The Man Behind the E.T. Bike

Imagine seeing your bike included in one of the most memorable moments in one of the most successful films of all-time. Howie Cohen has had that experience.

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Imagine seeing your bike included in one of the most memorable moments in one of the most successful films of all-time. Howie Cohen has had that experience, and continues to be part of bicycle history by bringing together thousands of bike memorabilia.

Cohen’s family bike shop, Playrite Bicycle Supply Company of Los Angeles, sold bicycles and supplies to movie studios starting in the late 1940s. Universal Studios later contacted Cohen, now in his early 70s, to request Kuwahara BMX bikes from Everything Bicycles – one of two bicycle companies formally owned by Cohen – for a film directed by Steven Spielberg.

Cohen was not only lucky enough to see one of the bikes he supplied flying across the moon – ridden by a boy with an alien in his front basket/ crate – in E.T., he also got to meet with Spielberg. The first occasion, Cohen said, was a meeting in which Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy explained how the bikes would be used in E.T. and “why it was important that the bicycles be painted and stickered in accordance with the art renderings that they provided. The second meeting was when we delivered the first batch of bikes to the studio so the young actors could do some test riding. They required about 25 bikes because of the many different scenes and props.”

This June is the 30th anniversary of the release of E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial and it’s worth noting the impact the film has had on cycling culture in its wake. Said Cohen: E.T. was “one of the most important movies of our time. Steven Spielberg is a genius and his movie is responsible for inspiring thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of youngsters to start riding BMX bicycles.” Cohen’s extensive collection of bicycle memorabilia is notable in and of itself. He currently has a stock of over 20,000 items, including one of the very first E.T. frame sets that Kuwahara shipped to Everything Bicycles.

How did growing up in a family of bike-enthused people shape your childhood?

I really can’t recall ever not being around tricycles and bicycles. They were a part of our family’s daily life. I think my childhood was shaped by the love and integrity that my parents instilled in all three of us siblings.

What was your earliest bike adventure?

My favorite bike ride as a youth was when, in the early 1950s, I rode my 26 x 2.125 cruiser with a spring fork and high riser handlebars on the motorcycle trails in the Baldwin Hills of Los Angeles.

What have you been up to lately?

I spend a great deal of time cataloging my bicycle memorabilia collection. … There are currently over 18,000 images of “bike stuff” on my website, which is the catalog of my collection. I still have thousands more items to list on the site. This is a work (play) in progress. … I still do consulting within the bicycle industry. I reply to several inquiries daily about bicycles and tricycles. I have a lovely family with whom I enjoy spending time. Walking our pet dog (Mika the Doberman) daily and playing tennis several times a week rounds out my life.

What bike are you riding now?

I have a custom-built cruiser that I ride occasionally. I recently sold my recumbent bike and trike because I seldom used them.

What piece of bike gear can you not live without?

As a senior, I would say that the most important component on my bike is the seat. If the seat is not comfortable, the riding experience is not enjoyable. The second most important component is the derailleur or internal hub gear system, which makes cycling more comfortable.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on a bike in Lafayette?

I have helped several people with their bikes by making them more comfortable or more efficient because of my knowledge, experience and contacts within the bicycle industry.

See selected items from Howie Cohen’s bike collection here.

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