I found Mike Flanigan and Betsy Eckel Scola on the web. They are wonderful people making beautiful and useful bicycles under the name Alternative Needs Transportation (ANT). Like so many people we read about on the web, I did not expect to ever meet them, let alone be lucky enough to count them as friends, but it seems Mike and Betsy always make time to make the people they meet feel like cherished friends.
People who love steel bicycles probably know of ANT, despite the fact that ANT is just two folks making bicycles in a couple of small rooms in Holliston, Massachusetts. Like the insect they depict on their head badges, their impact is many times larger than their footprint.
Mike and Betsy care deeply about people, the planet and of course bicycles. This is immediately obvious to anyone they meet. They host a well attended open house at their workshop every year. The next one is just around the corner on October 17, 2009. Many of their guests have ANTs and many others are saving for an ANT. All are welcomed, treated to one of two group rides lead by either Mike or Betsy, given a tour of the workshop and then fed delicious Indian food. If you don’t have an ANT or already want one, you will by the end of the day.
Mike and Betsy have made all kinds of bicycles. Some are very fancy and others relatively plain. Mike wants them all to be ridden for transportation. They cost more than most bicycles made overseas, yet Mike and Betsy are not getting rich. They do it for the love of making bicycles and to get people on bicycles that make sense for daily use.
The bicycles are one hundred percent in line with Mike and Betsy’s philosophy. The bicycles are generally powder coated for durability. They have room for bigger tires and fenders to smooth the ride and keep you dry. Most have front racks and some have rear racks, too. Most have lights powered by generators in the front hub. They come with pedals that you can pedal in street shoes. Their geometry results in relaxed and predictable handling even carrying considerable loads. It all adds up to a bicycle that you will want to use every day, whether you are riding in the city, recreating in the country or even touring around the globe.
ANT used to be about custom bicycles, but Mike and Betsy were bothered by the high cost of the custom bicycles. Sometimes owners, having forked over such considerable sums, treated the bicycles like collectibles. Collectibles don’t help save the planet. Arguably they make it worse through their impact during production and shipping and then sitting idle. Many people wanted but couldn’t afford a custom bicycle. Also, one in a hundred customers would agonize over details or be bothered by a minute scratch. The one in a hundred took up a lot of Mike and Betsy’s time. Mike and Betsy gave the time, but it was sometimes hard and always kept them from their mission.
So Mike and Betsy have moved toward standardized models to reduce costs and speed production. More people can afford ANTs and more people who get them will use them for their intended purposes. Mike and Betsy are happier and I am sure their customers are, too. I know Lacey, my spouse, is very happy with her 2009 Boston Roadster. She rides it most every day. It was one of the earlier standardized ANTs, but it is a real attention getter with rims powder coated to match the frame.
News flash! ANT is back in the business of making custom bicycles!
Lacey and I ride together on weekends and often stop at garage sales. We’ll park our ANTs at the end of the driveway and invariably one or two people will try to buy them from the garage sale host. Lacey’s is the one people ask about more often than not. Mine is a much fancier ANT, having been made for a contest to showcase the Shimano Alfine parts that are on it (it took third), but maybe the subdued color lets it be overlooked. I don’t mind the lack of attention. I feel better when I have to leave it locked up! Mine was recognized on the fly in Provincetown, Massachusetts, though. Someone shouted “ANT” and “Mike Flanigan!” Maybe he thought I was Mike. We are roughly the same size and shape and have grey hair. I lack Mike’s signature mustache, though.
I do have a third ANT. It was the first that I bought. A Light Roadster set up as a fixed gear, I love it for its simplicity and quiet operation. Even so, with the Alfine ANT sitting right next to it, I often take the Alfine to gain a second brake and gears. If I cared more about being cool, I’d ride the fixed gear more often, but with its upright bars and front rack I don’t think I get much respect from the stereotypical fixie pedaler. Like the other two ANTs we own and so many others made by Mike and Betsy, the simple black ANT flies under the radar, doing its job of quietly and efficiently moving me around the city or in this case, the woods near our home.
Thank you again, Mike and Betsy, for sharing the results of your labors with us and for being our friends.