There’s been a lot of chatter in the city about bicycles lately but if you ride around as much as we do, our feeling is “why rent, when you can buy?” Trouble is, seems like even average bikes basically start at a grand and go north from there. And there’s an excellent chance at some point your bike is going to get ripped off, run over, cannibalized for parts or worse in this town. Where can you get a good ride at decent price secondhand? We found the solution, and it’s a dude named Chris who lives in New Jersey.By day, Chris is a MTA city bus driver in Staten Island but his sidegig and passion is running a business called Homeless Bikes. Back in the 80’s, Chris worked as a bike messenger in Manhattan and the way he tells it, if you didn’t know how to keep your own bike running smoothly you could never make a living. Changing rims, fixing brakes, replacing chainrings; Chris got his bike mechanic master’s degree from the city streets. He knows a good ride when he sees one, and today he scours Estate sales, police impound lots, junkyards– basically any place where an unlucky bike might end up. He refurbishes them, gets them humming again, and resells them. And the resale price is totally reasonable. Most of the ponies in his stable average around $150-$350. And the selection is pretty sweet — he’s got vintage Schwinns, Peugeots, Motobecanes, Fujis, Raleighs and even the odd Canondale in there. You just browse his photo gallery online, pick a few you’re interested in (based on your height) and Chris will drive the bikes out to your apartment on the back of his minivan for you to test drive. One stop shop; the man even sells locks. And he’s the friendliest guy you’d ever hope to deal with, and his enthusiasm for bikes and riding is infectious.As for me, I picked up a mid-70’s era all-steel Belgian racing bike made by Bertin. Chris had added new rims, a new chain, and a new rear cassette. The thing is ridiculously fast and nimble (which hopefully will not be my undoing). Sure, the paint is a little chewed up but it’s a bike that has lived a little, and maybe, just maybe, bike thieves will be less inclined to steal it. Maybe. In any event, we give Chris and Homeless Bikes two greasy thumbs up for being a great small business. You can find him at email@example.com or on Facebook. Ride on.
I left my bike locked up outside over night earlier this week, and some jerk thought it would be fun to slash my tires and screw with the brakes. Just for giggles, I suppose. Anyway, after the steam stopped coming out of my ears I knew my only recourse was to take it directly to my favorite mechanic, 718 Cyclery. Located on a nondescript stretch of 3rd Avenue in Gowanus, this is one of the more dynamic bike shops I’ve come across. All the mechanics work out in the open, there’s music playing and a great relaxed atmosphere with lots of exposed brick, high ceilings, and cozy corners with couches and tables. And of course, everything is flanked by lines of truly beautiful bicycles. It’s a store you’d actually want to hang out in—which is a plus, considering they offer a whole bunch of great free classes there for customers.But let’s talk about the bikes. They can do the basics for you (like service your poor commuter bike after it’s been savaged by heartless street punks) but what makes the store unique is their very unique custom build service. If you opt to do it, you can work with them to pick the individual bike components based on your needs and budget, and they’ll work closely with you to discuss each part choice and its implications (functional and otherwise). And the best part is that instead of just clicking your mouse and ordering it, you head over to the shop and actually build it side by side with their mechanics. They describe it as a collaborative experience, and you have the opportunity to learn what makes the bike tick by getting grease under your nails. It marks the expansion of a trend whereby city folk more and more truly want to experience what it is to build something, to make something tangible, to grow something, to be part of something authentic. Seems like a positive trend for the urban species, and I think the team at 718 Cyclery is on to something great. And when my poor old Schwinn finally goes to the big Scrapheap in the Sky, I am definitely going to give the collaborative build a try (and you can bet I won’t leave the ensuing new bike locked up outside overnight.)