John Cardiel exhibits fixed-gear bikes

Arto Saari

John Cardiel.

Pro skateboarder John Cardiel is tapping skills from his boyhood bicycle days to build BMX, cruiser and fixed-gear bikes for customers who want a custom setup. In 2009 he launched Break Free Customs, an online showcase of parts, completes and services, and tonight -- Thursday, March 15 -- he'll take over the storefront of the Six Stair Productions filmmaking studio in West Hollywood, Calif.

The open house starts at 7 p.m., with music and refreshments. Half a dozen custom bikes will be for sale, and Cardiel will be there to talk about his craft.

"Usually what I do when somebody wants a bike is I'll talk to them about what parts they like, what colors they like, what kind of riding they do, and I'll just starting building and cook it up off their vibe," he says.

Cardiel's interest in working on bikes started out as a kid: fixing flats, greasing bearings, the usual maintenance. As he got into skateboarding, he'd ride his bike to skate spots around his hometown in northern California.

These days, a fixed-gear custom Bianchi is the main mode of transportation for the 38-year-old goofy-footer, who lost the use of his legs after being run over in a non-skate-related traffic accident during an Anti Hero trip in December 2003. His T12 vertebra was shattered. Doctors told him he'd never walk again, let alone skate.

Cardiel's recovery is etched into the lore of skateboarding as nothing short of a miracle. "At first they thought that I completely severed my spine, but it turned out there were still some threads in there," he explains. "And I just kept sending messages in my head: 'I have to move again.' I willed it to happen." Cardiel is up on his own two feet, but walking and skating don't come as effortlessly as they did before.

"I'm pretty much confined to a bike," Cardiel says. "I use bikes a lot to get around. I ride fixed-gears because they're a lot easier for me to ride. My left leg doesn't lift up very well. On a fixed-gear, when I push down with my right leg, the bike [crank automatically] lifts my left leg. It tends to be kind of sketchy sometimes, but that's what makes it fun."

"When we're on bikes, John's as gnarly as he ever was on a skateboard," says Six Stair's Rick Charnoski, who shot a recent video campaign for Cardiel's line of Chrome travel bags. "You should see him ride. Sometimes I think he's going to die. It's craziness. It's the same stoke as his skateboarding."

"I went to John's house and it was just full of bike parts," Charnoski adds. "And I told him to build some bikes, bring them down to the studio, put them in the window and let's have a party."

Cardiel says that he'll be showcasing the bikes at Six Stair for "as long as they let me chill." Prices range from $350 to $2,000.

Six Stair is located at 517 1/2 North Fairfax Ave. in West Hollywood, Calif.

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