Life Without Wheels: Chronicle of a Car-Free Lifestyle
I always feel at odds with this “Bicycle Community”. I don’t feel like I fit into it, like I am somehow outside the mold of the particular kind of cyclist the community welcomes into its fold. I’m not an activist, nor do I really want to be. I’m not a hipster on a fixie (yes, I know that’s a stereotype but that is one of the kinds of cyclists in this community). I’m not a “Fred” who owns a $3000 race bike and gets geared up on weekends. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I can call myself a cyclist because I feel so out of place with what the “leaders” of this community cater to.

But here are the facts on me: I don’t own a car; my bike is my transportation. When my other bike was stolen, I could only afford to buy a bike off Craigslist for $140 (and that was a little over budget for me). I don’t make much money, but I’m not poor. I have a master’s degree, and I’m an artist. I don’t own a car because I can’t afford one and because I just don’t want one. I don’t own an expensive race bike, even though I’m training to race. Right now I’m working a second job with long hours (10-12 hour days) on weekends (which I commute to by bike sometimes 40 miles there and back) just so I can afford a beat up, used triathlon TT bike for my races. I’ve ridden a lot of long distance rides—centuries, double centuries, two day “tours”—completely unsupported. I’m also building myself a new commute/tour bike. My current bicycle (which all of the above-mentioned riding occurs on) is a 56cm and I need a 50cm frame. I also wanted more modern shifters, so I decided I could pull together enough used parts and a used frame and just go in for a good shifting system to make a nice bike I can be proud of (no offense to the Death Machine).

The bike build project is where my continual feeling of odd-cyclist-out with what should be my community comes into play this week. With all this background, here is my letter to the Bicycle Kitchen, which describes the recent not so happy experience I had with them.

"Dear Bicycle Kitchen:

First off, let me say that I appreciate the service you provide to the community and the gap you try to fill for education on bicycle repair and maintenance. I first heard about you from a young man in a bicycle shop when I mentioned wanting to know how to work on my bicycle myself (back when I was riding a Huffy mountain bike before it got stolen). The young man said there was this place up in Hel-Mel called the Bicycle Kitchen, and they will teach you how to work on your bike. I thought, “wow, how cool is that?”

I never did make it up there with the Huffy as it was stolen. But as I became more familiar with the cycling community here, I found articles about the Bicycle Kitchen and was really happy there was such a place in my neighborhood. (I live about 1.5 miles south in the northern edge of Koreatown.) However, my joy in the foundation of the Bicycle Kitchen ends with the notion of it, because I’ve twice been denied help there, put off for one reason or another. 

Let me say that I understand the purpose is to teach you how to work on your bike. It’s not a bicycle shop and it’s not a repair shop. I get it. I wasn’t asking for either. 

My first off-putting experience was when I came into the Kitchen during ArtCycle. I explained that I wanted to build a bike from scratch as a learning project, but also to ride, and asked what kind of frames they had. Now, based on everything I read, that’s exactly the kind of project you can do at the Bicycle Kitchen, exactly what it’s there for. But the “cook” there just looked at me and said, “well, we don’t sell frames”. I made it clear, again, that I wasn’t looking to buy a bike, I wanted to build one, myself, I would need some direction, but this wasn’t about “buying”. The cook continued to brush me off, so I left with my friends and went back to ArtCycle. My impression was that they just didn’t want to help me. I was very sad and had to wonder what this “community” was really about if these leaders in the community were going to discourage me for some reason or, dare I say, bias of their own.  

