The idyllic town of Abita Springs boasts many attributes — artesian water, primo beer and an eclectic group of artists that includes John Preble.
Standing next to an oversized bicycle, wearing a giant sombrero, he is far from shy. A talented artist and businessman, his most notable profession is probably as owner of UCM Museum where the only thing that is ordinary is the extraordinary.
Like everything with Preble’s touch, there is nothing ordinary about the Louisiana Bicycle Festival he founded 14 years ago.
The Louisiana Bicycle Festival began as one of the few bike festivals in the country and this year will be held Saturday in Abita Springs.
It’s what Preble calls a hodge-podge of bicycle enthusiasts, local and out of state.
“The town is very supportive,” he said. “People spend money and often stay the night.”
The festival website says the event starts when people show up. It also notes that if you are looking to buy or swap a bike, many deals are made before 10 a.m.
There are no rules or formal schedule.
“It’s not a parade, but rather a spontaneous ride,” he said, and nobody knows the route.
Someone takes the lead, usually around 12:30 p.m., and everyone follows. They ride through the historic district and along the Tammany Trace.
“Usually someone will call and say their mother’s not feeling well, and it will cheer them up if we pass by there,” Preble explained.
Parties are held along the way, similar to a Mardi Gras parade. It’s what Preble calls “a very artsy event.”
“There’s a lot of crazy bikes, a Dr. Zeuss bike, art bikes, tall bikes, long bikes and people dress up in costumes,” he said. “Even a 10-foot-high unicycle and vintage bikes with big balloon tires, some are 100 years old.”
Trophies are given out, something people started on their own.
“They buy them at used stores or make them with bicycle parts,” said Preble. “At the height of the festival, it runs upwards to a thousand people.”
Preble began the bicycle fest to help his friend and bicycle collector, Ernie Dopp, meet people with similar interests.
“It grew pretty quick,” he said. “The first year was so successful, I knew it would work every year.”
Preble moved to Abita Springs in the early ’70s with a group of artist friends in hopes they could gain artistic inspiration. He learned the skills in renovating homes that helped him later in flipping houses.
“I’m creative, but don’t mind working in the trenches,” he said, adding he has a good eye on real estate curb appeal.
As an artist, he began painting landscapes, but it wasn’t working financially until one day he painted a girl with green eyes inside one of the landscapes. Abita Springs was quite an art colony, and Preble explained they would often host parties, especially during the holidays, inviting artists to display their work.
“The night before the show I cut the face out of the landscape painting and put it in a nice ornate frame,” he said. “It was an 8 by 10 size with a $400 price tag, and a friend bought it.”
A year later, Preble painted two similar paintings and both sold at $400.
“The next day I painted 10 paintings, drove to New Orleans and found a gallery that sold 100 paintings in one year,” he said. “All of a sudden I was making good money.”
He continues to paint and his work is on display at the Three Rivers Gallery in Covington.
“I’m not that good at painting faces, but that means all of them are different,” he said.
For information on the Louisiana Bicycle Festival, visit www.labicyclefestival.com. Booths are welcome if the service or product is bike related.
Deborah Burst writes about people behind-the-scenes of organizations and events in St. Tammany Parish. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.