Sparking Community in Bend: Chariot Bike Shop Visit

It’s been a few years since we first covered Chariot Bike when it was a mobile-based shop!Katie Sox drops into the mobile-repair van turned full-service bike shop and café to chat with Chariot Bike‘s owner and founder, Julia Sparks, about what the shop has brewing for the future. There’s a good story behind the name and exciting news for the Sour Bicycles fans out there! 

It’s a Tuesday in January. Snowflakes gallivant across the large picture windows that border Julia’s workbench. I’m chilling out maxing, relaxing all cool on a comfy couch in the showroom, sipping an oat milk latte the woman herself whipped up for me, typing these words you’re reading. A customer walks in with her full squish MTB in need of some brake work. Murmurs of an upcoming bike trip to Oaxaca and the difference between organic and metallic brake pads layer over mellow jams pouring from the old, oversized Peavey speakers. Another customer drops her bike off for maintenance. Complete Sour Bicycles builds and an assortment of soft goods adorn the walls, embellished by hand painted murals from local artist Maren Inga. Welcome to Chariot Bike, a rad little shop tucked away on the west side of Bend, Oregon.

Chariot’s owner, Julia Sparks, is a super skilled and welcoming mechanic. She builds a mean wheel, is a dedicated puzzle-solver, big dreamer, talented photographer, and woodworker. She’s nerdy about anything process oriented, makes the best little sound effects when she pulls an espresso shot and loves to drop a fishing line in the river on her lunchtime rides. Not short on his own creative endeavors, her husband, Ron Sparks, has been in the backwoods of Chariot from the beginning, helping with the website and operations so that Julia can focus on wrenching and community building. “If Julia is the pilot, I’m like a navigator in the back of the plane, helping call out things on the map while she flies,” Ron explains.

Now in its third form, Chariot Bike began as a Mobile Repair shop in 2020, born out of changes and limitations offered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Loaded with character, the shop is an ode to Julia’s grandmother, Norma Jean Belloff who rode her bicycle, “Chariot” across the United States—twice. A touring legend, Belloff set the first official record in 1948 for a female biking the entire width of the US. Norma Jean’s trophy and photo are perched alongside dynaplugs, multitools and a rainbow of flat pedals on one of the wooden displays that Julia built for the shop.

The Mobile Repair is run out of a Dodge ProMaster van outfitted with a full tool kit, a bike stand, and of course a hammock for those midday naps. In 2021, Sparks nabbed a space within a large warehouse where she had storage for bikes in the repair queue and a bit more room to work. The warehouse spot featured complete Otso Cycles on the floor, a few bits ‘n pieces for sale, and Julia started offering in-person bike maintenance classes. It was a big step toward her ultimate vision for Chariot Bike, if a little tricky to find. The semi-hidden warehouse location was traded for the shop’s current home on the westside of Bend in 2022. As word spread around town, Julia became busy enough to hire long-time coworker and friend Erich Weidenkeller. The duo spent five years wrenching together 40 hours per week at another shop, so they already knew they meshed well. They share many passions, including music, snapping shutters, and drinking good coffee.

“Julia is one of the most technically proficient mechanics I’ve encountered. She’s a problem solver, she’s calm and collected, and has high attention to detail. Those are traits that make an exceptional mechanic that I’m proud to work alongside, and she’s just a really genuine and kind person. We respect each other, have slightly different areas of expertise, and combine those to solve problems,” Weidenkeller shares.

He grew up in the mountains of Northern California where he fell in love with mountain biking. He’d build little singletracks like the ones he saw in the Mountain Bike Action magazines his mom would bring home from her job as a librarian, but mostly he tore it up on gravel roads. He saved money for a ’93 Trek Singletrack 970 that he got used in 1994, his folks matching him 50/50 for the bike. “Steel frame, XT thumb shifters, RockShox Quadra fork… I was so stoked on that bike! I entered my first MTB race in ’96 and won the beginner class.” Erich (like a lot of us) for sure thought he’d become pro after that initial podium:

“Bikes were my entire life, so of course besides becoming a pro racer, I wanted to work in a bike shop. In high school I started part-time at The Chain Gang Bike Shop and was thrilled to land my dream job at 17! When it was time to go off to college, I decided on the local community college for my transfer credits so I could work at the shop a couple more years. Classes, the bike shop job, training and racing were all competing for my time. Something had to go, and school got the axe, ‘just for a couple years while I pursue racing’. Well, the racing faded, and I loved bike shop life so much I never picked those classes back up.”