So I embarked upon my bike build myself. I went to swapmeets, garage sales, searched online, and compiled used parts for my project over the course of a few months. Every time I talked to people about my search for parts they would say, “oh, you should visit the Bicycle Kitchen.” I had to shake my head sadly and say I’d already tried that. However, as I began to assemble the bike, in my living room on the floor without a bike stand, I realized I needed an integral part to install my shift and brake cables. Last night, on a group ride, we stopped to show an out-of-town guest the Bicycle Kitchen. I went inside, explained that I was building a bike at home, and needed a cable clamp for the downtube. The cook politely showed me a cable clamp but would not give or sell it to me. He said, “We’re not really a bicycle shop. You can bring it here and work on it.” I explained to him that the bicycle was in pieces, I don’t own a car, and I would have to carry it here, which isn’t really an option, because I’m not walking through Hel-Mel and Koreatown at night, carrying my bicycle (and let me be clear, nighttime is the only time I have to work on this project). It’s absolutely ridiculous that he even expected me to. Hello! There have been muggings, and recently cyclists have been held at gunpoint for their bikes in this area! I’m a 30-year-old woman, and while carrying the bike isn’t the problem, I paid good money for all the parts I had to compile, since the Kitchen wouldn’t help me in the first place. I wasn’t trying to use them as a shop. I had a legitimate need, a legitimate situation, and could’ve used a little help. Regardless of my explanation, I was again refused any help and left very angry that I was being told that the only way I could get help was to do something I deemed dangerous.  

Bicycle Kitchen, I don’t know why you wouldn’t help me. I clearly wasn’t trying to use you as a shop; I was clearly trying to use you for exactly what you have been praised for in so many articles and blogs. It’s not my place to tell you how to change; the Bicycle Kitchen is your organization. But I wanted to bring my experience with you to light because I feel like, for some reason or another, because I’m not a kid on a fixie or because I’m clearly not impoverished (but I don’t make a lot of money), I was denied help. After I explained the danger in carrying my bike at night to the Kitchen for a clamp, I feel the volunteer should’ve been a little more understanding. It’s not like I walked in and said “I need a clamp, how much?”  

Women are an indicator species for cycling, and this community goes on and on about getting women on bikes. But it seems to me that you were very discouraging to this woman. Food for thought, and I hope you will think about it. 

Thank you for listening to this complaint. Good luck in your continued mission to serve the bicycle community.

Amanda F. Lipsey"

Trust me, I don’t like writing about unhappy experiences in my blog, but this blog is about my life without a car. And this is one of my experiences. I wouldn’t have written about it, except that I really felt like the man who insisted that I carry my bicycle through a bad neighborhood just to get a clamp was so unsympathetic. I have been turning it over in my mind all night. It was all I could think about on my ride to work this morning. I guess I just hope that maybe this community can acknowledge that there is a segment of the community that’s like me. And while we’re small right now, aren’t we the exact segment that you want to build? Except when we come to the table, you treat us poorly. What gives?

In reviewing my post, reading the list of things I have accomplished on my beat up old Schwinn that doesn't fit me, that should be impossible for me to ride comfortably, makes me want to cry. All I want is to build myself a working, sturdy bike that fits me. I'm not asking for much. I wasn't asking Bicycle Kitchen for much. I just don't get it.



Luis Hidalgo
05/21/2010 10:08

Wow this was an honest well put grievance. I feel the same way; I do not consider myself a cyclist because I do not use my bike for everything, I do not ride a fixie and I am not a hipster but I would also like to build a bike from scratch but most of these places are not - How shall I put this " User friendly " .. Good luck assembling your bike

Mike G.
05/21/2010 10:49

You are really over reacting. You base this whole rant off of one experience of going to the Bike Kitchen on a busy day saying "I want to build a bike from scratch, so DO ME." ... My response would have probably been the same if I was there. You have to take it step by step to build a bike, and you can't expect some volunteer that might be tired and is having a difficult day to bend over and kiss your ass. Get over yourself. There are people who can help you in the bike communities and at places like Bike Kitchen or Bike Oven, etc. You just have to humble yourself and expect things not to come handed to you within a split second of you asking. SHEEESH!

