When cyclists from around the country participate in the four-day Climate Ride in Death Valley next week to raise awareness of and support for environmental organizations, Paul Freedman is certain to turn heads riding atop his “Boolander.”
That’s the name the 39-year-old, San Francisco-based artist, bicycle maker and activist has given to the fantastical-looking, bamboo-framed tandem he custom-built to make a point about the environmental benefits of using sustainable materials and pedal power.
“To sit up high, riding on a goofy tall bike, I’m a reminder, not everyone has to ride in a car — things can be different,” Freedman says.
Unlike most tandem bikes where riders sit front and back, Freedman’s design allows for a rider on top and another below, like on a double-decker bus. The Boolander also has optional swing-out landers or roots that stabilize the rig when mounting, dismounting, starting, and stopping.
Freedman has never owned a car. The Massachusetts-native moved to the Bay Area in 2000 for a job in tech, but quickly fell into the Bay Area bike community. In 2003, Freedman founded Rock the Bike, an Oakland-based non-profit that provides pedal-power bikes and generators for public events. Two of Rock the Bike’s generators were used at the main protest camp at Standing Rock last fall.
Freedman is also passionate about custom art bikes. His first creation, a tree-shaped bike named “El Arbor,” has become a fixture at many environment-themed events.
Facing the culture of climate denial coming from President Trump’s White House, Freedman hopes the Boolander will play a small role in helping to sustain and grow participation in the climate movement.
In December, he brought the Boolander to a “Stand Up for Science” rally organized by the grassroots climate change advocacy organization 350.org, where attendees lined up for a chance to go for a ride. “The important part of a rally are a lot of people showing up,” Freedman says. “But having things to do and see to make it fun can motivate people to go to the next one.”
The 200-mile Climate Ride, which begins on Saturday, Feb. 25, is going to be a test of the Boolander’s mettle: Freedman (who says he’ll be riding solo this time) will ascend from below sea level to more than 5,000-feet in elevation on the bike. And he plans to raise money while he’s at it, splitting the donations he raises between Bike East Bay, 350.org, and the Climate Disobedience Center.
— Video by Isara Krieger, Text by Kelly Whalen