Two wheels, one planet
Sacramento Bicycle Kitchen pedals into a brave green world
Jefferson, a neighbor who lives a few houses down, rolls a bike up to the front door of the Sacramento Bicycle Kitchen in Oak Park and knocks. The shop’s closed for the day, but he has a donation to make: a 1978 10-speed safety bike. Six volunteers gathered in the shop begin speaking all at once. Strip off the heavy stuff. Reuse the frame. It’s solid. Keep the rack, perfect for transporting items. Replace the racing handlebars with upright ones. Five gears will do. This is Sacramento, after all, where a flat landscape, nice weather and decent infrastructure make bicycling around town relatively easy.
The guys’ excitement emanates through the small space on the corner of 36th and Broadway. They can’t wait to get started. Once finished, they’ll sell the pristine bike for $65.
The Bicycle Kitchen is a nonprofit co-op committed to providing bicycle maintenance and promoting bicycle culture. Volunteers keep the shop running three days a week, a few hours a day. They ask for a $5 donation or $100 annual membership fee, but won’t turn someone down for lack of funds. After all, the shop’s logo goes: “Building community one bike at a time.”
“I believe bikes are going to save the world,” says volunteer Owen Howlett. “They’re not just this fun thing we tinker with.”
He’s completely sincere. They all are. Get six volunteers in a room, and they’ll dispute the bicycle’s origin and point out how roads were originally paved for bikes, not cars. They describe bikes as the most efficient form of transportation, an engineering marvel. They might criticize biking infrastructure in the county, but more than anything, they’re all about rocking the positive. They think the grid is wonderful for biking. One of them hasn’t even owned a car since 1989. But these volunteers aren’t wacko, hemp-wearing cycling fanatics, which is, in large part, why this place works: It’s a non-intimidating space for both the advanced cyclist and the novice.
The Bicycle Kitchen started in June of 2006 as a do-it-yourself repair shop where cyclists could buy into a shared tool set. Soon, the shop transformed into something more—an educational resource for all, a bike station for homeless people, a place to find obscure bike parts. The Bicycle Kitchen doesn’t stock brand-new parts, intentionally selling reused and recycled so as not to undercut local shops. Since opening, the shop’s given away more than 50 bikes, donated from the sheriff’s department, California Highway Patrol or people cleaning out their garages. They recently gave away 25 bikes to local youth.
“When I first got here, the only things the kids had to play with in this alleyway was a broken TV set they threw rocks at and an old couch,” says volunteer Dave Dave who operates the BrickHouse Art Gallery next door. “With the help of these guys, the kids are all on bicycles now.”
Many of the shop’s clients might not otherwise be able to afford to buy or maintain a bike. Once when it was raining, a homeless woman came in crying. Volunteers fixed her bike and gave her something to eat. Diversity sums up the shop’s clientele.
“We’ll often see hipsters coming in with a bare frame, wanting to make it into fixed gear, but then they’ll get advice from someone next to them who is working on a retro, fully geared road bike, and there’s a neat cross-pollination of ideas,” says volunteer Jeffery Rosenhall.
Every day in the workshop is a lesson in collaboration and self-sufficiency. Volunteers provide instructions that customers can take away with them, so they can fix their own bikes next time around. Volunteers also teach bike maintenance and safety education classes periodically at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.
“It’s your puzzle to put back together and get it into shape, and it’s yours in a way that if you dropped it off in a shop and picked it up a week later, it never would be,” explains volunteer Chris Dougherty.
But perhaps the shop’s biggest claim to fame is how it’s become a neighborhood staple, a place in Oak Park where community members congregate. There’s this one kid, Shawn, who volunteers swear pokes holes in his tires just so he has an excuse to stop by regularly and get them fixed.
“The neighbors like us a lot,” Dave says. “And it’s nice to have them come by, like Jefferson. When you see the neighborhood get involved in something like this, it’s unbelievable. I mean, where else is this happening? I keep thinking it’s a dream.”