Bicycle Michael’s

Post-Katrina Chair-Racing on a Freshly-Paved Street

Bicycle Michael’s is the oldest bike shop in New Orleans. As soon as Michael Ferrand opened it--on Royal Street, in 1983--his rent was inflated in anticipation of the 1984 World’s Fair. He was forced to relocate, a little off the beaten path, to Frenchmen Street. These days, his bike shop is a fixture in the neighborhood community.

We wandered into Bicycle Michael’s one day in 2019 to ask Ferrand and longtime bike mechanic/philosopher Tim Eskew if they had any particularly memorable stories they wanted to share from their tenure on Frenchmen Street. To which Tim responded, “Do you want to hear about chair-racing after Katrina?” (Yes, of course.)

His story took place several weeks after the hurricane, as glum Frenchmen residents and business owners trickled back to the city to take stock of their battered neighborhood. People felt powerless, and not just because the power wouldn’t be turned on until October. However, Tim and Mike found a weird way to make a little joy out of the mess around them. 

TE: Everybody knew that while we were all away—while most of us were away, I should say—Frenchmen Street was guarded by Jimbo, who owns the building across the street, Adé at Café Brasil, Kenny Claiborne, and George, who owned Snug Harbor before he died, rest his soul. They held anybody off from breaking into any of these places, with no weapons. 

At some point, Jimbo was roaming around looking for things, as you do, and I think it was Mr. B’s Bistro that had thrown out all of their chairs. They were rolling chairs, the kind you can roll across carpet….

Now, not long before Katrina, Frenchmen got refinished so it was as smooth as glass. It was the semi-centennial re-paving. Michael would be barbecuing every day out there on the sidewalk, dogs and burgers and whatnot…”

MF: I’d go to Baton Rouge to get a bunch of stuff from Whole Foods, because that was the closest grocery store open, and we’d barbeque right in front of the shop and anyone who came by was welcome.

TE: We had all kinds of foods, and then one day there’s chairs everywhere—

MF: Lots of veggies and chicken and whatnot—

TE: —and we had chair races in the street. You’d take the chair and you’d sit in and you’d race by kicking yourself backwards. Something to do to pass the time on Frenchman Street with no one around. Of course then whenever a car would now and then come down the street, we’d be like, “Toll road. $100 bucks.”

MF: Cuz you could look down Frenchmen Street and there would be no cars—

TE: No cars.

MF: —in either direction.

TE: There were many days that I had the only car on the block.

MF: No power, of course.

Interviewer: Were there any particularly skilled chair racers you remember?

TE: I was the champion. I don’t have any fear of falling over backwards. …Also, I was racing mostly people significantly older than me.

Champion of the chairs and champion of the neighborhood. The guys at Bicycle Michael’s brought some light to a dark time, a great example of the community spirit that pulled people through. Indeed, many interviewees cite their favorite era of Frenchmen as “right before and right after Katrina,” as if everyone had collectively refused to let such a disaster draw a line in the sand.



622 Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, LA 70116 ~ The chair-racing operation was based at Bicycle Michael’s but took place up and down that block along Frenchmen.