Spinning with Erik: Pottery Wheels and Bicycle Wheels

Erik Wright of WC Pottery uses bikes to support his business and to deliver his products to Philadelphia markets. Learn more about his simple yet elegant approach to pottery and transportation.

Spinning with Erik: Pottery Wheels and Bicycle Wheels
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I met Erik Wright sometime after 2am, somewhere in New Jersey, on an overnight bike ride to the shore last September (read his thoughts on Cape May Dyno here). We connected over mutual friends from the Philly-based, mission-driven Bike & Build community and over mutual employment in spaces at Bok in South Philly. I've seen Erik all over town since then, and getting to know awesome people like him is one of my favorite parts about riding bikes.

I was inspired when I saw that Erik recently used an electric cargo bike to transport supplies as heavy as a Rottweiler over a distance greater than the length of Rhode Island to support his pottery business. He'd borrowed that bike from Simon at Transport Cycles, also in Bok, and found that it would be feasible to carry a load twice as heavy next time.

What's more, when bringing his pottery to markets, Erik transports his entire inventory and display exclusively using his vintage mountain bike outfitted with a Crust Clydesdale cargo fork. Without really meaning to (he simply finds using a bike simpler and more enjoyable than his car), Erik has smashed a paradigm necessitating motor vehicles to transport heavy loads long distances.

Erik, now 32, has been working with clay since high school. He learned to be a production potter through an apprenticeship from 2014-2016 at Dark Horse Pottery in coastal Davenport, California. His mentor, Joel Magen, remains one of his biggest artistic influences.

Erik with his mentor Joel Magen during his apprenticeship. Photo courtesy Erik Wright.
My work: simple and functional, with a careful attention to detail.
Techniques: I'm a big handle guy. I care a lot about how the handle makes a pot balance in your hand, how it attaches to the piece at both the top and bottom, how its look complements the form, etc. I'm proud of my handles, but that comes after "pulling" 1200 of them or so

Erik opened his pottery studio on the sixth floor of the iconic Art Deco Bok Building in 2020. Bok operated as a vocational school from 1938 to its closure in 2013 and has since been converted into a space for makers, artists, and other small businesses. His humble studio was once a small bathroom - all the space he really needs - and the name WC Pottery references this transformed water closet. Bok provides plenty of artistic inspiration and enables Erik to talk through problems and ideas with other small business owners.

Loading up the bike for market was fairly simple. A folding table rested atop two wooden boards that would be used for the display. Repurposed wine crates were stacked above, containing the various bowls, mugs, plates, vases, and other ceramics. A Swift Industries saddle bag was loaded with other items, including bricks(!), to help elevate the display and distribute the load. Erik concedes only that a set of ratchet straps would be preferable to his current bungy cords.

Erik’s bike-based-business began in 2018 when he converted his Tom Teesdale All-Rounder into a front-loaded cargo bike. He rebuilt that bike again into an all-road setup two years later (photos below) and built a new cargo bike around a 1992 Mountain Goat frame on 26-inch wheels. He learned after acquiring the frame that Mountain Goats were made in Chico, CA, near his native Bay Area, and he enjoys when people get excited over a brand they recognize was established by a MTB Hall of Fame frame-builder.

Though highly regarded, the Mountain Goat isn't exceedingly precious to him and he doesn't mind knocking it around. One of his favorite features of the frame is the wishbone seatstay and Erik says he's considering having a kickstand plate installed to assist with cargo. The load in this story's photos is about 100 lbs, though he estimates he's carried about 300 lbs before ("that gets really sketchy").

Pedaling to market was a breeze despite a steady drizzle. The trip to SOSNA Plazapalooza at 23rd and Grays Ferry was just under three miles using the bike lanes on Snyder and 22nd. Unlike other vendors who needed to arrive early to unload from their vehicles in a designated location before driving off to find a paid parking spot, Erik’s arrival time was more flexible and he was able to roll right up, unload, and park his bike at his stall.

Grays Ferry Avenue was closed to traffic and opened as a public space for the market. Instead of catering only to cars, the street became a place where children danced, rode the kiddie train, and had their faces painted while enjoying a lineup of live music and eating street food. Around 2014, a slip lane was converted to a public plaza and has expanded to feature shaded seating, landscaping, a fountain, and an Indego bike share station. The South of South Neighborhood Association is working to formalize this space and expand its scope through the Grays Ferry Triangle Gateway project.

With the bike and all his equipment at hand, Erik's setup was effortless. Though the weather may have dissuaded some patrons from visiting, Erik was still able to make some sales and chat with passing friends and potential future clients. Removing the costs of fuel and parking from the equation, it's easier for Erik to turn a profit even on slower days.

Some cool, outside-the-box things I've done over the past year that are creative ways to support my biz:
  • Sold mugs to Keystone Bicycle Co, custom stamped and for sale in their shop
  • Made a full range of 50 vases for a wedding in the Wiss
  • Made 40 mugs for a design company's "end of year" gifts for their clients
  • Fulfilled a dinnerware order for a couple's wedding registry
  • Sold work to an interior designer who used it to "stage" somebody's new living room redesign upon completion
Custom stamped mugs for sale at Keystone Bicycle Co. Photo courtesy Erik Wright.

Want to support Erik's work? Want to help Erik achieve his goal of buying a new and modern kiln? Visit WC Pottery's website or DM his Instagram for custom orders on ramen bowls, mugs, mixing bowls, or whatever you can dream up.