Everything has a Purpose

a bike embellished with repurposed materials keeps people happy

Rebecca Mennecke, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Every once in a while around Eau Claire, you might see aBa, a professor of mathematics at UWEC, riding a pretty flashy bike. aBa got his bicycle, nicknamed the “boy bike,” in 2008 when he was studying at the University of Iowa for his Ph.D.

A tornado destroyed a local bike shop, so the owner offered aBa the bike for free, he said. He’s embellished this 1962 bicycle with a number of interesting gizmos: flamingos, baby Jesus with a gun for an arm, skeletons, flags from other countries, colorful dreadlocks, butterflies, and license plates from every state he’s lived in: Iowa, for his doctorate degree, Maine for his post-doctorate degree, and Wisconsin, where he teaches. He also has a Minnesota license place from 1962 – the year of his bike, though he hasn’t lived in Minnesota.

“It is so impractical,” aBa said about his bike. “It’s artwork.” He generally takes broken things and gives them a purpose – “to make other people happy.” aBa said he was inspired by house music from the San Francisco rave scene, which advocated a love of the outdoors, dancing, and lots of hugging. He also has another bike, nicknamed “the girl bike.” “They have their own style,” aBa said. If anyone is inspired by his bikes and wants to make one of their own, aBa said they should find lots of free knick-knacks.

“If it makes you smile when you put it on your bike,” aBa said, “then leave it there.” aBa said his bike is important in getting him where he needs to go. “This is my everything,” he said.