This seems like a pattern from you. Highly reactive and quick to judge a whole community based on one experience and your lack of attention. I hope this makes some sense to you... (dream)

05/21/2010 11:07

while i sympathize with your frustration, i don't understand why you'd give up on an entire community based on one organization's unwillingness to help you in the way you wanted help.

you went to the kitchen to get a frame. ok, fine. totally appropriate. i don't think the reason you didn't get one is that you were discriminated against for not fitting some preconceived mold - i think you didn't get one because you wanted to work on it on your own time. the kitchen is a community resource where they expect you to wrench on bikes in their space - as part of a community.

you went back because you needed a specific part and you were refused. again, not because you aren't the right type of bike person, but because they wanted you to work there, not take freebies home.

being carless doesn't mean you can't borrow a car, get a ride, take a cab, or a bus with your bike in pieces. you CAN get to the kitchen but you chose not to. you chose not to be a part of the community space. that's why you were rejected.

and yes, the kitchen is not the warmest place. i personally choose to work at the bike oven in highland park for that reason. the same rules apply though. they expect you to work with them.

so don't give up on everyone just because one entity didn't appreciate your desire to do it all by yourself. a community is here to support its members and you acted like an island of one.

05/21/2010 11:42

Ed, please read the blog post again. I made it very clear, and let me make it very clear again, that I wanted to work on the bike build project at the Kitchen. I didn't have the tools or the resources to do so on my own at home. When I was in need of the one part, they wanted me to carry my frame and all my parts through a dangerous neighborhood to get there, and that was the only way they would give me assistance. You're right I chose to not put myself or my bike and parts in danger to accommodate that requirement. You say "borrow a car". Ed, most of my friends are also car-free. Taking a bus with a bike frame and huge box of bike parts is also fairly impossible. I wasn't making an outrageous request. And the only reason I had to make that request is that I was brushed off when I wanted to build the bike there to begin with.

I have nowhere stated that I am giving up on this community. I received a very pleasant offer of assistance from one of the "cooks" (too little too late) and in my reply to him I expressed my desire to volunteer so more people like me could feel welcome.

Furthermore, Ed, everytime people in this community call for cyclists to show up at Beverly Hills City Hall, LA City Hall, or the Bicycle Committee meeting, I'm there. Don't you dare say I am even implying that I'm giving up on this community. I'm trying to find my place in it.

I think you, Ed, are just trying to deny or cover up what happens all the time to people like me. I am trying to address it. I want everyone to feel like bicycling is for them.

05/21/2010 11:49

Mike, I want to clarify one thing. I did not walk in and say "I want to build a bike this second." The volunteer who I was speaking to wasn't busy at all. He was sitting behind the counter doing nothing. I tried to discuss a project I wanted to embark on with him, and, rather than say, "well, here's what you do, call in and make an appointment and we'll get you going..." or "Thursdays are the best night, come in Thursday night and we'll help you get started..." I got nothing. No help. Just a "we don't sell frames" when I hadn't asked to purchase one. I said I want to come in at a future date and learn to build a bike.

If what you suggest had happened, on ONE occasion, then yes, I would be over-reacting. But this did not happen once, as you suggest, nor have I not participated in any other aspects of the community where I haven't seen this happen. In fact, your attitude is the same attitude I get everywhere. "What the hell does she know?" Well let me see...I know that on the 16th hour of being on your bike that your butt hurts but your legs don't. I know that if you don't lube your cables your shifters will be really jumpy. And I know that when cyclists were called to show up and speak up to LAPD Chief Beck that I was the one demanding an answer for how cyclists are treated when they get pulled over. Where were you?

05/21/2010 11:50

I'm a 30 year old female starving artist that thinks the world should revolve around me.

I'm special, just like the other 333,000 of me that live in Los Angeles.

If you can't work on a bike, you should buy one that already works. You can learn plenty from doing the maintenance on it instead of just going to a place full of volunteers and asking for a whole bike. Who the hell does that?

If you can't afford one, perhaps you should spend a little less time writing your crappy blog that no one cares about and get a THIRD job.

You're 30 and seem like you want to be a strong independent woman. Don't you think it's time that you actually do that instead of simply talk about it?

Don't you think it might be easier to just be that way instead of trying to convince everyone that you are that way?

You don't need to post this comment. It's really only for you personally.
...but you can if you want. I don't care.

You're welcome.

05/21/2010 12:13

Sorry your experience wasn't positive. I can offer what I've experienced. I've had nothing but good service and no attitude every time I've gone there. The cooks have been very helpful and I've learned a lot there.

