RAGBRAI news team
Mon, Jul 23, 2012 | by Des Moines RegisterShare
By Paula Reece
One thing you might not expect to see when you walk into Rasmussen Bike Shop in West Des Moines is a 7-foot-tall robot.
The robot, made from recycled bike parts, was created by part-time Rasmussen bike wrench Brian Pottorff, 41, whose life 16 years ago looked, and felt, very different than today — and he can thank bicycling for that.
In 1996, Pottorff, a Chariton native, reached a turning point. “Being in a small town, it’s tough,” he said. “Nothing to do in those towns, it seemed, except get strung out.”
Tragedy struck when his best friend committed suicide. Pottorff bolted.
“I went out to Colorado and lost my mind for a year,” said Pottorff, who said he started using methamphetamine.
Then, at a White Zombie show in Fiddlers Green Park in Denver, Colo., he saw acclaimed pro cyclist Libor Karas, who was doing an exhibition of Trials competition, which is like stunt riding on a bicycle over obstacles ranging from rocks, mud and water to picnic tables or even cars. “He floored me,” Pottorff said. “Shortly after that I moved back to Iowa, bought a Raleigh mountain bike, got into cycling and just went off the deep end from there.”
He found he could trade the high he got from using drugs for the high he got from mountain biking.
“It’s an adrenaline rush, going down the mountain or hill. It’s a rush — but it’s healthy,” he said. “Cycling basically pulled me out of the meth.”
Greg Rasmussen, owner of Rasmussen Bike Shop, remembers the day Pottorff walked into the shop. “He had just bought his first mountain bike, and we just started talking,” he said.
They became friends, and Pottorff started working part-time repairing bikes. He expanded his bike collection and moved beyond just mountain biking.
“I used to have almost 40 bikes,” he said. “Single-speed mountain bikes, geared mountain bikes, cross bikes, road bikes, old antique cruiser bikes, tandem bikes, six-gear bikes.”
Even a unicycle. Now the fleet is down to about two dozen, used by both him and his wife, Teri, who got into cycling because of him. “She’s head over heels for it now,” Pottorff said.
But the bicycles in their garage are nothing compared to the piles of old bike parts the Pottorffs have collected, which he now uses to make art.
“I probably have a thousand pounds of recycled bike chain in my basement,” he said.
He noticed how much was being thrown away in the shop, especially old or broken bike parts. So he thought, why not make something out of it?
“Being a country kid, I’ve always loved to do stuff with my hands,” he said. His grandpa was a heavy equipment operator and his dad a farmer, so welding was in his blood.
The first art piece he made was a sunburst. “I’ve still got it, and it’s awful,” Pottorff said. “But it’s like with anything: the more time you put into it, the better you’re going to get and the more creative you’ll get.”
Now he takes custom orders from customers, creating functional pieces like wine racks and bar stools, as well as sculptures and wall decor like heart bike chains and handlebar “antler” mounts.
Then there’s the robot. Rasmussen recalls the day the giant piece found its way to the shop, from Pottorff’s house nearby.
“One day he came and grabbed the two-wheeler and took it home, loaded up the robot and wheeled it to the shop,” he said — down the sidewalk and across Grand Avenue. “You should’ve seen the people oogling and oogling him.”
Rasmussen said he appreciates Pottorff’s intentions, as well as his art.
“I think it’s great that he’s recycling all these bike parts.” Pottorff even keeps 5-gallon buckets at other local bike shops that they fill with their spare parts.
“And he’s come a long, long way. He was just doing little key chains at first, and now he’s doing all kinds of things with chains and sprockets.”
Pottorff admits it’s sometimes hard to find the time to really knock out the art, between being a husband and father (his 6-year-old daughter, Izzy, is just learning to ride a big-kid bike), working full time and part time, biking and maintaining a 13-mile stretch of Des Moines Regional Trails, which he does as a volunteer. But he does his best to keep up with demand, and the cycling community does its best to keep demanding.
And it’s just that community that helps fuel his fire. “The cycling community here in Des Moines — it’s just one big, huge family,” he said. “I can’t explain the love that you feel from everybody. They pulled me out of the gutter.”
He’s now on RAGBRAI, his seventh year of taking the Rasmussen Bike Shop on the road fixing bikes, a service the shop has performed for 38 years. Pottorff’s artwork (ReCycled Artwerks) will also be for sale in Rasmussen’s traveling retail shop.
And after all that hard work, he’ll probably be due a good, long ride of his own. “Nothing like just shutting your mind off and flying through the trails, gravel roads, city streets, back alleys and neighborhood yards — jumping curbs and tree roots and simply acting like a kid again,” he said.
“Cycling is pure adrenaline, good for the soul.”
Find Pottorff’s ReCycled Artwerks at Rasmussen Bike Shop, 301 Grand Ave., West Des Moines, or online at www.recycledartwerks.etsy.com and ReCycled Artwerks on Facebook.
If you are flying to the start of RAGBRAI, avoid the hassle and ship your bike. Any one of these bike shipping companies are ready and able to ship your ...
Spring is here and it is time to get serious about your preparation for RAGBRAI. It is a mere 15 weeks away so it is time to start building ...
Dennis DeYoung is a founding member of STYX and the lead singer and writer on seven of the bands eight Top Ten Hits. His live concert showcases all the STYX ...
Want to ride with us all week for RAGBRAI XLIII? The deadline for registration is April 1, just under a week away.
The deadline to register online as a weeklong rider for this year’s RAGBRAI is midnight, April 1.
Zoom in on the towns and byways for RAGBRAI 2015.
During a driving vacation out west, I noticed the popularity of bumper-attached bicycle and luggage racks. Are there any rules with these?
The definitive guide to how riders will get fed and cooled off (oh, and maybe see some important stuff) during RAGBRAI XLIII.
RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz previews the 8 towns that the ride has never visited.
RAGBRAI Coralville organizers are excited to announce that Cheap Trick presented by Two Rivers Bank and Trust is scheduled to perform at the RAGBRAI overnight celebration in the Iowa River ...
RAGBRAI director TJ Juskiewicz points out highlights of the pass-through towns along the route cyclists will follow July 19 to 25, 2015.
RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz previews the 8 towns that the ride has never touched.
Tune in to RAGBRAI.com this weekend to be the first to know the details of this year's route. RAGBRAI director TJ Juskiewicz shares when the rookie pass through towns, full route map will be announced.
RAGBRAI director TJ Juskiewicz annouces the 2015 overnight towns. Ride will start in Sioux City and end in Davenport.
The Register's Kyle Munson and Michael Morain attempt to get an early look at the 2015 RAGBRAI route
We are excited to reveal our new logo for RAGBRAI XLIII and 2015! If you join us on our ride across the state next year, you’ll be sure to see welcoming Iowans, lots of farmland and… well you’ll just have to watch the video to find out.
Bicyclist Shawn Gosch of Onawa was hit and killed June 20, 2014, by a motorist on Iowa Highway 7 west of Manson. Under Iowa law, the driver of the vehicle was charged with a misdemeanor for unsafe passing and fined little more than $1,550.
Look back on the ride of 2014 in this video highlight reel.
A group of friends from Canada spent the week on RAGBRAI and recount their best moments.
As RAGBRAI XLII comes to an end, friends from California talk about the emotion behind dipping their tires into the Mississippi River at the end of the ride.
Find us socially
Sign up for the latest RAGBRAI news and notes (if there is no news in a day, you won’t get an e-mail).