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.