The Dust-Up: Are Community Bike Shops the Only Shops We Need?


The Dust-Up: Are Community Bike Shops the Only Shops We Need?

In today’s Dust-Up opinion column, Morgan makes a deep cut into the business and culture many readers of this site make a living in. Are traditional bike shops missing the mark? And if so, how can we do better?

Back in 2006, a friend gave me a bike. It was a 1977 Apollo, sparkly green, 27” wheels, flat bar with bullhorns, converted to single speed. It was my first “road” bike, and it opened up a world that’s become a career, a creative outlet, and most importantly my community. I loved that bike. It was so much more than a bike.

In 2006, and still today, that bike would have you feeling pretty uncomfortable in most shops here in Vancouver. But at Our Community Bikes (and later, at the Bike Kitchen and Kickstand), I was welcomed into a space where knowledge sharing, keeping old bikes going, and making folks who historically feel uncomfortable in bike shops feel welcome was the actual point of the organization, not an annoying afterthought.

Despite having worked in the bike world in various capacities, I truly believe community shops are the only shops we actually need – and that everything else is extra, optional. Sure, a community shop may not bring you to the pointy end of any competitive discipline of cycling, but that’s exactly the point: community is more important than competition. Full stop.

Knowledge Sharing

Where else can you get access to expensive professional bike tools and friendly folks who can show you how to use them? While bikes are, in essence, simple machines, the skills needed to keep them running or to get yourself out of a bind on a ride are not common knowledge outside the community.

Whether it’s the small details of changing a flat or patching a tube, helping with a bigger job like a bottom bracket swap, or delivering unfortunate news about an unfixable component, the folks at community shops pass on knowledge as social support, not a business. And if the cost is an issue, there are always ways around this, including volunteering.

Inclusive Spaces

If you feel comfortable walking into bike shops, congratulations. That’s privilege. And if that’s not your experience, I feel you. Community shops make space for folks who get vibed out of your average bike shop. I distinctly recall a moment in my early days at OCB where a community member who was obviously a regular came in needing help.

The staff helped this person get their bike going in the same way they would with anyone else: with empathy and care. Having grown up in a suburban neighborhood where houselessness was not as distinctly visible, I saw a different way of caring for community at OCB. I felt compelled to volunteer in this environment and became involved with community organizing with a similar mindset.

While I’m well aware that there’s still a long way to go for the greater world of bike community to make spaces for historically excluded communities, I’m proud that community shops have always done better.

Waste Diversion / Keeping Old Bikes Going

Community shops focus on supporting the community and not on sales. In a symbiotic way, OCB’s model uses donated bikes as a tool for building knowledge and skills within the community, salvaging usable parts and recycling the rest, and refurbishing bikes for sale or for use in programs. In addition to saving serviceable parts from landfills, community shops also do a better job of pre-sorting different materials before recycling them.

All proceeds from OCB’s sales are redirected into programs that directly serve historically excluded communities – such as the Pedals For The People program, which provides marginalized community members with free bikes. While OCB’s programming looks different than when I first got involved, the focus on empowering the community and keeping bikes going for low costs is still at the root of it all.

Moving Forward

Despite what marketing departments might have you think, there’s nothing virtuous about using bikes as recreation tools. We’re still fueling the capitalist machine, perpetuating settler-colonial narratives. Community shops are in direct opposition to those expensive and exclusive spaces in bikes, and in transportation.

Now that I have the skills and tools to do the vast majority of my own mechanical work, my contribution to the community bike shops is different. I amplify the good work they’re doing both in person and on social media, donate good stuff from my parts bins, and make an annual donation.

If not for that old Apollo and the community shops, I may not have set off on this journey of cheap and efficient transportation, community organizing and radical politics. If you’ve got a community shop in your town or in your personal bike history, give ‘em a shout out below. And if you’re mad about this, check your privilege.

I don’t mean for this to come across an attack on for-profit shops – and the irony is not lost on me that this very website is part of the system. But, I do wonder: as community shops bend under the pressure of increasing rent and changing customer expectations, what can for-profit shops do to make safer spaces? How can we do better?



If you’re new to this series, welcome to The Dust-Up. This will be a semi-regular platform for Radavist editors and contributors to make bold, sometimes controversial claims about cycling. A way to challenge long-held assumptions that deserve a second look. Sometimes they will be global issues with important far-reaching consequences; other times, they will shed light on little nerdy corners of our world that don’t get enough attention.