Alameda Magazine, May-June 2008
They may seem out of the ordinary, but the bicycles at Alameda-based Rideable Bicycle Replicas—the high-wheeled, brakeless novelties of the 1870s—are actually called Ordinaries. Greg Barron, the head honcho of RBR, which designs and manufactures these “passable replicas” of penny-farthings, says the prototypes of today’s bicycles were introduced as Safeties—so called because their wheels were the same sizes, making them safer because there was far less chance of a rider taking a header.
Barron, who hopped on his first high-wheeler at 12, has suffered only two ordinary accidents—a pretty good record, considering he’s been horsing around with them since his dad, Mel, (now deceased), bought the Oakland bike company in 1973 and moved it to Alameda in 1984. The company operates out of what was the family home plus an attached series of unassuming workshop and storage areas.
“It may not be fancy, but everything I need is here,” says Barron of Petaluma, who boasts skills as a mechanic, carpenter and machinist.
In its heyday, RBR employed 12 and churned out 300 penny-farthings a year, amping up production in the 1970s to manufacture cruisers and low riders. Today RBR and its three employees turn out about 100 to150 penny-farthings annually, retailing for $900 to $3,500 a piece.
“They are a kick in the pants. They’re so much fun,” Barron says.
The RBR line also includes pedicabs, hand-cranked trikes, tricycles, recumbent bikes, surreys and tandems. Custom work—bikes, carriages, a stagecoach—for Broadway shows, television programs and movies is also in demand, with RRB-made products winding up in Wicked, Deadwood, Lonesome Dove, Far and Away, The Age of Innocence, and What Dreams May Come.
Far from being a bike fiend, Barron is a developer who also dabbles in a great white shark diving business. He laments that mass manufacturing has turned bicycles, once a durable good, into a disposable one, and he firmly encourages repurposing and reusing goods rather than buying anew.
“Bicycles are all the same—these days more than ever,” he says, conceding that his personal philosophy may run counter to selling more bikes. “They all pedal, balance and steer.”
- By Judith M. Gallman
Reprinted from original article located at: