Episode Three: US Bike Mechs – The Bike Farm

“The bicycle doesn’t have to be a mysterious machine.”

Hello and welcome to episode 3 of independent bike mechanic interviews. The focus is now on the vibrant cycling city of Portland (damn straight!: around 6 percent of it’s citizens commute by bicycle – the highest in the US), where L interviewed five different groups/people involved in cycling culture.

First off is the Bike Farm, a “non-profit, volunteer-run bicycle maintenance collective .” It should be noted that The Bike Farm isn’t the only independent, collectively run, branded-awesome bikespace in town. There are others like the Community Cycling Center, Bicycle Repair Collective, North Portland Bike Works, Citybikes, etc…, but due to time constraints and the huge explosion of bike-related businesses in Portland since L last visited two years ago, the Bike Farm gets dibs! Also, the Bike Farm gets the first go because the atmosphere, organisational structure, and politics seemed a lot like 56a:

“We’re a resource for tools and parts where people can come and work on their own bikes and the volunteers, to the extent that some of us have some mechanical experience are here to point you in the right direction, to identify what needs to be done, and figure out how to do it.”

L also fronts some questions regarding gender and sexism in the bikeworld.

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More reading:

The concept of a “bike kitchen
An article about The Bike Farm, from bikeportland.org.

The Bike Farm is located at 305 NE Wygant, Portland OR 97211. Thanks Shannon and Russ for your time!

Episode Two: US Bikes Mechs – Gary Main

Hellohello. This is the second installment of our interviews on independent bike projects. On her recent travels in the United States, L met Gary Main of Big Rapids, MI. He happens to own the last remaining bike shop in town! This was quite a contrast to London (3% of people working in central London commute by bike), and also to Portland (5.8% commute by bicycle), where she later visited: “Less people ride bicycles in the United States than in almost every country throughout Asia and Europe, with the exception of England, with whom the United States is tied (along with Australia).”


Netherlands 27%, 18% Denmark, ~10% Germany, Finland, and Sweden. In Tokyo, Japan, “it is estimated that more people ride bicycles to local train and subway stations each day — as part of their work commute — than there are bike commuters in the entire United States.” (Zack Furness, One Less Car, 4)

In Portland the bike business is booming, but in small town America local businesses including bike shops, are suffering not only from the recession but also from the big name/big box shops like Walmart that sell lower quality bicycles for cheap (see quoted passage below on the bicycle industry). L speaks to Gary on these issues, “corn-gas society,” as well as how Gary is keepin’ it real in MI.

“It would take an awful lot of education and some simple modifications of people’s driving skills, then there would be a lot of people riding bikes, just like in Europe. Yaknow, I mean I get people coming in here all the time, I say: ‘Why don’t you ride your bike to work?’ ‘Oh! It’s two miles!’ ‘Wait…10,000 ft. And you wanna buy a car, pay exorbitant insurance, pour gas like mad into this car by yourself, and drive four miles a day. 20,000ft. Instead of getting on it and riding a bike, and improving your health and maybe living longer. You cannot legislate morality. You cannot create common sense. There’s no cure for stupid.”

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“There are a number of mitigating circumstances leading to the demise of the U.S. bicycle manufacturing aside from international competition, including mismanagement, corporate greed, and the failure of certain bicycle companies to adapt to particular trends…Rather, we are meant to see the company’s missed opportunities, lack of innovation, and brand deterioration as the hallmarks of its failure, as opposed to seeing the entire bicycle industry as a symbol of everything wrong with globalisation and the corporate race to the bottom…

Huffy Bicycle Corporation, then largest in the United States [July 1998], closed down its Celina, Ohio factory and fired the entire staff of nearly a thousand workers despite high overall sales that year (previous years were financially tumultuous)…Huffy went on to close plants in Mississippi and Missouri in 1999, firing 1,800 workers who were already paid $2.50 less per hour than Celina’s $10.50 wage. The company moved a number of these jobs to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where workers earned less than $4 per hour, before closing operations in 2001 in order to centralise manifacturing operations in a Chinese factory where workers earned 25 to 41 cents per hour while logging sixty-six to seventy hours per week (up to nineteen hours per shift).

