The wacky world of Peter Wagner, perhaps Davis' foremost recycler, is headquartered in an ordinary suburb on the west side of town.
His yard looks like the back lot of an all-clown circus, where he has swing bikes, drifters, sociables, recumbents, trikes, big wheels, velocipedes, unicycles, hand cycles, a 6-foot unicycle, bikes with pedals, bikes without pedals, tall bikes that elevate the rider 8 feet off the ground, and four-seaters. What isn't scattered about the overgrown grass in his front yard can be found in the garage.
Wagner built them all, welding bits and pieces of discarded or donated bikes into functioning, funky, pedal-propelled vehicles. He often enters some of his collection in the annual University of California, Davis, Picnic Day Parade. Several had a small role in a music video recently produced by university students. He and his wife, Jerri, compete in kinetic-sculpture races around California and Oregon, and were married during one weekend event.
Wagner, 58, is an inventor, adapter, bona fide bike wizard and self-described eccentric. He's built around 250 bikes, sold 180 and kept the rest. He makes his living primarily as a substitute school teacher.
His cycling tour de force and signature design is the big bouncer he named WhymCycle (pronounced "whimsical.") Its super-wide tires came off a dirt-track race car, and its off-center, or eccentric, rear hub requires the operator to bounce strategically on a central platform (where the seat would be on a regular bike) to propel the ponderous beast, which for now is decorated to resemble a giraffe. And the big bike floats. He simply attaches oarlocks and oars, and then pedals into the water, where he can row the thing along like a boat.
WhymCycle has become the unofficial trademark name of his entire fleet of bicycle inventions.
"Whimsical, the conventional spelling, means 'fanciful imagination,' " Wagner said. "My middle name is William, which means 'culturally eccentric,' or not the norm. Think about it: Wm.'s cycle is WhymCycle."
Wagner rode a bicycle for the first time at age 4, on Christmas Day, he remembers. It was a girls model belonging to his older sister. No training wheels for this cycling prodigy. He simply hopped on, started pedaling and quickly figured out how to maintain his balance.
He started building bikes when he was 10 but has no idea what became of his early creations. The oldest bike he has is a 1970 double-tandem that he converted to a triple in 1993.
"I believe his father challenged him to make a rear-steering tandem," said Jerri Wagner.
In a traditional tandem, only the front rider can steer the bike. Passengers have immovable handlebars.
"My dad had one of those old photo albums with little black-and-white pictures that looked like they'd been cut with pinking shears," said Wagner. "There was one of him and another fellow and their dates on a rear-steering tandem, but the photo was so small that I couldn't see any detail about how they got the connection, so I had to figure it out on my own."
Wagner grew up in Los Angeles, one of five children. He has a fraternal twin brother. His dad was an office-machine salesman, and his parents met on an elevator in New York City.
"They married nine months later, on Dec. 27, 1941 20 days after Pearl Harbor," said Wagner, who is very precise about dates.
His dad wasn't much for riding bikes until he had a heart attack at age 58. After that, said Wagner, his dad put 30,000 miles on a stationary bike and lived for another 30 years. It's the only bicycle allowed in Peter and Jerri Wagner's home and sits in the kitchen.
Wagner and his wife met four years ago when a mutual friend dropped her off at his home. She needed a place to stay and never left. They soon fell in love. Jerri Wagner is now 28, three decades her husband's junior.
"It was her doing," Wagner said. "I would never have gone after such a young lady. She started helping me make bicycles and riding the big, impossible ones. It is wonderful."
"He cleans, he cooks, he sews, he vacuums, he cleans the toilets and doesn't complain. What's not to like?" his wife said.
Wagner is a fan of Mark Twain, and when their son was born 3 1/2 years ago, they named him Samuel Langhorne Clemens Wagner, after Twain's real name. Their infant daughter, born on Clemens' birthday, is Lillian Juliet Olivia Wagner. Olivia was the name of Clemens' wife.
Sam attended his parents' wedding, held on an Oregon beach on the evening of a two-day kinetic bike race.
"The only thing new we bought were sandals," Jerri said. "My auntie made my dress and Peter got a shirt from a thrift shop."
Wagner made their wedding rings. His was a 50-cent piece, hers was a quarter.
"Hmm," she said with a grin, "am I the better half?"
In just a few years, Jerri has become almost as knowledgeable about bikes as her husband. And she is game to take on the giraffe-themed big bouncer, which she rode for the UC Davis students' music video filming, and the beast of them all: an amphibious, propeller-driven bike Wagner built from a discarded lawnmower. It has a transmission and lots of gears.
"They're all the wrong one," Wagner said.
"It really is a beast," his wife said. "You go so slow. Snails go faster."
"But it's glorious," Wagner said.
All of the bikes are street legal. The law requires only a reflector for nighttime riding, said Wagner. His front-yard collection is popular with neighborhood kids, who often ask to borrow one.
"I'll say, 'I don't have any normal bikes.' A lot of people like to borrow the stranger ones. And they all know where to come to get anything fixed. I'm the village smithy. Or they try to give me bikes. I'm just a guy who can't say no."