brothers. “I turned it into a BMX bike – the banana seat was one of the first things to go,” Albers said. He was six at the time.
Hundreds of bikes and thousands of parts later, the South Omaha native and all-around good guy (he clears the sidewalks for many of his neighbors when it snows) continues to pursue the perfect two-wheeled machine. He’s purchased an average of six a year for the past 20 years, which he then sells, trades or gives away to those in need.
At any given time, there are close to a dozen bikes in the basement of the home Albers shares with his wife, Kristin, and their two rescue dogs – Sadie and Rudy. “A lot of people struggle to get by in my neighborhood,” Albers said. “A bike that doesn’t look like much to you or me could mean transportation for someone else.”
Once focused solely on bikes as speed machines, Albers was eventually convinced to slow down and experience the joy of road riding. This transition, coupled with his passion for good works and custom builds, eventually led him to the Omaha Bicycle Company (OBC) in Benson.
“If you bike in Omaha, it’s only a matter of time before you hear someone mention Sarah (Johnson),” Albers said. “A friend said I should meet her, so I stopped in when I was in the neighborhood one day.”
Johnson, who founded the OBC in 2012, is known throughout the region for her cycling advocacy, quirky charm and custom builds that roll out of 6015 Maple St. Albers said he was immediately drawn to the bike-plus-coffee shop’s comfortable, non-threatening atmosphere and the integrity of the crew inside it. “They’re running a business, yes, but they really want you to be happy with whatever you came in for every time you leave,” he said.
His current reason for making the almost hour-long winter bike ride from his home near 22nd and Q to Benson: to check on the progress of his custom build, a collaboration between the OBC, the Omaha Drum Company – which Albers owns – and Industrial Plating, a 3rd generation Omaha business at 19th and Florence Boulevard.
The group started with a design concept dreamed up by Albers and Kristin, who’s also a cyclist. “We wanted to create functional art,” he said. The build began by taking a once-purple Surly Straggler frame down to its steel base. Holes were drilled for the bike’s electronics, which were masterminded by OBC’s Jim Pattavina. A former DH racer with more than 20 years of experience as a bike mechanic, Pattavina has a penchant for solving complicated bike problems, even if it means fabricating a part to get the job done.
“Jim’s electronics knowledge is amazing, and both he and Sarah have a certain way of looking at you and recommending things here and there that really turn your bike into a machine that was truly built just for you,” Albers said.
The frame was copper plated by Industrial, and then bronzing was applied by hand to give it a weathered look. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the one-of-a-kind build – the group’s already logged 40 hours of work on the finish alone. Then it will be ready for Omaha’s streets.
His advice to others thinking about forking over serious dough for a custom build? “Forget the big box stores and the Internet. Support small local shops, and you’ll be rewarded greatly. And the next time you drive through Benson, slow down. Stop at the Omaha Bicycle Company. Get some coffee. Look around. Talk to people. They become like your extended family.”
Wanna ride with the OBC gang? No Spandex needed. Check the schedule here.