Two dollars and seventeen cents. Even a super-part-time writer with a part-time day job can afford a bike tune-up for two dollars and seventeen cents. And even if I couldn’t, Pedals2People wouldn’t have turned me away.
Bicycles are supposed to be the great equalizer for transportation, but without do-it-yourself know-how, they can cost a lot to purchase and maintain.
Many of us switching to bike transportation have no clue where to begin—what kind of bike we should buy, if that old bike in our parents’ garage can be revived to working condition, or whether we’re getting a deal or getting ripped off on Craig’s List. Once we have a bike in our hands, we’re clueless on how to patch a tube—forget addressing even the most basic mechanical issue.
Enter Pedals2People. They are geared toward getting beginner cyclists hooked up with used commuter bikes they can afford—most are around $75—and teaching them to repair and maintain their own bicycles. To this end, they have open shop hours, offer mechanics classes and provide free tune-ups at summer community events. “We really want to make biking approachable and a friendly alternative that makes sense to people. One way to do that is make it affordable,” says Pedals2People president Liza Mattana. “We haven’t had to turn anybody away that couldn’t afford a bicycle.”
Pedals2People celebrates its third anniversary this month. Their April 9th shindig also serves as the grand opening for their shop at 1802 East Sprague (next to One World Café).
A WORK IN PROGRESS
It all started very small, with a bunch of old friends, reunited in Spokane after a number of years. Mattana and her husband, John Speare (senior writer at Out There Monthly) had just returned from a stint living in Seattle and Bellingham, both of which have self-service bicycle shops. “We were sitting around drinking beers, saying we need something like this in Spokane,” says founding member Ben Stuckart. So they made it happen.
“We were all just very excited about the idea,” says Mattana. “For all of us it really seemed like the right thing to do. It’s a small enough town that your action goes a long way.” Starting off with virtually no funds, the group of eight founding members set up shop in a friend’s garage on the South Hill. The organization was entirely volunteer-run for over two years—the first two employees were hired this January.
Although they set out to model themselves after the shops they’d seen on the West Side, Mattana says Pedals2People aims to meet the particular needs of Spokane riders, which are different from those of other communities. “The first year, we experimented a lot,” she says. Then, much of the organization’s energy was dedicated to collecting bicycles and shipping them to Ghana through the Village Bicycle Project, an endeavor they’ve put on hold for now, in favor of serving the Spokane community. Now their main focus is the shop, where they offer classes and have regular open shop hours. Most commonly, says Mattana, people come in to make basic fixes to their bikes or make them more comfortable for commuting—swapping out handlebars, putting on different tires or putting on a new saddle, for example. Outreach events in Spokane offer the opportunity for Pedals2People volunteers to put their bike tuning skills to practice on community members’ bikes.
One volunteer, Joe Thomsen, says he rarely made it up to the South Hill shop. “I was never in the area,” he says. Now that they’re in a new location, he pops in frequently just to see who’s there. To him, the shop’s opening is just the beginning of Pedals2People establishing itself as the focal point of Spokane’s bike culture. “I think bicycling tends to draw do-it-yourself-ers,” he says, so the shop will attract all kinds of people around the concept of D.I.Y. maintenance.
Several days after my $2.17 bike tune-up, there is still bike grease being scrubbed from underneath fingernails. Grease. It’s horrifying. “We won’t do the work for you,” says Mattana. So there you have it. You can set up on a stand, use the tools and they’ll show you how it’s done, but Pedals2People is strictly a self-service shop. What’s a little fingernail scrubbing to the empowerment of knowing how to check for a flat, adjust the gears and align the brake pads on your own bike?
The shop is staffed by two recently-hired mechanics who can help with those sorts of adjustments, as well as trickier work like converting to a fixed gear or building a bike from the ground up. “They are a perfect fit for Pedals2People and our mission”, says Mattana, “multi-talented, approachable, [and] passionate about cycling.”
BUILDING A COMMUNITY
Looking at shop mechanic Ryan Volsen, you wouldn’t guess the guy is secretly some kind of genius—he wears thermal long underwear beneath his shorts and unruly hair sticks out from his Rasta hat.
“That’s right,” jokes Volsen, “I turned it all down, the glory and the fame, so I could work here.” He jokes, but he’s only sort of kidding. Volsen took the part-time mechanic gig instead of choosing one of two Ph.D. programs to which he’d been accepted. Volsen’s reason is simple: he thinks this is important. “It’s about building a community together,” he says—a community that provides access to affordable transportation, yes, but it’s more than that: sharing stories and advice with other cyclists helps commuters feel more confident on the road. In Spokane, he says, bicycle culture is impeded by peoples’ belief that you can’t be a bike commuter in our climate. “We need a place that supports the mentality that we can bike through the winter.”
