When a Memphis couple's home burned to the ground several months ago, all that was left were a couple of charred bikes that had been hanging in the garage. Now their only remaining possessions will be immortalized in the gateway leading into Overton Park from a bike path along Sam Cooper and Broad Avenue.
Those bikes and about 163 others will make up a massive archway created by Memphis sculptor Tylur French that will greet cyclists as they enter the East Parkway side of Overton Park from the soon-to-be-constructed Overton-Broad bike path. The Overton-Broad path will take cyclists from Overton Park's Old Forest, down Sam Cooper, Broad Avenue, and Tillman Street to the Shelby Farms Greenline.
"One guy gave me three bikes from his childhood, and one is a tricycle he got when he was 2 years old," French said. "I have a picture of him riding that tricycle in his diaper on Christmas morning."
Not every bike has such a compelling story. Some were donated by parents whose kids outgrew their pint-sized cycles, and others were worse-for-the-wear bikes donated by Revolutions Bicycle Co-op. French plans to add a few skateboards and wheelchairs as well.
The bikes are being fashioned into an arch inside French's workshop inside Memphis Defense Depot Park. Once the shape is just right, French will begin sandblasting rusted and burned bikes. He's also removing parts that will rot over time, such as brake pads, and he's filling tires with spray foam to make them last. Then the sculpture will be painted with a palette of three or four colors.
"One of the challenges is figuring out how to create continuity because it's such a jumble of shapes and colors," French said.
The gateway, which French hopes to complete by mid-May, will be the focal point of Overton Park's portion of the connector trail.
"You'll pass through the gate into the park, and you'll land on a concrete plaza that's shaped to look like a bike sprocket," said Tina Sullivan, director of the Overton Park Conservancy. "There will be benches and a water fountain, and there's a [paved] surface that connects to the [Old Forest's existing] internal paved road."
Currently, cyclists who wish to cross from the Old Forest's paved trails to Sam Cooper must bike through a grassy area, but once this project is complete, a paved trail will lead cyclists to the East Parkway/Sam Cooper intersection. Sullivan said the conservancy's portion of the connector project doesn't have a set timeline for completion yet.
French, who has created sculpture for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Cancer Survivors Park, and the Memphis Skate Park, hopes his gateway will serve as a visual icon for the city's burgeoning bike-friendly reputation.
"This big bike movement, with the greenline, happened so fast, and a lot of times, a big movement needs an iconic image to identify it," French said. "I would love for this [gateway] to bring more city integration into the greenline."