“I’ve always built stupid shit and it’s always been really fun. I think you’re not allowed to start a bike business until you’ve built a tesla coil and electrocuted yourself!” So says Petor Georgallou, founder of bespoke bike frame designers, Dear Susan, and artist, sculptor and film-maker. We went to his trendy, but freezing, East London workshop to meet the man, find out about building custom made bike frames and, hopefully, receive some pithy, weird and off-the-wall sound bites. We weren’t disappointed.
Petor, 27, greets us in remarkably fine fettle, given that the boat that he lived on, containing his entire life’s possessions, had just sunk a few days earlier meaning that he’s living in the back of his car. Of course, this is no ordinary car, but a second-hand hearse, with a porthole imported from a Mumbai shipwreck, where a rear windscreen should be. “Someone smashed my back window. I had some good stickers on there. I had a good ‘shred ‘til dead’ and ‘no corpses are left in this vehicle overnight’ but you can’t get them any more, so I had to fit a porthole from a ship. It’s good. It’s becoming a Ghostbusters vehicle and not being a hearse anymore.”
It turns out that Petor’s nautical adventures don’t stop at sinking houseboats and welding portholes onto cars: he once paid his way through the summer holidays as a ferryman on the Thames with an adapted rowing boat to which he had attached a pedal-powered propeller, earning himself a satisfying £15 a day, sometimes more with tips.
Back on dry land, Petor’s cycling background is on slightly more familiar territory. He used to road race and time trial with Twickenham Cycling Club joining his club mates (“lots of nerdy old men”, he fondly remembers) for tea and cake in church halls, and sometimes the pub afterwards too. I say ‘slightly’ more familiar territory because Petor has also had his fair share of adventures on the bike as well. A crash once left a splinter of carbon in his leg resulting in septicemia and meningitis, and another time he was involved in the slowest police chase of all time when the local constabulary took exception to him riding two bikes at the same time. With Petor refusing to pull over, the panda car continued to chase him down at a full 10mph, eventually losing patience and dragging him off the bike(s) and handcuffing him for resisting arrest. Luckily his mentor and lecturer from the Royal College of Art, Richard Wentworth, happened to be passing and, not for the first time, “he kind of got me out of it. What a great guy!”
Petor went on to do an MA in Sculpture at the RCA after studying Fine Art at Kingston, where he notoriously built his very large tesla coil. Thankfully, it didn’t kill him or anyone else, after he cut the cable of the lightning-bolt emitting machine dressed in wellies and brandishing garden shears. And some brave friends helped him scurry the Frankenstein-esque monster away just before the police confiscated it. He still keeps a half-cocked eye on the art world with a forthcoming exhibition of his artwork, sculptures and films at a gallery in Walthamstow - or was it Watford? Petor wasn’t entirely sure!
Although Petor, who hails from Molesey in Surrey, still loves to spin around Richmond Park in a “transcendental state,” his philosophy to riding is all about just having fun, which is partly where his idea for building tall bikes came from, one of which is currently on display at The Design Museum.
“My tall bike is a really nice thing made of really nice tubes, but the ones before that were just like pub bikes, the kind of thing you ride when you feel like a really weird night; it’s great, more drunk, less fear.” He’s also enjoyed the reaction he got: “I used to commute on my tall bike every day and that was great fun because you get kids doing walking buses, they lose their shit, they just don’t know what to do - it’s amazing, it’s so fun just seeing them all turn round, and then it’s about two seconds before you get a reaction and they just spaz out and they don’t know what to do.”
Riding tall bikes has really developed his cycling skills as well as bringing on a good bit of banter. “People say, ‘how do you get off?" and I say "pictures of your Mum on the internet," hahaha… Hopping off it gets boring, I usually just track stand. Also the stakes of track standing are much higher so you get really good, really quick. You don’t fall off when you know you’re not allowed to. I can do it indefinitely now – there’s no point where I have to put my foot down. Now I try and do it with no hands, I can do it for about 15 seconds with no hands.“
He’s had plenty of weird experiences while track standing in public: “One time a guy ran up to me and just pushed me off so I threw my bike in the road, chased after him, rugby tackled him and was like ‘cool, now that’s fair’, and went back to my bike. He was pretty shocked. So that was pretty offensive.”
But don’t be fooled by Petor’s weird and wacky escapades and tales of derring do. This guy knows his stuff and is an expert frame builder. In his workshop at the moment he’s “bastardising to hell” an Omnium cargo bike frame for a painter and decorator in Brighton. And during our interview, the photographer, Ben Broomfield, one of the creators of the latest cycling card game, Attack the Pack, arrived on his days-old Dear Susan bespoke bike to pick up a front rack with delicate suspension to hold his camera equipment.
“A lot of the bikes I build are for a specific need, like Ben’s bike - he needs to carry camera equipment so I built a suspended rack. Or just like stuff which is non-standard… it’s not about making the best bike it’s about making the best bike for one person. Design’s much more important and fundamental to your enjoyment of your bike.”
At the moment he’s particularly enthused by an 18-speed sealed hub gear “that a bunch of gear box dudes at Mercedes developed. I’m fitting as many as those of possible.”
At Look Mum No Hands! cycle café in Old Street you can see a beautiful Dear Susan time trial bike decorated in rainbow colours – it’s almost like a Pride version of Chris Boardman’s famous Lotus bike. And it shows how well Petor can design, make and finish a fantastic piece of engineering. Ironically it was commissioned for a guy whose wife mooted Velominati’s s-1 rule (that she would leave him if he bought another bike) so now it’s for sale for about two-and a-half grand.
At the moment Petor’s riding round town on a design based on a 1970s pen drawing by illustrator, Edward Gorey. “I just wanted something quite fun, quite silly and quite simple, for riding round town on. It didn’t take long to put together, and I’m not worried about it getting stolen, although I kind of like it now. It’s also got a really high bottom bracket so it’s kind of like a tall bike. It’s quite Dutch, so it’s kind of the most sensible thing for a city.”
So how did he come up with the name, Dear Susan? “I feel like a lot of bike companies are really macho and really racing oriented and I don’t have anything against racing – I really like racing – racing’s great fun, but it’s not the only way to have fun on a bike. So I just wanted something really ‘wet lettuce’ and like ‘nothingy’.” Ellie interrupted here to say that her Mum is called Susan. Then Ben Broomfield chucked in that his Mum is called Susan too. “Everyone’s Mum is called Susan,” Petor pointed out, “literally everyone’s Mum is called Susan, or their wife, but mostly their Mum.”
Sadly, we have to go. We could listen to Petor all day: philosophising, reminiscing about delivering bread to bakeries on a cargo bike at five in the morning or enthusing about artists who have inspired him. You feel that there are many more fascinating stories to be gleaned from this talented and unique bike designer. We can’t wait to catch up with him again, probably at Bespoked on 17th April. But we can’t carry on chewing the fat, because we’re so cold we literally can’t take notes any more.
For more of Petor's pics, follow him on Instagram