Occupying the back half of a retail space on Sprague Avenue that was once a motorcycle shop, the walls of Pedals2People are lined from floor to ceiling with bikes and parts. Six bike stands huddle around a central worktable where Kris Stellhorn stands, beginning to piece together a bicycle from various used parts he’s found in here.
Stellhorn is building his first bicycle at the shop with the mechanics’ guidance. He says he’s ridden—and broken—a lot of bikes, but never done any work on one before this. After seven hours at the shop, he’s just finished painting kelly green and black stripes on the body. Now he’s starting to assemble the pieces.
When all is said and done, Stellhorn will have spent about $150 on the bike. Could he buy a sweet used bike for that price? Maybe, he says, but then he wouldn’t have the freedom to customize the bike to his particular needs—the comfort of a mountain bike with the gearing of a road bike and hybrid tires. “I’m just not happy with what comes off the shelf,” he says.
Volsen periodically checks in on Kris Stellhorn’s progress, but mostly they’re just chatting as he works. John Henry, the other shop mechanic, pipes in occasionally from the front counter. Henry is employed through the Work Study program at Spokane Community College, where he is majoring in cultural communication.
Volsen is explaining that he tackled the winter weather issue by crafting himself a fixed-gear bike with studded tires. “Why a fixed-gear?” asks Stellhorn, and Volsen explains that it affords him more control than a multi-speed bike. When Stellhorn gets hung up on a step of his building process, Henry offers a suggestion and Volsen grabs the right tool for the job.
That’s how this community works—people exchange ideas in a common workspace, where they have the tools and instruction available to make those ideas into their own projects.
It’s not much, but it’s perfect for Pedals2People: like a buddy’s garage, but with a little more space. Aside from bike parts, the only décor in the room is a door in the back corner, painted by Spokane artist Tiffany Patterson and ornate gate of bike parts constructed by Glen Copus. Splitting the space with a SNAP office makes rent reasonable—$400 per month, which allows the shop to be located along a retail strip and accessible to non-drivers. The new shop enables a more varied group of cyclists to participate in the experience. “When we first opened the garage [on the South Hill], the same eight people would show up on open shop nights. Now you typically see 20 to 30 people stop by and take classes, fix their bikes, work on donated bikes or buy used equipment and bikes,” says Stuckart. “The new shop in a central location in a growing retail neighborhood [allows] us the opportunity to serve more community members who need services such as those our shop has to offer.”
For Satish Shrestha, getting to the South Hill location from the Gonzaga University campus was prohibitive between classes and work. Now he’s at Pedals2People more often, which means he gets to learn about bikes, and the organization benefits from a hard-working volunteer.
“Before I actually started hanging out with P2P-ers, I knew little about bikes,” he says. His interest in bicycling is fueled by the increased self-sufficiency it offers him. The shop’s inventory comes from donated bicycles, which volunteers like Shrestha either disassemble for parts or return to working condition for sale.
Three blocks from home on my first bike ride of the year, I went to hit the brakes at a stop sign and got no response—which was problematic, as I fall squarely into the category of cyclists who are befuddled by a mere flat tire. Standing helpless next to a “broken” bike is one of the few situations in which I would grudgingly accept a man’s help, despite my furious feminist leanings. Incidentally, just as I was contemplating turning back, a young guy in a flannel shirt came out of his house with a buddy, who loaded a bicycle into his truck and took off. John Gaz had just finished fixing up his friend’s bike; now he was inquiring about mine.
Before I knew it, I was standing on the stoop, watching Gaz repair the offending component of my bicycle. My grandmother would be so pleased that there are still nice young men like this around. I was just relieved to have stumbled upon someone who was willing to give me a hand without making me feel like an idiot.
Gaz, who is a bike mechanic at REI when he’s not fixing his neighbors’ bikes, suggested I attend Pedals2People’s Ladies’ Night” a free two-hour session each week aimed to get women working on their own bicycles. He, along with Mattana, began teaching the clinic in January when the shop opened at its new location.
“The ladies-only classes were bounced around as an idea last year,” says Mattana. “It was well-received, so we worked with volunteers and friends to make them a priority at our new shop.” Opening the shop in January finally allowed Pedals2People to offer classes. Women’s courses were first on the list and are currently the only regular offering aside from open shop time. (although a second wheel-building class is on the horizon).
