Keep Bisbee Weird

“Have ya’ll ever been to Bisbee?” Ken Wallace asks us with his slight southern accent. We tell him no. “Well, it’s like Mayberry on acid.”

As if on cue, one of Ken’s neighbors pulls up in a dirty white pickup with an assortment of scrap metal or appliances stacked haphazardly in the back. They wave to each other. “He’s an interesting guy. He use to be in the Israeli army. Then he was a Chippendales dancer.” That indeed was strange, but plausible, then Ken tells us he spends half the year in France refurbishing 15th century castles. We are beginning to see what he means.

Bisbee, the city itself is a little strange. It is an anachronism. A living time capsule tucked in the hills of Southern Arizona. It was once a mining town, but once the mines were closed and industry left there was a vacuum. Instead of disappearing into obscurity, it became a haven for hippies and artists. The streets are lined with galleries, antique stores and a handful of restaurants that sit in the original historic buildings. It is strange and quirky, like no place you’ve ever been. When you walk down the sidewalks of the historic district something like cognitive dissonance occurs when you see modern cars and people walking down its old western streets.

An older woman with great flowing white hair in purple pants with a purple down vest crosses the street, halting the traffic with a wave of her hand (there are no stop lights in historic Bisbee). She use to work with Garrison Keillor, Ken tells us. The person sitting a few tables from us runs expeditions out of Denali. Another woman makes gourmet chocolate. A famous hollywood set designer is opening up a restaurant in town. Bisbee is not what it seems and neither are its people. “You can know people for years and not know what they do,” Ken tells us.

There is a casual elegance in Bisbee. Many of the cars are old and rusty in town. There is no need to show off here even though the small town is home to world class artists, internet tycoons and hollywood elite. Bisbee is a refuge. People can be as social or hermit-like as they please. They can indulge their creative fancy. It is a fortress of sorts for people with multiple lives and passions from the garishness and noise of the city.

And yet it also has its rough side. We were sitting at cafe when we overheard the people next to us talking about which guns they carry on them on a daily basis. One of them admitted that his was loaded with illegal exploding bullets. “You just never know,” he told his friend who nodded in approval. Bisbee is beautiful and rough like a raw gem embedded in a mountain of ore.

The Bicycle Brothel

The Bicycle Brothel is Ken Wallace’s contribution to the uniqueness of Bisbee. It is a collection of lightweight vintage bicycles, bicycle ephemera and some coffee mugs and t-shirts. Ken named it the Bike Brothel because its original location once shared space with a brothel and because he has a penchant for alliteration. In the shop there is a few track bikes from the era of 6 day races, a demountable pink Moulton, a few rare Cinellis, a refurbished Hetchins, a pink Alex Singer bike complete with racks and TA bags and a multitude of other rare beautifully made bikes you could spend days studying.

In addition to the bikes, are posters from racers, signed pieces of bicycle ephemera like a signed Bruce Gordon pocket protector and a signed postcard from cycling legend Jacque Phelan. There are lugs, chrome stems and shifters in cases, boxes of rare derailleurs and bicycle parts. There are whimsical pieces like bar tape made to look like bacon, a belt that shows little track cyclists crashing and a Phil Wood shot glass machined from surgical steel.. It is wealth of cycling’s history as a sport and the bicycles own technological evolution.

While Ken sells some things a regular bike shop would (tires, tubes, lights) and offers some repair services, it is primarily a museum and a chance to share his love of the functional art of the bicycle. If you are anywhere near Bisbee and are interested in bicycles, you must stop by the Bicycle Brothel. Only open on the weekend and by appointment, it is a worthwhile homage to cycling’s past and the exquisite craftsmanship of vintage lightweight bicycles.