Fast forward a couple decades and Erich is still quite the ripper on a trail bike, casually pulling off some pretty wild trials-type moves up giant lava rock walls. He’s also an absolute wiz of a photographer who shoots mostly for art’s sake and dabbles in documenting events like The Big Lonely. While his business card says something like “Mechanic/Media”, Erich does a wide range of tasks beyond fixing bikes to help Julia run the shop, like watering plants, calling up customers on the tele, being a DJ and scratching dog bellies.

The hot gossip on the trails is the shop has teamed up with German frame builder Sour Bicycles as the US distributor. The humans behind Chariot and Sour have built a relationship over recent years, finding common ground on business ethos and design philosophy. The Chariot fam hosted the Sour team in Oregon while they worked the inaugural MADE Bike Show in Portland, Oregon. In October of 2023, Ron, Julia, and Erich traveled to Europe to check out Sour’s digs and hang at the Bespoked Bike Show. The Dresden-based brand has been building hype and expanding their spectrum of hand-built steel bikes, with current models ranging from hardtail MTBs to dreamy gravel bikes and adventure-ready rigs. Individuals can swoop a Sour frame or complete bike on Chariot’s webstore or roll up to the shop and ride one home today. While the wholesale distributor relationship still has some wrinkles to iron out, bike shops in the US will soon be able to hop on and order a Sour bike, or ten, to put on the sales floor. Keep an eye out for upcoming news on that front.

Chariot Bike is still evolving with hopes of hosting more community events, attracting more foot traffic for retail sales, and housing a full-service café. Perhaps it’ll be one of those spots where all the cool cats can stop for a mid-ride espresso and folks like me will pretend to do computer work while enjoying coffee and community in a chill-as bike shop environment. Why so hefty on the coffee vibes? Ron has a secret: HushHush Coffee. A little-known gem that Sparks and close pal Adam Foster have been slow roasting over the last two years. They are building a solid community through their Nomadic Café. The monthly, invite-only outdoor gatherings are Central Oregon’s only pour-over café. “This exclusive event is shrouded in secrecy and is announced only on social media mere days before it unfolds. You have to slide into our direct messages to uncover the secret location. It’s a blend of outdoor enthusiasts, creative souls, bikepackers, and just about anyone who relishes coffee, connection, and nature. Keep an eye out for our upcoming coffee club, tailor-made for those who love their coffee with a dash of adventure. Also: don’t tell anyone, this is all hush-hush!” Ron says.

Community is definitely the thread weaving Chariot Bike into a favorite amongst Central Oregonians. Not only are Julia and Erich welcoming, knowledgeable bike mechanics, the shop hosts a growing number of events: a Holiday Market featuring local artisans; bike demos that double as hot dog parties; the overlap of the fast-growing HushHush Coffee community; adventure cycling storytelling nights; and Julia throws down non-intimidating bike maintenance classes with more offerings on the horizon.

When I asked Julia what she’s most proud of with this whole adventure, she responded “The community and connection that has formed.” Bend is saturated with bike shops, yet Julia has set a tone that helps people feel at ease. She’s got a knack for blending professional expertise with approachable charm. The shop is small enough that when you call or come in, you’re talking directly to the mechanics who can explain what’s up with your ride, what’s needed to fix it, and how to care for it going forward without making you feel like a dummy.

Erich says that his favorite part of seeing the shop grow has been witnessing and being involved in the community that Julia has created and is contributing to. And that there are two shop dogs, Spoke and Kimber. With the sweet combo of knowledge and experience, kindness, endless creativity, and an affinity for fun, Chariot Bike is more than a bike shop – it’s a party. Ron’s favorite part of this whole adventure has been seeing Julia shape the shop in her unique style like a total boss. “It’s beyond cool,” Ron says. “We’re still evolving, but one thing’s for certain—there’s magic in this shop and I’m excited to see where we go and to bring more people along for the ride.”

Stay tuned for updates on how to get your hands on a dreamy-as-heck Sour frame, like Ron’s ultra-cute Purple Haze gravel rig with that custom candy paint, for info about community events and class offerings, and of course bike rides and coffee. In the meantime, get out for a little rip and support your local bike shop.

Chariot Bike
1458 NW College Way
Ste 101
Bend, OR 97703