A more involved ladies’ mechanics series—which has filled to capacity each time it has been offered—includes sessions on brakes, bearings and controls in addition to a basic maintenance class. “[Pedals2People vice president] Beth Mort and I both have this need for community and creating connections,” says Mattana. “Deciding to focus on women was an extension of who we are and what we want out of life.”
As they become able, says Mattana, Pedals2People will expand its class offerings. Commuter basics and a bicycle overhaul class are next on the list, but organizers welcome suggestions. “The more feedback we get from people that say what kinds of classes they want, the better,’ says Mattana.
HOW TO BUILD A WHEEL
Joe Thomsen has been bike commuting in Spokane for 18 years and estimates having put around 4,000 rough miles on his bike in the past three years. He has many basic bike tools, but comes in to Pedals2People for use of tools he’d rather not purchase himself. He built his current bike from scratch in his basement, but wheel-building was one project he hadn’t tried.
In February, John Speare and Elephant Bikes owner Glen Copus taught a three-day wheel-building class at the Pedals2People shop. Two three-hour sessions and a few hundred bucks later, Thomsen has two top-of-the-line, hand-crafted wheels to show for his work. “These, I built for a bike I have in mind,” he gushes, “I bought nicer parts than I probably needed.” Wheel building in particular would require him to purchase special tools he would seldom use, so the class offered him an opportunity to try his hand at something new.
“On the surface, the goal of this class appears to be wheel-building—since you end up with a new set of wheels,” writes Speare on his Cycling Spokane blog. “But really, the point of the class is to give you practice dealing with wheels and understanding the basic workings of a spoked wheel by going through the process of lacing, tensioning, dishing, and truing a wheel.”
During the summer months, Thomsen volunteers with Pedals2People during the free bike tune-up events that have built Pedals2People a name around the city. The organization makes an effort to get out into the community at least once a month, says Stuckart, at events like the West Central Community Fair and the Perry Street Fair. Pedals2People has four mobile tune-up units that allow volunteers to travel from the shop by bicycle with all of the equipment necessary to do minor repairs. Although the shop doesn’t stock kids’ bikes or parts, the outreach events give preference to kids’ bikes for tune-ups.
Warm weather also increases demand for bikes, so Pedals2People is selling their sweetly-priced bicycles and parts like crazy. Sales helps pay for overhead, but the sales are dependent on usable bikes being donated for refurbishing. “Mostly what we’re looking for is a quality bike that has serviceable parts. So, bike shop brands, not department store brands,” says Mattana. Bikes from department stores are frequently constructed so poorly that they are nearly impossible to repair or use for parts, she says.
It might not just be the weather that’s increasing business for Pedals2People. A new shop, new staff and new classes have increased participation, and Mattana thinks bike commuting is becoming more prevalent in Spokane. “It’s exciting. A lot more people are riding these days,” she says. “Seeing our volunteers and the community rally around us to make the move to our new shop possible—it just reinforces that we’re doing something Spokane is excited about and supports.”
“I think this summer will allow us to be open more hours, more days” says Stuckart. “And inform us whether or [not] the current niche we have in Spokane is sustainable.”
To learn more about Pedals2People, donate or volunteer, visit www.pedals2people.org or call at 509-842-6597.
GRAND OPENING PARTY
Friday, April 9th from 6 – 8 pm
Celebrate Pedals2People’s third anniversary and shop grand opening with an open house and silent auction. Auction items include a BOB trailer, original artwork by Tiffany Patterson, a New Belgium Brewery cruiser, a 1969 Foremost ladies cruiser and a mystery item from Mountain Gear.
April 13: Ladies’ Night (Free)
May 4: Ladies’ Mechanics Series – Introduction
May 11: Ladies’ Mechanics Series – Mobility & Freedom
May 18: Ladies’ Mechanics Series – Stopping
May 25: Ladies’ Mechanics Series – Working the Controls (6 spaces. $20 per class or $70 for the series.)
Thursday: 2 – 6 pm
Friday: 2 – 6 pm
Saturday: 11 am – 6 pm
Use of a bike stand and tools: $5/hour
Volunteer: help at events or around the shop for 25 hours to earn a Pedals2People membership.
Donate a bicycle: bring bikes in to Pedals2People during shop hours. A few specifications apply, so call or visit the website beforehand.
Become a member: $50 per year or 25 volunteer hours gets you unlimited shop access.
Make a tax-deductible donation at www.pedals2people.org/donate. Funding comes from grants, donations, bicycle sales and the small fees charged to rent shop space.