To be fair the Bicycle Kitchen's longstanding policy is that they don't let you take parts home to work on. I think the other co-ops have this policy too.

When I first went there I didn't like the policy either. But then I realized the reason for this. The parts bins would be really picked over if people could just walk in and take stuff out for a nominal donation. It's not really fair to the people who go there and buy stand time.

I think the Kitchen used to have frames, but I think they stopped doing that because they were taking up too much space.

Incomplete bikes are also pretty easy to transport. The Kitchen is right next to the Vermont bus line as well as two Red Line train stations. Just put the frame in a trash bag, or better yet mount the wheels and handlebars and roll it.

One other thing: Maybe perceptions die hard but my girlfriend and I walk by ourselves in that neighborhood all the time. It's mostly working Latino and Korean families and doesn't strike me as being particularly dangerous.

Mike G.
05/21/2010 12:16

I hope your complaint comes to their attention, and that they can better serve you in the future. But, as far as being an "outsider of the community", that is just a self imposed perception, for you make the community what it is by your interaction and involvement.

Greg T.
05/21/2010 13:02

Please move elsewhere. Los Angeles already has far too many narcissistic sociopaths with uncontrolled senses of fear and entitlement, and who lack even an iota of self-awareness.

05/21/2010 13:37

Far from not being a part of the biking community, I think you're perfect example of what it should aspire to be. You ride both for transportation and for the sheer joy of it. And I've seen you at council meetings standing up for your rights, just like the so-called activists. And you frequently offer insightful comments about online stories about cycling; if this city had more people like you, we might be able to make this a better place to ride.

As for the Bicycle Kitchen, what you asked for may not have been exactly what they do. However, it would have been quite easy to offer suggestions to get you started or find the parts you need; after all, Orange 20 Bikes is just across the street. My guess is that they took one look at you and didn't take you seriously — which is clearly a mistake.

And "Waaaaaa", you seem to be living proof that a sphincter can type. If you had bothered to read her post all the way through, rather than rushing off to type a needlessly insulting comment about someone you have obviously never met and know little about, you might have learned that, yes, she can work on a bike; in fact, she'd building one from the frame up. And doing it on her own, despite asking for guidance that she didn't receive, and there aren't many cyclists who can do that. It's called Reading for Comprehension — I'd suggest you sign up for a refresher coarse at your local adult school. Oh, and by the way, those aren't hemorrhoids. That's your head.

Ms. Stephanie
05/21/2010 13:37

"But, as far as being an "outsider of the community", that is just a self imposed perception, for you make the community what it is by your interaction and involvement."

I think Mike G. makes a really good point here. There is an attitude that pervades your post, and I think it might be this self-imposed perception, of always already being the outcast in every situation. And frankly, I don't want that attitude on my side in the feminist / gender wars. Your insistence in posting all of the background at the opening of your post makes it seem like you're trying to set yourself apart in some way, like this description should provide some sort of insight into or explanation of your unique situation. The thing is, I know plenty of riders like you. I know plenty of women riders like you.

Also, as a woman, I would ask you not to jump to the gender conclusion too quickly - it's not helpful. John makes some extremely good points in his comment that you should consider before screaming about how put upon you are as a woman rider. I’ve been seeing the statement that women are an indicator species for cycling a lot lately – in fact I got into a rather heated discussion on the Midnight Ridazz forum with someone about what that means and why that might be – and I think that statement is being used too often and in irresponsible ways, ways that end up reinscribing harmful social gender constructions and norms. But then there’s your irresponsible way of using that statement, which irks me even more: You use it to cap off a negative, entitled, poor-always-already-ostracized-me rant that even to me, one of the most vocal and vigilant of feminist voices on the Midnight Ridazz forum, comes off as just whining, not a useful critique.

In order to end this on a helpful note, I fully acknowledge that, as a woman, it can be more comfortable to learn to wrench in an all-woman environment, and that some of us are more comfortable relating with other women. (I’m not saying that because something about your post makes me think that’s the case.) The Bicycle Kitchen has all-women sessions Monday evenings 6:30 to 9:30. As a friend of mine who is a regular Bike Kitchen cook says, “No dicks allowed, unless you're transgendered.”