Including Huffy, five corporations (Dorel, Dynacraft, Huffy, Rand, and Kent) and their subsidiaries now comprise roughly 80 percent of the U.S. bicycle market, while the other 20 percent of bicycle are largely produced by three additional corporations (Giant, Merida, and Ideal) that similarly operate via a network of supply chains and outsourced labour that is difficult to accurately map out. Consequently, it is incredibly hard to find out where most bikes are made, never mind gaining access to clear information about the actual labour conditions and environmental practices connected to specific bicycle factories ” (Furness, 214).

Episode One: London Indy Bike Mechs – Jon of Old Street Bikes

This is the first installment of our interview project on independent bike projects. L of the bikespace has been interviewing some of London’s independent bike mechanics, and different independent bike spaces/people/projects during her summer travels in the US of A.

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Jon of Old Street Bikes (formerly known as Ganesha Cycles) talks about his racing past, working solo, constructing a bicycle, philosophy of riding and fixing a bike, changes in London, recommended rides and bike shops/mechanics, and he shows us some of his sweet refurbished bikes — check out the rim with the floating sprocket! His business is mainly out of his house in Whitechapel where he has up to 100 bikes! He also sells bikes at bike jumbles and the like around London.

“Really, I try and put bikes back to how they were when built. So I try and keep my original parts, and if I can I’ll improve them. So maybe I’ve got a ’30’s bike, maybe I’ll improve it by taking off the rod brakes and putting on a ’50’s drum brake. So a certain bike which would have been updated in the ’50’s, it’s a better bike than it was. That’s what I try and do; I try and either improve bikes or put them back.”


Jon can be contacted at 07five7218zero815 and operates out of 34 Mount Terrace E1 2BB.

‘Tis the Season for…Bike Touring!

From the Rootz Bike Tour

Summertime, And the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’, and the cotton is high…
It’s warm and the weather’s nice! What better time to go long distances on your bike

Here are some links we’ve compiled on bicycle touring

General Info:

Ken Kifer’s Bike Touring + Ken Kifer’s Basic Skills for Cyclists
DIY Cycle Tour Zine

Cycle Routes UK
CycleStreets UK

Cycling stories/trips:

Calais Jungle Tour, July 2011
Rootz Bike Tour
Touring and Recreation, Bicycling Life 
P.E.D.A.L. to Palestine 

A bit of DIY:
Ken Kifer’s Panniers
Bucket Panniers+ Zines, like the Urban Adventure League’s Cycle Touring Primer!
From the P.E.D.A.L. tour

UK Bikes Project Gathering

Some of the 56a crew were up in Manchester last weekend for the grassroots/DIY bike conference (ie UK Bikes Project Gathering) with other groups around the UK to share stories, relate and socialise, skill share, discuss, and munch together. We discusses issues that relate to us as grassroots bike projects such as: gender in the workshop, culture and bikes, corporatism and the potential bureaucratisation of the bicycle. We also had workshops such as making a bicycle-powered generator and how to lead a group ride. Music and lots of bike rides to amazing places were also had.

A selection of photos is below. More can be found here.

Big ups to Nes and Ed of i Bike MCR/Pedal MCR!

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Solidarity with New York City cyclists

“‘Believe it or not,’ he said, ‘few issues today prompt more heated discussion than bike policy in New York City.'”  ————–

In November last year I came across a NY Times article about cycle lanes, and thus cycling, in NYC facing a “backlash” from some drivers, business owners, and pedestrians.

Apparently in the last four years NYC has had more than 250 miles of traffic lanes dedicated to bicycles and several laws intended to promote cycling have been passed. Most of this progress can be attributed to cycling advocates and the Transportation Alternatives (a bit like Transport for London but with bigger scope).

