June 24, 2021

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The story behind the ‘Boris Bike,’ Biden’s gift to Boris Johnson

2 min read

When President Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson met in person on Thursday, they exchanged more than just glowing words about their wives — they also swapped gifts. Johnson awarded Biden with a framed photo of anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass (more on that later), and Biden presented avid cyclist Johnson with a custom red, white, and blue bicycle, aptly nicknamed “The Boris Bike.”

But who made the bike and where did it come from? As it turns out, a small shop in Philadelphia.

Stephen Bilkeny, owner of Philly’s Bilkeny Cycle Works, had less than two weeks to create the bicycle intended for Johnson after receiving a May 23 email request from the U.S. State Department, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Friday. One of Bilkeny’s custom bikes can usually take anywhere from six to 18 months to create, but the shop owner agreed anyway, saying he couldn’t pass up the chance to “raise his shop’s profile.”

Despite the tight turnaround, Bilkeny and his team were successful in creating their two-wheeled masterpiece, complete with Union Jack detailing and a “matching, custom-painted” helmet. 

It does seem, however, that Biden and Johnson neglected gift exchange rule #1 — set a price limit. Some reports value the Boris Bike at $6,000 (although the Inquirer set the project’s budget at $1,500), making Johnson’s framed photo, inspired by a Wikipedia-browsing session, look decidedly less grand. Perhaps the discrepancy is revenge for a prior U.S./U.K gift-giving fiasco.

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