05/21/2010 14:09

Thanks, Ms. Stephanie, for your insights. Although I don't agree with all your comments, I must say a thanks as well for continuing to be a voice and an example for women cyclists.

John, you talk about a perception about Koreatown and Hel-Mel, but I live there, and have lived there for awhile and have witnessed a lot of crime. For example, the young man, excuse me, 14 year old child, who was shot to death by a gang outside my front window. It's not a perception that I'm acting from, it's experience from living in the neighborhood. You're right that for the most part it's hardworking families and can be safe, but walking home from the Bicycle Kitchen (or even taking the Red Line--why do you think that's more safe at night?) at night is not on my to-do list of possibly dangerous strolls.

Saying that I should box everything up and lug it to a bus stop, then to a Red Line station, then to the Kitchen (which will take how many hours?) to get help building a bike is just ridiculous. Part of the mission of most nonprofits is to reach out to the community and create access to that particular service. How is that accessible?

But apart from that, this reaction like I'm attacking the Bicycle Kitchen is also ridiculous. I have stated and continue to say that I support and appreciate the service they provide in the community. What I experienced is clearly a gap in that service provision, and I want to examine how to prevent it. I have received a very nice email from a volunteer at the Kitchen, and have also offered to volunteer myself and see how I can contribute to the resolution.

05/21/2010 14:54

We live in the area too, don't our perceptions count? We both take the Red Line at night pretty often as well, it feels pretty safe to us.

Packed up right the parts for a bike are pretty compact and light. I've brought frames and bikes that weren't rideable there by foot on many occasions. I don't think it's ridiculous to walk a few blocks with them or use the train or a bus to get there, especially if you can get a friend to come with you. It should really take you no longer than half an hour and it's certainly easier than riding a century.

Is this the ultimate in convenience? No, but that's just the nature of DIY and reviving an older frame that requires parts no available at most bike shops. You're doing this for the knowledge and experience. It's time well-spent, IMHO.

05/21/2010 16:12

Hey Greg T what crawled through your bike shorts and bit your twinkie off.

05/21/2010 16:34

John, your perceptions actually do count, but we each act on what we deem is safe and unsafe. Based on your perceptions, you feel safe walking that far a distance at night. Based on my perceptions, I don't. If your perceptions count, then don't mine as well? In the end we are each accountable for our own safety, and so can only act based on what we perceive as safe. I believe your perception is valid, but so is mine.

And your absolutely right, the knowledge gained from working on a bike is invaluable, but even more so, it's damn fun.

05/21/2010 16:42

I have utilized the services of the Bike Kitchen a few times. I don't fit the mold of a lot of the people that hang out there but I felt 0 discrimination and am 100% satisfied with the help I received. I have seen kids building fixies to other women working on their long haul randonneur bikes. Some personalities are more approachable than others...that is any place. There is a movement out there to get more women bike techs working and more women working on their own bikes. I live north of the Kitchen and after living in Oakland the area to me is not all that bad. And bad things happen every where you go. If you are strong enough to ride 200 miles solo up and down the coast in light and can find away to get your build project to the Kitchen. I hope you can make a friend there and give it another shot.

05/23/2010 05:16

Wow, I guess I missed all the drama this week. I know how you feel about "fitting" in. The beauty of the bike community is that there is room for all types, even people who ride klunkers and dorky folding bikes like myself and who aren't interested in racing or looking cool. Building a bike from scratch is a daunting task. It sounds like you just need a good friend who knows what they're doing to help you instead of strangers who don't give a__.

05/26/2010 11:21

The Bike Kitchen doesn't sell parts for use on projects being worked on outside of the Kitchen. It says so on the wall in there to the best of my recollection it also says You have to work on your project there. They have to pay bills like the rest of society unfortunately part of their business model is renting the stand. pretty standard stuff at the co-ops here in town and across the nation.

