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Made by Hand ~ [No. 5] The Bike Maker

August 5, 2014.Oliver.1 Like.2 Comments


“For me it always has been a real struggle
to get past the point where I’m pretty good for a beginner,
to get into the point where I’m actually good.”


It probably has been Ezra Caldwell’s attitude and his somewhat audacious approach that made him excel on so many different levels. A guy who valued curiosity more than convenience and passion more than prestige. Someone who constantly sought change and challenge, confronting life with a mix of admiration and defiance. He didn’t turn a blind eye to fate, but he did question its obvious signpost – embracing reality while defying the odds…

The Bike Maker is the inspiring and heart-wrenching account of the life of a man and his manifold ambitions: Ezra Caldwell. Being part of the excellent Made by Hand series, the short film celebrates his exceptional craftsmanship while presenting the touching portrait of an extraordinary person. The documentary accompanies Ezra through two days in his life as independent custom bicycle builder, working in a small basement workshop in New York.


“For me actually making stuff has always been a drive.”


After opening the door and entering the place he flips through selected chapters of his life while dedicating himself painstakingly to the tasks at the workbench. He seems to work the same way he speaks: deliberately, crafting parts and words alike. Childhood memories, disenchantments related to early aspirations, the fabulous anecdote how he became a dance teacher and the motivation that made him leave at some point – a lack of fulfilment, the urge to create and the love for bikes. Seeing his face aglow with excitement while speaking about the art in the work of bike building really makes you feel that you are listing to someone who discovered his voice and vocation


“There’s nothing like a crisis to make you focus,
think clearly and be able to present
what you know in that moment.”


Being a year into the bike building business with his Fast Boy Cycles he ran across a tremendous pothole on his road called life. Something he considered quite honestly “a kick in the teeth”. Ezra was diagnosed with rectal cancer. From one day to another there was this dense fog of a “potentially terminal illness” lingering on his life. An illness forcing him to dismount his beloved bike. An illness challenging to come up with his “triumphant fuck you” for the sake of keeping on riding…


“… it’s like ‘Oh yeah, live like you gonna die tomorrow’,
and I said ‘Yeah, but what happens if you don’t…'”


Ezra objected whenever someone brought up the fight metaphor, as this cited excerpt from one of his posts illustrates. He decided to confront the illness not only with treatments but also his own therapy: He started documenting “what was going on” trough a striking self portrait series on his photography site and chronicled his life with gut-wrenching honesty via his remarkable blog Teaching Cancer To Cry. He turned into a learner who taught, intending to demystify cancer and reconciling the illness and its impact to the rest of his life.

Ezra knew that it’s gonna be the toughest ride ever, but he decided to ride anyway. He decided to make it race rather than a chase. At some point he even disobeyed the pace of the illness as far as possible and opted for his own. It was a few years ago when he decided to forego further cancer treatments and “spent most of his remaining months deeply engaged in the things that mattered most to him”. Ezra Caldwell sadly passed away on May 24th after six years with cancer. As the wonderful obituary on his blog states: “Courageous, independent, opinionated and stubborn to the end”…


“To this day, I hold my conversation with Ezra as what our journal aspires to capture.
And while I am tempted to mourn, I am inspired instead to celebrate. Celebrate the life Ezra lived so well, and hope that I can live my life with even half the fervor with which he lived his.”
Agustin Sanchez, Co Founder of The Photographic Journal


Front by Missy S.

Front by Missy S. – depicting on of Ezra’s Fast Boy Cycles creations

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Categories: Inspiration

Comments (2)

  • laura bruno lilly . August 8, 2014 . Reply

    Lovely tribute, thank-you for this reminder of how precious life is…and to just get on and ‘do life!’

    • (Author) Oliver . August 8, 2014 . Reply

      Very true Laura, there are so many reasons to embrace life! As you said, it’s a precious gift indeed and everyone should handle it wisely…

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