It is a Wednesday afternoon on West Third Street in Los Angeles, and thirty-one-year-old Adrian Van Anz, a world-renowned industrial designer, a professional photographer, and the creator of the Derringer Cycle, is sitting in the back of his six-hundred square-foot West Hollywood showroom, typing away on one of his custom-designed aluminum and stainless-steel computers.
“We never build the same bike twice,” says the Santa Monica native, who was sixteen when he ripped apart his father’s portable refrigerator to discover a cooling technique that would make any computer run twice as fast. Heralded as a genius by Sony, Van Anz has designed high-end, customized luxury electronics (think diamond-encrusted iPods and 14-karat-gold computer screens) for the likes of Gwen Stefani and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, but it’s his latest creation—a 1920s-inspired, retro-chic, moto-hybrid bicycle—that has everyone talking.
It was his longtime obsession with board track racing, a deadly form of bike racing that was more popular than baseball in the early decades of the twentieth century, that inspired Van Anz to create the Derringer—a pimped-out hybrid that riders can propel by foot or engine—based on a whim. “I just wanted one,” he says of the first model he built in 2007. There was no business plan, no vision to eventually open a showroom offering custom-designed cycles—just passion and talent, of course. And so in true Adrian Van Anz fashion, he built one right in the center of his living room, much to the chagrin of his wife. “It was a long, dirty, carpet-staining process,” he admits, but the result was a beautiful work of art composed of the highest-quality vintage and custom-made pieces from all over the world. “The whole thing randomly came together the day before the Grammys,” he says, which is when he took it out for a ride.
Talk about perfect timing. It was a trip to the Fred Segal store in West Hollywood with a friend that led to his first sale: A man offered him five thousand dollars cash to buy the bike—right then and there. “I didn’t think people would get it. I actually thought they would laugh at me,” says Van Anz.
Apparently not. In the fall of 2007, Van Anz opened his showroom on West Third Street, and today his cycles take pride of place in the homes of the designer Philippe Starck, Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, and members of the British royal family—and the list goes on and on. “When people come in, we don’t just talk about the bike,” says Van Anz. “We talk about the history of board track racing.” He points to a vintage poster, which hangs on his showroom wall. “Their pedals look just like ours. The [gas] tanks are just like ours. Those bikes were the same size as my bikes, but they went a hundred miles per hour and had no throttle.” Van Anz’s vision was to transform the 1920s cycle into a safer and more approachable form of transportation.
Each bike starts at thirty-five hundred dollars and comes with a 49cc Honda four-stroke engine, which goes up to thirty-five miles per hour and gives you 180 miles per gallon. Every detail is bespoke—from the powder-coated paint, which is baked on and rust-proof (and comes in 250 color combinations), to the vintage-style kickstand, the monogrammed gas caps cut from stainless steel, the wing nuts, the spokes, the rims, the wide balloon tires, and the handmade Brooks leather saddles with hammered-copper rivets. “The waiting list is eight to ten weeks,” says Van Anz, but no one seems to mind.
"I don't see this as a bike; it's more of an heirloom. My hope is that someone would use this and pass it along."
– Adrian Van Anz
“We attract the strangest, widest demographic for luxury,” says Van Anz. “We had one guy come in who delivers pot to medicinal-pot dispensaries, and he bought one to make his deliveries. The next person to walk in was Philippe Starck.” Another customer came in off the street and bought twelve on the spot—each one in a different color for all of his vacation homes. “I don’t see this as just a bike,” says Van Anz, who prides himself on using the most authentic, high-quality components he can find. “It’s more of an heirloom product. My hope is that someone would use this and pass it along.”
In the summer of 2010, Van Anz received a phone call from the creative director of Equinox. She wanted an exclusive edition, to be sold in every Equinox fitness club worldwide. The result was the first Derringer pedal bike—she ordered $150,000 worth sight unseen. As for the advertising campaign, it was photographed by Van Anz. “She gave me full creative control, which was amazing,” he says. He designed the limited-edition cycle around a single 1920s wing nut. “I wanted to imagine what a bike today would look like if it had those [wing nuts], so the rest of it grew out of that.” He chose a cantilever-inspired single-arc style for the handlebar frame (which he loves because there are no hard angles) and added both a single-speed and a fixed-gear option, which can be achieved simply by switching the configuration of the back wheel. The custom color combination—black with yellow accents—would match the Equinox brand.
A prototype of that bike stands in his showroom today, but in place of a typical water bottle holder is a beautiful stainless steel and raw aluminum flask and flask holder. “That was the only feature they made me get rid of,” Van Anz admits. “It wasn’t very Equinox, but I still think it’s cool.”
Along with the cycles, Van Anz offers other personalized items, including books on board track racing; Derringer T-shirts; and custom-made, 1950s-inspired pudding-bowl helmets, which are designed for each bike. His most recent addition to the Derringer line is the brand-new Black Label series, his first fully automatic bike (you can have the engine on and still pedal).
As for what’s next for the industrial designer, he is trying to bring competitive board track racing back. “There’s been some interest,” he says, but nothing concrete yet. So for now, he will build his bikes, expand his apparel line, and work hard to keep his very curious three-year-old daughter from riding—at least for a little while, he says. “I was four when my dad gave me my first dirt bike,” says Van Anz, “but we’re trying to slow that down for my daughter. We’re like, ‘How about ballet?’”
Wendy Straker Hauser is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Men at Work and Sexy Jobs in the City.