One of the biggest obstacles to getting on a bike is often having a working bike. The key word in that sentence is "working." Fortunately, there are plenty of resources in Los Angeles to make that happen.
Most of the time, the difference between a bike you can ride and one that gathers dust is something small. Years ago a broken quick release skewer kept me off my bike for months. Ultimately the repair took less than five minutes, and cost less than five bucks. Common issues like flat tires, sticky brakes, and broken saddles are easy to fix, and learning how to do a few basic repairs can be the ticket to a bike that's ready to ride 24/7.
A little instruction can go a long way. I still remember my first wheel truing lesson at the Bike Kitchen, when it was still across the street from Orange 20 on Heliotrope Drive. I was still a little confused when the volunteer "cook" walked away after giving me a quick lesson. I stood there for a minute with the truing key in my hand, staring at my wheel, through its spokes, running through the steps in my head. By the time the cook came back to check on me, I was in the zone. Tighten, loosen, tighten, loosen, spin the wheel.
Before there were protected bike lanes and sharrows to be found in L.A., there were the co-ops. Beginning in 2002, literally inside an unused kitchen at the Los Angeles Eco-Village, the Bike Kitchen was the city's first true bicycle cooperative. Twelve years later, we have six. Each one is volunteer-run, and while they are all independent from one another, they all share the same mission of teaching the skills to be able to fix your own bike.
Along with Kitchen, the next three co-ops to open here adopted kitchen-themed names: Bikerowave in the West Side, the Bike Oven in Highland Park, and the Valley Bikery in Van Nuys. While the Bike Kitchen has always been a fantastic resource, with so much ground to cover, more locally accessible spaces have been able to serve cyclists from one end of L.A. to the other. The youngest bike co-ops have set up shop in underserved parts of the city, in San Fernando and Downtown L.A. Despite their shorter history than all the kitchen-themed spaces, which have all experienced at least one relocation, Bikesanas del Valle, and Bici Libre in DTLA have each become as much a part of the fabric of cycling in Los Angeles as any of the others.
Each organization has a nuanced way of doing things, but they all operate in pretty much the same, taking donations for stand time, used parts, and certain new items like tubes, tires and lights. For $5-7 an hour, depending on the co-op, any person can have access to a bike stand and all the tools needed to fix any part of a bike, along with guidance and instruction from volunteer mechanics who want to share their bike repair knowledge with others. At the very least, co-ops are great places to ask any question about bikes, to talk bikes with some of the city's most passionate riders, and to hear some of the best stories about life in L.A. from whoever might walk in the door on any given day.
There are two levels of learning at the co-ops. As a patron, volunteers will guide you through specific repairs or upgrades you want to make on your bike. As a volunteer, you have access to a range of volunteer privileges, like volunteer-only hours, the opportunity for work trade to earn bikes and parts, and all of the in-the-stand learning opportunities that come from helping others fix their own bikes.
Personally, I've been a patron of four and a volunteer at three, and every experience was valuable. Going in to fix my brakes, wheels, cranks and I-don't-know-what's-wrong's gave me not just skills, but actual power and confidence to know that I could ride whenever I wanted and understand how my bike was working, which ultimately makes riding more fun. Teaching at the Bike Oven is one of the most rewarding things I can do, because I am able to give total strangers, anyone who wants to learn, the skills to do it themselves.
Knowing the names for the parts of a bike can be very useful when trying to describe what's wrong with your bike. This chart on the Bike Kitchen's website can help you get familiar with your bike's anatomy. For more specialized instruction, each organization offers various classes on fixing specific parts of the bike. Classes typically run 2-3 hours and are offered at varying rates from place to place, between $20-30 on average.
Just as cars break down on the road, bikes can too. But once you know how to to take care of the basics, you can ride anywhere around town with confidence. Being prepared to tackle spontaneous breakdowns requires just a few basic tools, none of which are all that expensive. A pump, 15 mm wrench (for most wheels), tire lever, spare tube or patch kit, and a basic multi-tool can take care of most mechanical malfunctions.
Recently new bicycle repair stations have been dispersed across town, providing these basics along with a few other useful tools, all built in to stationary public bike stands. Part of L.A. Department of Transportation's emerging Bicycle Friendly Business District project, these stations are sponsored by local businesses and require no fee or membership to use. Four of the ten planned stations are already installed, on Sunset Boulevard at the Silver Lake Triangle, on York Boulevard in Highland Park outside the Hermosillo Bar, on 43rd in Leimert Park outside Kaos Network, and on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock, outside Organix market. LADOT is still looking for sponsors for additional locations. I'm anxious to see where the others go up.
4429 Fountain Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029
12255 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90066
3706 North Figueroa St, Los Angeles CA 90065
Valley Bikery / Cicleria de Valle
14416 Victory Blvd, Van Nuys CA 91401
Bikesanas del Valle
12545 Terra Bella St, Pacoima CA 91331
1205 W. 6th St, Los Angeles, 90017
Photos by Krista Carlson