Throughout February, we're focusing on inclusion across the world of mobility. Having a friendly, local bike shop you can trust is key to keeping you riding Rad, so this week, we're putting the spotlight on some of the Black-owned shops that support our riders out on the road. Shops are the backbone of the local cycling community -- let's celebrate them by sharing their stories!
By Megan Michelson
Riders Cycle and Board
Riders Cycle and Board is the best kind of neighborhood bike shop: a place where you can get your bike tuned and also catch up with friends. Located in a former variety store on Harbord Street in Toronto, the shop has a counter where you can order coffee, a turntable for spinning old records, and a collection of vintage bikes on display. Owned by Jeff Ubalde and Valentine Tomlinson since it opened in 2010, the shop sells and trades bikes and does custom builds, but it also specializes in repairs and tunes, including those for electric bikes.
On top of that, they sell skateboards and longboards, and host bike tuning clinics, neighborhood arts shows, and movie screenings.
Brooklyn, New York
Bike Life, a shop in Brooklyn’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood, isn’t big: It’s just 200 square feet. But the place packs a ton into a small space and you’ll always feel welcome when you step through the door. “We go above and beyond to make our customers happy,” says the shop’s owner, Claudette Robertson. “We have a motto: We’re not perfect but we aim to please.”
Robertson’s husband opened the shop 11 years ago, but now it’s her place. She’s also a playwright and works part-time as an assistant principal at a high school when she’s not tuning bikes. “What I remember from growing up is we were always huddled in a corner, fixing someone’s bike,” says Robertson, who’s 60.
Her shop just started working on electric bikes last summer and has seen a surge in business due to the pandemic. “People are going into their basements and bringing out 40-year-old bikes,” she says. “Everyone from the child to the grandma, they’re pulling bikes out of the basement and having them restored.”
The Bicycle Whisperer
Lance Small has been fixing his own bike since he was 7 years old. Growing up in Venice Beach, California, Small says he got a bike as a kid, but his family couldn’t afford to get it repaired. So, he figured it out on his own. Now 58, Small is known around Venice as the Bicycle Whisperer, the name of his startup bike repair business he launched in 2011. He can fix anything. “I love repairing bikes,” he says. “It’s a hobby that turned into my business.”
He runs his shop out of a 1985 GMC van on the corner of 7th Avenue and Westminster in Venice. It’s not a mobile shop—it’s at the same location every day—but the shop itself does move from Small’s house to that street corner. He works on everything from beach cruisers to city bikes and offers bicycle rentals, both short and long term. He started working on electric bikes in the last year or so. “We do all kinds of repairs,” he says. “We don’t paint or weld, but we’ll do everything else.”
David Boone was working for a salvage yard when he took a weekend seminar about reshaping your life. “I realized I wasn’t happy in my job and I was doing a lot of finger pointing,” Boone says. So, in 2014, he quit his job and put an A-frame sign in front of his garage in north Oakland with prices indicating bike repairs. Twenty minutes later, his first customer stopped in.
Towne Cycles is still based out of Boone’s tiny garage. He doesn’t buy new bikes -- he builds bikes, repairs bikes, and trades old bikes through his shop. Boone services everyone, from the homeless to his neighbors, bike commuters, and Rad riders.
His business has grown steadily since the beginning, and due to COVID-19, he says his sales doubled in 2020 due to an increased demand for cycling. Before the pandemic, he hosted concerts in his tiny garage featuring local musicians, something he’s looking forward to bringing back when it’s safe to do so.
“I’ve always been into fixing things,” Boone says. “I didn’t always own a car, so I relied on bikes to get around and I always worked on my own bike. Why I do this isn’t for the money. I want to take care of my community.”
Looking for a tune-up? Need help installing an accessory? We work with a wide roster of reputable bike shops to help keep you riding. In addition to our Rad Mobile Service and Velofix network, we can help put you in touch with a Rad-certified mechanic in your neighborhood. It's just one our many service options!