Thank God It’s Saturday!
Thank God It’s Saturday!
Each bicycle is a piece of art: Christopher Lewis finds long-discarded classics and creates elegant signature bikes. On toward a second life, let’s go chase some fast cars!
Perhaps the day Marcel Duchamp arrived in Munich in 1912 was a Saturday. After his three-month stay on Barerstrasse, he noted: “Munich was the place of my total liberation.” Duchamp no longer enjoyed painting, the smell of turpentine made him “drunk”—he just wanted to do something else. He found the wheel of a bicycle, took it up to his apartment, mounted it to a stool and signed it. Today, we know that this episode marked the beginnings of a new art form, the readymade. Art, as Duchamp stated so practically, is already there. An artist does not have to create art, but merely reveal it.
Exactly 100 years after Duchamp’s stint in the capital of Bavaria, artist Christopher Lewis has also put down his paintbrush. On a day trip to the countryside, he spotted a shiny object in a freshly ploughed field. You guessed it—a bike, a Peugeot classic from the 1950s. The exact same type of bike his father used to ride back in the day, a bike that he had always admired as a child.
There was not much left of its former lustre: its black frame was bent, its wide mudguards were dented and rusty, and the leather seat by Dunlop was tattered. But he was still able to push it. So Lewis pushed it all the way to his studio in Munich-Haidhausen. Using an art restorer’s toolkit—magnifying spectacles, X-ray spectrometers, scalpel, and cotton swabs—Lewis bared the individual parts of the bike and removed even microscopic flaws. The ill fortune of the bike became his personal challenge: he wanted to rescue it. And “because Saturday was the first day of this story, my bikes are called Saturday,” the bicycle nostalgic recalls – since the German word for Saturday is “Samstag” and “Rad” is German for bicycle, the newly founded company’s native name is Samstag Rad.
Since that Saturday, Christopher Lewis has been riding old-school bikes. His first masterpiece transformed the way he perceives his environment. Suddenly, he found himself discovering abandoned, ownerless bikes in all kinds of places around the city: at commuter rail and subway stations, chained to lamp posts, in front of beer gardens. He gathered them up and gave them a new home. It turned out that his friends also had bike carcasses in their basements and were happy to get rid of them. Little by little, the freelance painter turned into a freelance bike-maker.
Lewis’s studio of just over 500 square feet underwent a transformation as well. In order to accommodate the two-wheeled gems, it was converted into a one-of-a-kind tinkering workshop. And since Lewis worked with utmost precision, the workshop was as orderly and organized as an antiques depot: a parade of bike bells over here, a series of tubes and tires strung like beads on a necklace over there, and an orderly formation of mudguards in the corner. The painted canvases were still there, yet they had to yield to the display of bikes and had their fronts turned to the wall. Art would have to wait—Lewis had another mission to tend to first: “After working in advertising and making a documentary about the art market, I wanted to do something useful and practical, beyond waste, lies and greed,” he says. Besides, he feels the antique bikes are instances of cultural heritage, reminders of bygone days.
Today, Lewis’ confinement to a small back alley studio is also past. His bike manufacture has moved to the Impact HUB Munich, which offers more space for his bicycles and spare parts. The paintings, however, could not come along. They are now in storage, in a basement. Whether the painter will ever pick up his brush again, he cannot yet tell.
Maximizing beauty, not profits
From the start, the Samstag readymades were not display objects. They were a ready-to-use means of transportation. The parts of three old bikes serve him to patchwork one new one. Lewis has the elegant frames powder-coated in Jelly-Bean colours—mint green, sky blue, or cream beige. He gets a saddler to upholster the seats. The signature bikes are hand-crafted from at least 40-year-old parts of traditional brands such as Victoria, Peugeot, or Rabeneick. Lewis would not bestow this kind of a makeover on cheap mass-produced bikes.
In operating Samstag, the commercial enterprise is not Lewis’ primary focus. He has no business plan. He categorically refuses to consider third-party financing. Saturday is not a workday, after all. And therefore, he lets Samstag unfold its potential without any constraints—without trying to forcibly grow it, expand it, or maximize profits. “Samstag does not have to be profitable, but if it could feed me, I wouldn’t complain,” says Lewis, relaxed despite his continuous struggles to make ends meet. Two bike sales a month would suffice. The radical bike devotee lives sustainably, not just in terms of mobility.
He is a dedicated minimalist, because he does not “want to clutter my view of the beautiful with random stuff.” His private possessions fit into one bag: “That way I can stay mobile myself - all my belongings fit onto the luggage rack of any bike.” In general, he finds his Samstag Rad and life concept transferable, “because I could just as well go to London and pick up and restore bikes there.” At any rate, Munich as a technology and industry hub is not a particularly good turf for reductive ideas. Therefore, Lewis really enjoys provoking affluent folks by zooming past their fancy SUVs in Munich’s perpetual traffic jam on one of the six Samstag city bikes he owns himself. Bike number seven is for mountain biking. Christopher Lewis loves the mountains almost as much as his autonomy.
Up close and unique
His favourite activity, however, is solitary tinkering with his unique bikes. When he is thus immersed in his own hands’ work, the hours, days, weeks flow like water. He does not specify opening hours for his customers; whoever wants to purchase a Samstag Rad must get in touch directly with the Master himself. Nor does he want to sell his wheeled beauties online—no Samstag Rad rolls off the lot without a personal consultation.
Some of the more than 80 Samstag bikes out there—among them, a piercing bike for body art enthusiasts—are so uniquely designed that they would fit in an art museum. They have not quite made it into the lofty halls of a museum yet, but they were showcased in a Munich temple to consumerism, the legendary department store Ludwig Beck. For a few weeks in March of 2014, its vast storefront displayed Lewis’s bikes, which was meant more as an art installation than a sales pitch. The artist himself strolled past the large windows, happily contemplating his collection, taking in its beauty and elegance. Perhaps he was thinking of Marcel Duchamp.