Living the two-wheeled life

Ron Toppi’s new community bicycle-repair shop is innovative and all-encompassing

Ron Toppi stands in front of his new bike-repair business, Oldspokes Home Chico, housed in a metal shipping container. To Toppi’s left is the portable solar panel that runs the fan, lights and power tools he uses.

Ron Toppi stands in front of his new bike-repair business, Oldspokes Home Chico, housed in a metal shipping container. To Toppi’s left is the portable solar panel that runs the fan, lights and power tools he uses.

Photo By kyle delmar

Two-wheel connection:
Go to to find out more about Ron Toppi’s community bike shop, Oldspokes Home Chico. Information about signing up for Toppi’s eight-week series of Tuesday-evening bike-repair and -maintenance classes, which run through the first Tuesday in October, can be found on Oldspokes’ Facebook page; cost is $15 per class, on a sliding scale, with work-trade or bike-parts-trade as a possible payment option.

Two wheels, hmm…

so simple!

Of what were we thinking when

We changed to four

Boxed us all in, we have to enter

through a door

I’ll take two wheels

It makes more sense

I only have two legs

and I can pump my own air

instead of paying 50 cents.

—Ron Toppi

“It’s a repair shop, it’s a classroom, and it’s a space to just come and hang out. It’s a step toward building a community bike shop,” said Ron Toppi recently of his brand-new, endearingly named bicycle-repair shop, Oldspokes Home Chico, housed in a metal shipping container on the eastern edge of the GRUB Cooperative property on Dayton Road. Much like the concept of the community bike shed Toppi started for neighborhood youth in Chapmantown in late 2010—the Chapman Shed Project—Oldspokes Home is a multi-faceted endeavor.

“We weren’t able to get that much involvement from the kids in the neighborhood,” said Toppi of the Chapman project, which still exists and features an annual bike swap every June. Also, “the intention of the Chapman Shed was more of a neighborhood kids’ bike shop, but I’ve always had the idea of a larger community bike shop where there would be more potential for expansion.”

So, three weeks ago Toppi—a longtime bicycle repairman and avid cyclist who has not owned a car for 18 years—opened Oldspokes Home, in the midst of a field surrounded by fruit trees and other crops, and just yards from where he lives at GRUB.

On a recent sunny Tuesday morning, the amiable 47-year-old chatted as he worked on local photographer Karen Laslo’s bicycle, which was up on a custom, space-saving repair stand designed and built by local metalworker Gregory Degouveia. The tranquil natural surroundings and tweeting of birds outside were complemented by KZFR deejay Lisa Boyd’s relaxing jazz show playing over a portable radio plugged in near where Toppi was working inside his shop.

Oldspokes is open Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. to do repairs; it’s closed the rest of the week to accommodate Toppi’s other job as farmers’-market salesman for Massa Organics. Toppi said his shop is also open to those who want to use the space and tools (and Toppi’s expertise) to work on their own bikes: “If you want to work on [your bicycle] yourself, there’s space here and I’ll walk you through the different processes.”

Payment for Toppi’s expert services—he worked for many years in bike shops in his former home state of Washington, as well as at a manufacturer of recumbent bicycles, doing lead assembly—is “mainly on a donation basis, of either money or time.” Donation of one’s time can include “helping to keep the shop organized, clean. There are [scrap] bikes in various states of disrepair [here]—I need help stripping those bikes of their reusable parts to use for repairs.”

Toppi recently launched an eight-week workshop series, which runs through early October, on “different aspects of bike maintenance.” Week one was on brake adjustments and the various styles of brakes, such as calipers and cantilever brakes. On Aug. 21, Toppi’s class will be about gears: “The intention is to demystify derailleurs. A lot of people over the years seem to be mystified by how derailleurs work and how they shift.” Attendees will “learn the difference between index versus friction shifting.”

Weeks three through six will focus on bearing assemblies, “because there are three different bearing assemblies on a bike—two hubs, the bottom bracket [pedal area] and the headset [handlebar area]—and we’re gonna get into each one. We’re gonna learn what each bearing assembly is and the importance of adjusting it.” The last two weeks of the series will focus on wheel truing (proper wheel alignment and spoke adjustment). “Everyone will learn to true their own wheels,” said Toppi. “It’s a pretty big concept—most people don’t even know how their wheel is held together.”

Toppi is also planning to use Oldspokes Home as an art space. Currently, poems of his that were featured at a show at now-defunct RayRay Gallery hang on its walls. Toppi is also known for the lovely earrings he makes from reclaimed bike parts, such as chain links and gear-shift cable (available at Chico Natural Foods and through Toppi). “Stay tuned for some kind of functional bike-art art opening,” he said.

“I envision this place as a collective where people support it through both work and financial support. … I’m trying to build that here.”