The Condor Flies Alone

Rick Hunter with his late dog Woody and one of the many two-wheeled machines he’s built. Watsonville, California, 2006.

The Condor Flies Alone Rick Hunter Lives by His Own Rules

I’m sitting in the Bonny Doon, California, home of Rick Hunter, the reclusive—some would say reluctant—custom bicycle builder.

At my request, Hunter has pulled out a bunch of old personal and brand-related stuff for me to look through. His eight person dining table is covered with archival bits: concept drawings, to-do lists from more than a decade ago, race numbers, those post-race photos stamped with a copyright we’d receive in the mail with offers to buy finished prints, and no shortage of old magazines, now long out of print.

It’s been 20 years since British mountain bike journalist Chipps Chippendale’s The Outcast singlespeed fanzine was printed, with a cover blurb reading, “The untrendy end of the bicycle world… .” Hunter picks up the zine, which contains, unlikely though it seems to me, a fictional story he wrote called “The Rider.” He agrees to let me record him reading the short story, and we kill the sound from the scratchy vinyl of 1980s skate-punk band Jodie Foster’s Army that’s been blaring in the living room so I can get a clean recording.

“The Rider” paints a portrait of a lone man making his way from a liquor store to his home in a dilapidated boat. It wades through his narcotic dreams of a time before all went bad here on Earth and continues to the present time, when “off world colonies” float above the clouds. The Rider is desperate to find an old friend who might not be a friend anymore; it’s hard to really know, but the search is an important part of the story. The world inhabited by The Rider is grim, but he seems at home there—a competent survivor in a world of limited resources.

I can’t overlook a parallel to the experience Hunter has had as a working man, alone in his shop, mitering, machining and brazing raw material into the shape of a bicycle. There’s weight to the story, and in spending time with Hunter at some point you feel the weight of his frustration with the business of making bicycles.

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