Restoration Offers Alternatives to Pricey New Bikes
by Geoffrey D. Smith
In a world where newer is better, and “keeping up with the Joneses” is the name of the game, it is comforting to know that there are alternatives to the pricey, shiny bikes that dominate the marketplace. ‘Pre-loved’, refurbished, ‘gently-used’ bikes – all monikers given used bikes – are experiencing a phenomenal growth in popularity. The economy, price of gas, a reduce/reuse mind-set and appreciation for by-gone craft – all are good reasons for this welcome trend. On this month’s ride, we set out to discover a true community of used bicycle believers, situated in an unlikely part of Santa Rosa.
We begin our ride in Railroad Square with a cup of tasty A’Roma Roasters coffee and then head south on Wilson Street, across Santa Rosa Creek where the name changes briefly to Railroad Street, and then to Olive Street. Passing under the freeway, we are treated to colorful frescos on the wall, signaling a cultural shift ahead.
. ‘A rose by any other name’, Juliet’s declaration to Romeo, aptly describes the beautiful Roseland district of southwest Santa Rosa. Separated in the 60s from the rest of Santa Rosa by freeways 101 and 12, this quaint community has become a beautiful melding of businesses and residences, replete with shops offering great deals on clothing and housewares, and a variety of business services staffed by owner operators who welcome you with a smile.
Goodwill Industries recently opened a mega-store here, located next to the Fallas store, and conveniently situated right off the Joe Rodota Trail. Dining opportunities abound, with a focus on flavorful Mexican food in deference to the clientele who live and work in this charming community.
We feel the vibrancy of beautiful Roseland as we meander up Sebastopol Avenue, then Sebastopol Road – the street name changing as we cross the railroad track, then as now signaling a bright new future for this area. Stopping for a hot tamale at the colorful Delicias “Elenita” hot truck – DONDE LA CALIDA Y LA AMABILIDAD ES PRIMERO (remember them for your next event!) – we pedal west, passing through the somewhat incongruous ‘Courtside Village’ development.
The 68-acre project built over the last 15 years includes over 500 residential units, a church, a park, and extensive commercial uses. The community design is based on the principles of New Urbanism, yet one wonders what happened to the families who were displaced when it was built. With a 90% commercial vacancy rate, this project is an experiment in progress. We support the local economy with a refreshing drink at the deli, pedal around the grounds a bit, then continue west.
We know we have arrived at our destination when we spot the kid’s bike mounted atop a colorful if faded sign that reads, “Community Bikes: Lovingly Restored Bicycles”. We enter the bustling sales rooms, and are greeted by shop manager Michael Teller. Focusing his attention on a new customer, we receive a welcome nod, but not much more. We quickly learn that, at Community Bikes, “Our Customers Come First.” (This writer is a familiar face around the shop – not a ‘customer’ per se.) 10 minutes later the deal is closed, and $200 transfers hands. The customer will return in the morning for his lovingly restored Trek mountain bike, polished, tuned, and road tested. That’s the way it works here at Community Bikes: Customers select the bikes they want from the vast array of classy pre-loved machines, whereupon the bikes are serviced, tested and readied for pickup.
Next door is an unassuming building, which belies the amazing energy and creativity within. Walking past the bulletin board bristling with community announcements, we enter a beehive of activity. For the next two hours we float (with Michael’s permission and under his watchful eye), admiring the carefully organized bins of used parts, the bundles of used brake and derailleur cables ready for re-use, the neatly stacked rows of well-traveled forks and wheels, and the four immaculate workbenches, each festooned with its unique set of color-coded tools – the yellow wrench is not welcome on the blue bench! One person’s trash is another person’s treasure certainly applies here. This shop is a treasure chest of all things bike.
We hover near the mechanics – ranging in age from 16 to 60-something, who work here regularly, each with a story. Mark started out fixing bikes in his backyard, and was ‘seduced’ into working at Community Bikes in exchange for parts. Greg rides his lovingly restored Bianchi in from Rincon Valley twice a week, working sales and turning wrenches. Ron, a retired union carpenter, enjoys the camaraderie here, while learning from the master mechanics. Adam, age 16, is a three-year veteran mechanic. A student at Santa Rosa High School, he loves science and scored very high on his SAT. Most importantly for Adam – it’s fun!
At 4:50 pm, with ten minutes until closing time, fully 10 mechanics are at work in this bicycle love factory.
This diverse team of dedicated workers together refurbished and sold over 300 bikes last year. Many more bikes were redirected to charities such as ‘Bicycles for Humanity’, which provides bikes to remote villages in Africa.
“What’s the pay like?” this writer asks. “The 10 hard-working mechanics I see here are certainly motivated by something.” “We are paid weakly (not a typo),” Michael replies. As manager of this amazing cauldron of creativity, he and his team of workers are paid merely by the smiles on the faces of those whom they serve.
J Geoffrey D. Smith owns BikePartners.net, a bicycle rental and sales shop in Railroad Square, Santa Rosa. His goal is to make his customers happy, and he donates 1% of his gross sales revenue to Community Bikes.