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Back 4.27.2017

Chas Christiansen and the Art of Urban Riding

Photo by MASH

Chas Christiansen’s Zipp wheels tell a story. His story. It’s a story of a cyclist who navigates urban streetscapes as a lifestyle. As a messenger, he rides for work, competition, and bragging rights – all intertwined.

Chas’ Zipp 404 Firecrest Track wheels are adorned with words and symbols, much of it in the vernacular best understood by the fixed-gear crowd. The hand-drawn art was scanned, and applied to his 404 rims using Zipp ImPress direct-print technology. Chas, a Zipp ambassador, will debut his new wheels in competition at Saturday’s Brooklyn Red Hook Crit.
“Analog in a digital world,” Chas said.

That makes sense for a guy who works as a messenger in the high-tech hub of San Francisco riding a bike built for simplicity – one gear, no brakes. Chas grew up in the Pacific Northwest with a love of BMX and just riding. In 2004 while living in Portland, Ore., he bought a cyclocross bike and was captivated watching the messengers race on track bikes.

He then moved to San Francisco to work as a bike messenger. In this line of work, more tags (deliveries) means more money. A typical day of 25 or more tags means 30 to 50 miles of riding with plenty of San Francisco hills to add to the challenge. Chas embraced the messenger culture and started racing alleycat events. He traveled to Berlin and realized that his cycling community was close-knit enough that a fellow messenger would offer him a place to stay just because Chas also was a messenger.
Riding a fixed-geared bike on city streets is central to that culture. Track bikes are easy to maintain – a plus for busy messengers – but not easy to ride. “You have to master this skill. You have to learn to flow in traffic. … you have to wiggle your way through it,” Chas said. “The skill sets you above the average cyclists because you are doing something a little harder…
“It’s a blue-collar job that was originally looked down upon… messengers go in the back entrance,” Chas said. But the messenger response is, “I may be blue collar, but I’m stylish… I can do something you could never do.”
That ride-for-the-love-of riding attitude extends to racing. “It’s all about bragging rights. There are not really prizes. If you win a messenger event, you get a messenger bag,” he said.
Given all this, it’s not surprising that Chas took an unconventional approach to designing his wheels. He printed off a digital template the actual size of the 58mm-deep 404 Firecrest rims. He then hand drew his designs using words, doodles, and stippling dots such as those used on tattoos.
“I feel like most of my art is just a stream of consciousness… whatever I’m seeing on the road,” he said.

“SHREDDERZ KREW” is a call out to his fellow messengers. There’s also the phrases “Wild in the Streets” and tributes to punk bands Black Flag and Dead Kennedys. Next to Zipp Speed Weaponry he writes “Shreddingly Brilliant Since 1988,” the year of our founding.

Once Chas finished drawing on the template printout, he scanned it and sent it in high-resolution to our graphic artist in Indianapolis. The file was then converted for ImPress printing. The artwork lined up perfectly on the actual rim.
Chas’ wheels are ready to hit the streets.

Photo by MASH 

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