Dominique D-O-M-I-N-I-Q-U-E, last name Hamilton, like the founding father.
Dom talks the way some people write poetry, peppering in historical references and clever asides like little easter eggs. He chooses his words carefully, but can chat about almost anything with a laid back confidence. Dom recently moved to San Pedro, and has lived in Long Beach for two years. He’s from New York—the Bronx—but you’d never know it upon first meeting him. His vibe is all California, cool and relaxed.
How long have you been riding bikes?
I got my first bike when I was four or five in Jamaica—I lived in Jamaica for a bit with my grandfolks. My grandfather was adamant about me learning to ride a bike, so he put me on one and it was a horrible experience. Traumatized me. There was a lot of pressure to ride a bike.
I didn’t ride a bicycle again until I was 10 or 11. Both my childhood bikes were BMX cruisers. It started as a stress reliever, cruising all around the Bronx. It took me a while to get from Uptown or Gunhill Road to the South Bronx on a BMX bike, or wherever me and my friends were gonna kick it. But at the same time it felt natural.
What was your first bike as an adult?
I got my first real road bike around 2015 and the frame was too big, so I ended up trading it for the Miyata—which I still have with me today. The Miyata was so outdated it wasn’t a fun ride at the time, and I ended up moving to Kansas City, Missouri and started working as an engineer and making more money, so I dropped in and got a 2015 Specialized Allez.
I tried getting into it, I got the SPD pedals and bike computer and everything, but ended up riding mostly for leisure. It wasn’t until I came here to Long Beach and started talking to people that I realized what I really wanted to get more into was mountain biking and gravel riding. Really mountain biking is the goal, but it’s all more expensive and more serious. I like how casual gravel riding is in comparison.
I only manage to ask him these two questions before I ask what’s really on my mind: what’s up with the handlebar bags made out of used tires that adorn both his bikes? Turns out, he makes them himself, and he tells me the story:
When I first came here I was making shoes.
I stop and reiterate, shoes? He laughs and says he used to be a cobbler, as casually as if he’d said he worked at a coffee shop or fast food restaurant. That’s Dom.
But my main gig was Maritime Couriers. A few months in I started saying “oh I need this for my bike, I need that for my bike” and thought “you know what, I really need to get more familiar with my industrial sewing machine [ed: which he just casually has sitting around for making shoes—of course]. I could probably make a lot of this stuff myself.”
I started off making copilots, then frame bags, then top tube protectors, and now handlebar bags out of tires. The first one I made out of worn out Panaracer Gravel Kings from a buddy. If you look close you can see how the center tread is worn down. I just started cutting it up and sewing it together to make a bag. I’m sure I’m not the first person doing this, making bags out of tires. I’m just putting my own spin on it.
I ask whether he’d ever want to make it a shop, and he emphasizes that he likes the underground nature of it…
…by the community for the community, you know? Eventually it might spread, ’cause this is such a good process for the environment. Most of these tires go to a junkyard or to the landfill. If I could give them new life or find some use for them by all means I’d rather that happen, and keeping it hyper-local feels like the most sustainable way to do it.
You still have the Miyata with you today—tell me about it!
The Miyata 310… that’s the bike that has changed and aged the most in the years I’ve had it. It’s moved across the country with me. It’s been through a lot.
The Miyata was my first project bike. I swapped out parts until there were only 3 originals left: the shifters, the front derailleur, and the frame.
What about the Bianchi
He says it with reverence, more like he’s talking about a religious figure than a bicycle. In Dom’s eyes, the Bianchi is clearly a being in its own right.
That bike is super special to me. It’s the first bike I ever built up from scratch—frame up. The Miyata I swapped out parts until there were only 3 left. The Bianchi I really had to get out of my comfort zone and design it in my head beforehand. I was sourcing out parts, figuring out what ratio I wanted, just did a shit ton of research for two months. I was obsessive, probably hundreds of hours went into researching parts and groupsets.
I lucked out because of the community who ended up obtaining parts that were in the realm of what I wanted but saved my pockets. I got the stem, seatpost, seat, cranks, bottle cages all from friends. I got the frame from The Bicycle Stand. The first wheelset I learned how to build at Pedal Movement. It was thanks to Dylan and John Michael for teaching me how to do it that I was able to build that wheelset. Anytime I hit a hiccup or made a mistake, guys at our shop or other shops have always led me in the right direction. I wouldn’t even call this a Frankenstein bike anymore, it’s come into its own and is a reflection of the Long Beach community.
Dom talks about community in a way that makes it seem more real, more tangible and more interconnected, than almost anyone else I know. Our conversation takes a natural turn toward the sources of motivation and inspiration.
When you were riding for a paycheck, did you ever experience burnout?
For sure I did. To a certain degree it takes a sense of enjoyment out of it. Like, it’s still fun, you’re like wow I get to ride my bike for work. So it’s cool, but it depends on the frequency you’re doing it. I was doing it full time, so I was doing 40 hours a week and then people would invite me to ride after and I’m like man I just rode my bike 10 hours, I don’t wanna ride my bike anymore.
It wasn’t until I got into doing group rides and party rides it really changed my outlook on the biking community. Being a courier you end up at different shops and people will invite you out to group rides and races. To a certain degree it’s intimidating, ’cause these guys are fast. But it wasn’t until I started going to the slower party rides and group rides to build my confidence, then I started going out to races and really feeling like I was a part of it. Just being here gives me so much enjoyment that I was denying myself because I was too busy feeling intimidated.
What can we do to help people overcome that feeling of intimidation?
I think the first step is for new riders to identify where they want to go, and for people in the community already fostering the groups that are being inclusive. Some group rides will be more chill, others will be more challenging and fast paced, but there is a sense of community to be found in both. I’ve done both. When it’s fast and challenging you find your limits and get a sense of achievement because you realize you had something in you that you didn’t know you had.
It all depends on who the rider is and knowing themselves enough to know how big a step they should take. For some people that’s taking the step into racing, for others that’s joining something like Moonlight Mash. Regardless, there’s still camaraderie in it. You’re not going to get dropped if you can’t keep up in 10 seconds, there’s always regroup points, and worst case you can always peel off. People drop off rides all the time, there’s no shame.
Start somewhere, and know yourself well enough to know where you should start.
What inspires you to keep riding?
Like I said, it started as a stress reliever. As I grew older and my environment changed it became more of an extension of myself. Every time I hop on a bike I feel at peace, it gives me a sense of Zen.
What inspires me these days is the adventure. I wanna see how far I can go, what I can tackle. I like adventure riding and being surrounded by nature now. That inspires me to continue riding.