UT alumnus Jeremy Rosen rides over the Mexican border atop an 80-foot, metal rattlesnake. The man-made creature is just one of many that make up the Austin Bike Zoo.
The zoo is a collection of handmade animal creations built on top of bicycle and tricycle parts. Creators travel across the country bringing their assortment of large, interactive snakes, owls, butterflies, bats and eagles to various festivals and events, where visitors have a chance to ride the attractions. In 2012, Rosen decided to ride the rattlesnake somewhere it had never been before.
“We rode into Mexico, and then the Mexican consulate went with us,” Rosen said. “Everyone loved it, including the border patrol.”
After studying mechanical engineering at UT, Rosen began adapting bicycle frames into pieces of art. He had spent some time working with bicycle designer George Bliss, who influenced him to begin making animal-like bike creations. Rosen then collaborated with a group of individuals who designed puppets for Austin’s First Night Parade in 2009 to form the group.
“After that, I realized what we were doing was special, and there was a demand in the world for it,” Rosen said. “I love seeing how much joy the bikes bring to the world. People who look at bikes can’t help but smile at them, and it’s as if they fulfill a [universally] held fantasy of flight.”
Rosen and his team design the animals from scratch on top of pieces of pre-made bicycles and tricycles. The butterfly bikes are essentially built using two BMX bikes welded together with 15-feet long wings made from various types of fabric. Misty Wade, who works for Austin Bike Zoo, said assembling and designing bikes involves a large amount of teamwork.
“Rosen will bring in various artists, and it’s a coming together of minds,” Wade said. “We use a lot of recycled material, and it’s kind of like turning junk into art.”
Austin Bike Zoo once had a public location in downtown Austin but now works on an event-booking basis, which Rosen said allows the staff to maintain the bikes and ensure they remain in good condition. The Bike Zoo, which brings up to 10 bikes to an event, will be at the upcoming Austin Alliance Holiday Stroll and Sing-Along on Dec. 5.
“[Austin Bike Zoo] is important because it’s beautiful and inspires people,” Rosen said. “Sometimes, I give rides to people who haven’t ridden a bike in over a decade.”
The zoo’s team rides in tandem so people who don’t know how to ride bikes and people with disabilities can also participate. Brooke Van Court, an employee at Austin Bike Zoo, said her favorite part of working at the Zoo is seeing people’s reactions to the bikes.
“There was an elderly woman who asked me to take her for a ride on one of the butterflies, and her face lit up like she was a kid again,” Van Court said. “She was having fun, and it was so playful.”
Wade, who helps assemble and dissemble the bikes when they arrive at events, has recently begun helping with the artwork of the bikes. She said her favorite part of the job is working with kids and a strong staff.
“I love the magical dynamic of how everyone works together,” Wade said. “It’s teamwork at its finest, and sometimes I can’t believe this is my job because I get to have so much fun and work with people who inspire me.”