Other articles in November highlighted the issue, such as from the Village Voice, Gothamist, and NY Daily News. There have also been many articles before and since then, but November seemed to be primetime since the City Council held a hearing on Dec 9th to address balancing the needs of cyclists with those of other road users.

According to the aforementioned Village Voice article:

“New York’s backing of bicycling has come at a price. Specifically, the ire of angry drivers who think bike lanes impede traffic and slow them down and even residents who simply think bike lanes are ‘ugly.’…But according to the D.O.T.’s [Department of Transportation] own reports, new bike lanes increase pedestrian safety and reduce accidents. The installation of bike lanes requires narrowing parts of the road designated for cars, forcing motorists to drive more slowly, pay more attention, and culminating in “a traffic calming effect.” The debate has also prompted bike riders and pedestrians to submit demands, such as bike lanes to be extended all the way up to 125th Street, and to follow through on plans for pedestrian islands and protected bike lanes on Manhattan’s First and Second avenues.

Wow. Like London, NYC has seen similar growth in cycling numbers (109% in NYC since 2006 and 91 to 117% in London since 2000)[¹][² and ³], yet unlike London, there have been hundreds of miles of bike lanes concurrent with that increase (and I’m not counting Cycle Superhighways). Echoing the words of Chris Peck, the CTC’s policy co-ordinator, the growth of cycling should also see the growth of bike lanes and other cycling infrastructure, such as police that actually give a damn when you’ve been in an accident/had your bike stolen or safer and bigger bike lanes, not just more cycle parking stands.

My amazement with how fast NYC has embraced and grown with cycling culture obviously has a tinge of sadness — seeing the backlash happening from years of bike progress. When/if London gets a “cycling revolution” on par with NYC, or even Amsterdam or Copenhagen, I wonder if our city will encounter the same head-to-head issues that many NYC cyclists are facing. Not like there aren’t “bike wars” here. The Department for Transport-commissioned report into cycling safety and the attitudes of other road users towards cyclists entitled Safety, cycling and sharing the road: qualitative research with cyclists and other road users. Roadcc. who reported on this in September 2010 notes, “does not make for uplifting reading and will confirm what many cyclists already know to be the case, i.e. that some drivers view cyclists as inconveniences at best and a road-using underclass who shouldn’t be there at all, at worst…the report does paint such a depressing picture of the interface between cyclists and what it terms other road users (ORUs).”[]

It seems for both of us on either side of the pond there are some big obstacles to over come on our way to something like a CriticalMass style utopia. On a happier note, recently released statistics show that the controversial Prospect Park West bike lane has seen a dramatic increase in cyclist use and a fall in car speeds and accidents along that corridor.[]

Nonetheless, big ups to cyclists in NYC defending their right to a safe ride!


Other relevant articles/blogs:

Bicycling, In crackdown on cyclists, history repeats itself

Gothamist, August 19th 2010, Anti-cyclist scaremongering at boiling point

Guardian, January 6th 2010, New York’s transportation chief is a latter-day Robin Hood

Bikesnobnyc, March 26th, 2009, [Spandex Cowboys and the 1970s!] Anti-veloism: Weird, Creepy Bike Hate

Roadcc, January 9th, 2009, Bike riders take over anti-cyclist group on Facebook

Streetsblog.org [See The Vicious Cycle of Anti-Cyclist Bias, March 5th 2008][and European Parking Policies Leave New York Behind, January 19th 2010]



Williamsburg, Brooklyn specific:

Vosizneias, August 9th 2010, Williamsburg Anti-bike Vigilante is Gluing Locks

Williamsburg Bike Lane Wars Debate

The Daily Beast, December 14th, 2009, The Great New York City Bicycle Wars

New York Post, December 9th, 2009, Hipsters repaint bike lanes in brush off to Hasids