Arturo Hilario / El Observador
It’s always been about the bikes.
In Fremont’s historic Niles District, Matthew Rodriguez and his wife Aisha enthusiastically talk about the way they came upon the various bikes at their shop, Gooseneck Bicycles, which sells, repairs and buys bikes and bike parts. They recently decided to step out of the business and will close on Sunday February 14. This will not deter the fascination of Rodriguez with bikes though, as it has always been a staple in his life.
“I started doing bikes around 91’. I wasn’t too knowledgeable on what kind of scene it was, lowrider bike, custom bikes, but I knew I liked a certain look so I ended up doing work at a guys house, he had a lowrider bike he built with his son in the 70’s.”
It was given to him, and his grandfather helped him take it apart. They then went to ask about parts at a local bike shop. It was here where he began the course of his life that would become a snowball of information and knowledge-building that ultimately shaped him and his career in bicycle fabrication.
Rodriguez married for the first time. “The girl that I ended up marrying, her brother became my really good friend. Sam Rodriguez. He’s a great artist. He started asking me about my lowrider bike, about my history (in bicycle fabrication). He ended up offering to repaint it, after he did that, at the same time he was really getting into that art scene.”
AD Gallery, based in San Jose, was looking to get pieces fabricated for a new gallery. The duo of Rodriguezes was on board. “That really tied us into the art scene. They offered us a show to have at their gallery. What are we gonna show? We were doing a lot of custom bikes at the time, a bike called ‘The Mariachi’, ‘Tommy Gun’, we must’ve did a good 20 custom bikes.”
“So sam and I started thinking, I don’t really want to do something, like me just customizing something else. I want to do something to express my art form which is metalwork, and something that expresses your art form, which is the characters and graffiti.” Looking into their both likes and backgrounds, and came up with a melding of ideas and styles for their gallery. I ended up designing about 5 bikes for the AD Gallery.”
They worked in the basement of Silicon Valley DeBug. “Shorty Fatz” became the duo’s production monicker. “Shorty Fatz” was a small zine that Sam worked on within DeBug. The main character was named Shorty Fatz and contained spoofs of the economy, community and culture.
“That’s really what got me into it, I had a good partner and we were getting all these art projects and art shows with our bikes. Really it was a real change for people, they were seeing bikes that had no title. Are they lowrider bikes? Are they character bikes? Are they art?”
Legendary bicycle part manufacturer Phil Wood & Co and it’s owner Dale Saso took in Rodriguez like an apprentice. “I learned how to braise from him, I learned how to frame-build from him, I learned how to make jigs to make bikes. So many things.”
During this period both Rodriguezes designed a frame based on their preferences, as well as a lot of input from friends, family and other bike enthusiasts. He built two prototypes of the “8 Series” frame, one which would come to popularity around the world.
“Now I had all this new knowledge about frame-building and the demand was there. This is our golden goose right here. This bike is going to be our ‘kid that went to college’,” says Rodriguez.
This collective community project was from the mind of Matthew and Sam, but ultimately had the strength of various peers and experts in fabrication which allowed them to learn and refine their frame and general bike-building knowledge.
This led to an explosion in production, which Rodriguez estimates to be at 50-60 hand made custom frames at a time. The frames started going to Indonesia, Thailand, China, Australia and in various cities in the US.
“It became this big monster,” says Rodriguez of the booming business. Although he admits that the time was a great experience in business, “It wasn’t what Sam and I wanted at the time. We wanted to be artists.”
At the same time the duo was creating art pieces for galleries and other local projects. The City of San Jose also got into the bike craze, as they requested the team of Rodriguezes to be part of a window display at City Hall.
During this time Sam Rodriguez was getting more and more into his art, among other things assisting in pieces for the creation of the local Cukui clothing brand and gallery. “One day Sam came to me and told me how he felt, I’m not able to do my artwork. He wanted to stick to his artwork and I really wanted to stick to my frame-building. I really just wanted to get back to doing the custom one-off stuff.”
After legally separating their business, “Shorty Fatz” ended on mutual terms, but not necessarily the joyous of them. “When we separated, it was kind of like a breakup”. He says that after being close for years it was tough letting go of that time in life. Nowadays the two remain good friends though.
Framing the Future
When the sun set on “Shorty Fatz” Rodriguez set on building bikes under the name “Pop Fabrication”. He continued this, met his now wife Aisha, and continued to create his works until he felt tired of fabricating for the sake of business.
In 2011, he retired from his frame building endeavor and took a hiatus while maintaining an electrician job until the itch for bicycles came back. He and Aisha opened up the Gooseneck Bicycles shop in Fremont in 2013.
But now, due to economics of his shop lease he will be closing it and moving onto another phase in his life. He does say that he has orders for fabricating bikes that will be completed. “I’ll complete my orders, in my garage, back to the grassroots where I started, and go on with something different. I love doing this, but (this) doesn’t pay the bills all of the time. For me it’s family first.”
One of Rodriguez’s goals is to join the military while he’s still eligible. Part of it is decompressing from running a business and all the back end responsibility of it. After all, he did get into the business because of one simple thing: Bicycles.
His Gooseneck business will live on with a popular magazine with the same name, which has been around since the inception of the shop.
Rodriguez will always love to work with his hands, he says it’s what makes him happy. Regardless of where his life goes a month or years from now it will always be parallel to his love of creating these metal frames, every piece of it constantly evolving and changing, tearing down and starting up again.
Looking back at the 3,200 bikes he’s had a hand in creating, Rodriguez puts it best, “I remember all of them because I had the final say. They had to have a certain look to be coming from me or my shop. I stamped them all. They all have a piece of me.”
And finally, it ends (for now) where it started. “It’s all over a damn bike. That’s why I like bikes. Everyone can kind of relate to it. Whether it’s a different country, whether it’s an adult or a kid, someway or another you’ve seen or sat on a bike at one time. Through our art projects that Sam and I did we’ve talked to so many walks of life, and it always (comes) down to bicycles.”
Gooseneck Bicycles will be open on February 14th for it’s last day of operations. 131 J Street, Fremont CA 94536. More info at 510-793-8185, and facebook.com/gooseneckbicycles.