Sunday, March 23, 2008

Straight Talk from ANT Bike's Mike Flanigan

There are very few people who can build a bicycle that makes one half of my brain think, "Wow, that is one practical machine," while the other half thinks, "My, that is lovely." Mike Flanigan of Alternative Needs Transportation, A.K.A. "ANT Bike," is a member of that small group. The bikes he build are both beautiful and functional. They inspire me to believe that the population of the USA could get around on bicycles, while conjuring up romantic images of what a beautiful bicycle should look like.

So I sent Mike questions, and he sent me back answers. He proved himself to be a plainspoken man, with definite ideas and firm beliefs. He also revealed some plans for ANT Bike's future. If his new designs are half as nice as he suggests they might be, we are in for some good cycling times in the near future.

For more information, visit the ANT Bike website at

Ant Bike's Mike Flanigan in his shop in Holliston, MA
(Photo from his Flickr photos)

Q: You were part of the whole Boston-area bike building-scene back in the 1980s and 90s. To me, that looked like a crazy time of creativity and experimentation. Off the top of my head, I remember Chris Chance, Peter Mooney, Wayne Kirk, Rob Vandermark, and that guy out in Lincoln, MA (what was his name?). Plus, there were a couple of guys out in Concord experimenting with some of the first carbon frames. That was quite a conglomeration of folks building very cool machines. Who did I forget? What was that like?

A: Well that is a wide range of people that did not really have anything to do with each other, and there were a few more here and there. In no order-Peter White in Lincoln, Rygin, Tanguy Cycles, Merlin, One Off Ti, King Cage, Bomber Cycles, Rugg Road, Dick Ryan, Bill Darby, Bella Cycles, Mitch Neller, Ted Wojic...maybe a few more?

I would say that Rob V. is about the only one left, but then again he is more a factory owner. ;)

While I can not speak about many of the other builders, not having really know them closely I can say a little about my experience at Fat City Cycles, then again I cannot really say much about the inner working of Fat City Cycles, because that would make a lot of people upset (and may get me in trouble). Many people have a romantic memory of their Fat and or Fat City Cycles, and do not want to hear about the S,D and R&R. So that being said I will not go into detail on the web. I can say that it was a good experience for me as a young man, back then.

Q: Come to think of it, many of those folks are still building bikes in the Boston area. How have the dynamics of that subculture changed?

A: I am going to come out of the closet and officially say that I am now really sick of the word "Folks."

Ok, now where were we? Yes, the dymanics of the Boston bike building scene is completely turned on its head, which I think is a good thing. Before you had people working for little money and in bad conditions. Now you have a few respectable little factories and shops, doing some good work in safe conditions.

Q: On your web page, you state, "We are dedicated to building bikes for transportation that have the right combination of function and style." What does that mean? Does style ever trump function?

A: What does that mean.... Well I like a bike that has a nice level look to it where the bars, saddle and frame tubes intersect in a way that is pleasing to the eye and gives good balance (both in looks and function). To see the opposite of an ANT, just imagine a hybrid bike with a "sit up and beg" seating position or a bike with a lot of drop from the saddle to bars. Style never trumps function.

Q: The Boston Roadster... THE BOSTON ROADSTER!!! It is an amazing machine. Please tell me about the process you went through in developing that bike. Are they selling well? Who are you selling them to?

A: Thanks! I am always trying to come up with a "Universal Roadster" that fills a lot of wants and needs and at a good price too. I have changed the BR over the years based on what people would ask for. First I came out with the BR as a real low priced bike...then some would want to upgrade it (even though the bike had NO options). The next year I would change the bike based on those requests.

They do sell well, but not as much as the customs I make. Most of my customers want something a little nicer and more personal. The people that do buy them take a close look at the BR and see the value. The BR customer (and most ANT customers) is some sort of cyclist, but want a new useful bike that they do not have to really think about... just have it to use and be useful. Often it is someone that has been riding the same bike for 10 or more years (and does not have a stable of bikes).

An ANT "Major Taylor" (aka Iver Johnson truss frame)
(Photo from ANT Bike's web page)

Q: I feel bad every time I ask a frame builder this question, but here goes anyway... Given the time, energy and materials that go into each Boston Roadster, it is a screaming deal at $2K. But for many people, the idea of spending that much for a bicycle designed for basic transportation is quite a stretch. What do you tell people who balk at spending that much?

A: It is a screaming deal and actually it is just the opposite. Most people want a nicer bike or at least the parts [Honjo, King, dual E6 lights etc...]. The person that would balk at the price does not call me. I am working on a new model that will fit somewhere in between the BR and a custom. I am hoping this new bike I am working on will eliminate the BR and all the custom work that I do. If you think the BR is nice wait until you see the new bike. :)

Q: If someone came to you and said, "I want to invest in this company to build it up to the point where we can build 1000 bikes each month and sell them at $500/each," what would you say?

A: I would say "Take your little red wagon and go attach it to somebody else's rocket." Yes, I know that is harsh. If someone wants to start a company making ANT style bikes, go ahead and do it, that would be great. I am really not interested in working for any one ever again. So when someone wants to invest... that means... ”I want to buy you.”

Q: What are your thoughts on carrying a load in the front of a bicycle versus carrying it in back?

A: I like both. Like a lot of designs, ideas etc...there is a good and bad point to it. I do like having a little flatbed in the front. I often find useful things in the trash and with a front flatbed rack you can pile the suff on [old fans, bikes, chairs, end tables etc...] steer with one hand and hold (balance) the cargo with the other... can't do that with a rear rack and a milk crate zip tied to it.

Q: Who do you admire in the bicycle world?

A: I used to admire some people, but I am kind of burnt right now... so no one comes to mind. :(

A "Deluxe Light Roadster"
(Photo from ANT Bike's Flickr photos)

Q: Could we, as a society, replace cars with bicycles? If so, how do we make that happen?

A: Well sure... anything is possible, but that is not going to happen.

I would be happy if people in the cars would stop throwing trash in my yard when they drive by. People are not going to stop driving until they are forced too. You have to get rid of the oil to do that, but if you do that there might be a little chaos before life settles down (if we survive that), then we will all be in the recycling business and will be really hard up for tires and tubes....not to mention food.

If you want to get there, then there are many things you can do. Buy a kid a bike (anybody's kid), buy a bike rack for your local store(s), vote with your dollars (no bike facilties, no dollars).
However I think what would be most effective would be to somehow make bicycling for transport cool, fun, something to be attained. Now I know and you know that cycling is fun and is cool, but to catch the public you need the people in the public eye. This may be a shallow thought process, but I think that would work to get many people interested in cycling. Would that be enough to save the world?... probably not, but at least I would enjoy life little more on the way to the end of oil.

Q: What else would you like to say?

A: uuuh...Buy an ANT?

Q: What do you like for breakfast?

A: What do I like or what do I eat?

I eat a bowl of wheat flakes with silk soy milk unsweetened, OJ, black coffee from a press (actually I do like this).

What I like... bisquits and gravy... black coffee.


Unknown said...

Mike's a smart guy who goes his own way. His bikes are beautiful, smart, and if his mission is getting more people on useful bikes, and making useful bikes fashionable, I'd say that's a great mission and he's a raging success. I have nothing but admiration for him. Good luck, Mike!


burdenistic said...

I met Mike at the Nahbbs show in Portland. I have long admired his building prowess and his design aesthetic and meeting him was a real treat. We stood for a couple of hours and talked bikes, it was the highlight of the Nahbbs show for me, Mike is awesome and so are his ANT cycles!