Critical (Soggy) Move
On Sunday, in a relentless rain that rarely stopped all day, several dozen die-hard enthusiasts rode their bicycles back and forth between the new Bike Kitchen at 650 Florida (back where it once was between Alabama and Florida, Mariposa and 19th Streets, across from Cellspace) and its recent digs just off Mission and 9th. They filled panniers and freight containers, pulled trailers and bungied impossible loads of wheels, tires, frames, and all sorts of tools and shelves, moving the entirety of the Bike Kitchen BY BIKE to its new home.
The Bike Kitchen is one of the flagship Do-It-Yourself bikeshops that have proliferated not just across the U.S. but in other countries like Italy and Brazil. Here in the U.S. the network of such bikeshops has joined together in a the Bicycle Organization Organization Project (BOOP) and have held annual conventions called BikeBike! This past September BikeBike! was held here in San Francisco, when a couple of hundred "shock troops" of this remarkable social movement gathered to share skills, organizing ideas, projects, and more. The conversation continues year-round on their discussion list called "Thinktank Bikes" where they discuss problems ranging from what to do with dirty rags and how to manage expanded hours to more philosophical issues regarding the relationship between income and wages, earn-a-bike programs and free bikes, and much more.
I’ve been interested in this movement for a while. It’s quite unusual to discover such places at first–usually you might show up with your bike needing a repair, and instead of fixing it, they demure, "We don’t fix bikes!" Instead, they offer to help YOU fix YOUR bike! Each shop has a different economic situation, and the gnarly relationship between fees for classes, user fees for the tools and shop, or having everything be free (much as most of the workers in such places are unpaid volunteers) is subject to much discussion and negotiation. I dubbed the broader movement (including Critical Mass and the countless social and political rides, along with the rise of bike zines, women’s embrace of cycling, and more) "Outlaw Bicycling" not so much because it’s such a scofflaw phenomenon (though it can be) but because it’s focus is less on orderliness and safety and more on the conviviality and pleasure of social cycling. One of the most impressive things about this subculture, especially in the DIY bike shops, is the way it provides a space for people to meet across the social boundaries that most of us reinforce every day. You might rarely meet or talk to someone of a different age or race in your everyday life. How often do you share technical know-how with someone who is half or twice your age, another race or gender, without having this new relationship reduced to a monetary one? Not too often I’d guess. At the Bike Kitchen a space is open and such relationships occur all the time.
Back in 2003 or so, the Bike Kitchen opened modestly in an abandoned truck maintenance facility that Cellspace had managed to get a $1/year lease on. The Mission Market (a flea market) opened in the surrounding parking lots on weekends, and slowly but surely the Bike Kitchen became a mainstay of local youth and the new bike culture. In August 2006 they moved (also by bike, photos on Flickr) to an alley off Mission near 9th, but the locale was never as dynamic as the original site. Here’s a photo of the 2nd anniversary celebration in May 2005:
Let’s hope that after some time in the new affordable housing complex that now fills the square block, the Bike Kitchen will find a new rootedness in the neighborhood, helping the larger mission of expanding our bicycling culture and changing our street life.