I've shadowed at the BK a few times and tell ya what, the place is a mad house with people wanting assistance and wanting to just grab parts and leave. Not at all saying you are one of them but I could totally see how the cooks were being worn out by freeloaders who raid their parts supply of the good stuff and walk right out the door. It sucks. I bet it truly gets overwhelming at times. Maybe you could try to see it from the other side rather than just putting out messages of helplessness and despair into the ethos... As in, sure, sometimes there's a cook or person volunteering that isn't gonna give you the best service... but again, they are doing it for FREE so you have to take that volunteer service with a big ole chunky grain of salt and just put up with a little rudeness. Something is obviously working over there cause I see lines at the door everytime.

Maybe they were giving you the cold shoulder because your excuses are so flimsy... There are many many solutions to your dilemna of not being able to commute to the Bike Kitchen with your project bike. How about just ask a car driving friend for a ride? save 25 cents in a special piggy bank every day for a month (or whatever the math is) and take a cab? I bet you could even persuade one of the kind souls at the BK to haul your bike up from Ktown on a trailer...?

The place can be intimidating and it's always packed but seriously, you've done unsupported double centuries you can wrangle this problem I believe in you.

05/26/2010 12:55

Roadblock, it’s great to see you completely ignore the first part of my story so you can point the finger at me and say that I’m just asking for too much and not trying hard enough. I went there to build a bike–to rent stand time, pay for any parts I used, and support the business. You’re saying that because these people are volunteering that they can be inhospitable or provide poor client relations? I work with lots of volunteers in my field. I have specialized in nonprofit development for most of my career and whenever I bring in volunteers who deal with the public, clients, or even other colleagues, I train them fastidiously to be polite, friendly, and diplomatic. I teach them to deal with a diverse range of personality types. Being a volunteer doesn’t give you the right to be a bad volunteer or to be rude.
Whenever you apply for a grant, one question funders always ask is how you the services you provide are accessible to the public, and this can mean a range of things including how the volunteers or employees interact with the public: are they trained to deal with a variety of populations such as women, non-English language speakers, and the disabled? It can also mean accessibility of hours and location. If your volunteers have carte-blanche to behave any way they want to clients (since the Kitchen is a service provider) then you’re not being very accessible, are you?
Thanks for believing in me, but when I say these things or bring up these topics, it’s not because I hate the Kitchen or the cycling community. It’s because I see women and men who will never get on a bike because they run into behavior and mindset like this. And there have been a lot of blogs and articles lately that hit on this point: cycling as transportation and not as life style, etc. There are all these people who fall in between, but they won’t be as determined as me, and we lose them forever.
A friend of mine recently made off with an incredible buy of a road bike in great condition for $25. The catch? The woman selling it thought it was in terrible condition because the tires were out of air. Not to put aside the great buy for my friend, but maybe it that woman didn’t feel so intimidated inflating her tires she would be riding a bike right now. But obviously, inflating the tires was a big obstacle for her, but not for my friend. Which leads me to…
What is not a big obstacle for you might be a big obstacle for some one else. Just like riding 100 miles is not big deal to me but is a huge deal for some one else. Dragging my frame and parts there (or paying for a cab, are you crazy?) is the obstacle that stops me. We all have our limits of how far we will go. But, when a client comes to you looking for solutions, having none doesn’t make you look too good.
For example, when I came in to talk to the cook about building a bike, he could have said “come in on Mondays, it’s Ladies Night, we can sit down and figure out a plan or get started.” He could have said “call and make an appointment so you’ll have stand time.” He could have said “if you’re looking for a specific frame, you’ll probably need to get that yourself, but we can help you assemble the components and get it rolling…” He could have made any number of suggestions that would have been an entry point, but he didn’t.
Forgive me if I want/expect my local co-op to provide great service to everyone and be the most awesome place ever. Maybe it’s just because I believe in them too much.

05/26/2010 14:51

Also, while I'm happy to argue with anyone on the subject of why volunteers should not be rude, I'd like to point out that nowhere in my post do I call the volunteers rude. In fact, at one point I describe them as "polite".

05/26/2010 15:29

Wow, I just read the comments to your recent blog update. There must be a lot of kids at home from school with time on their hands to write these comments. The writing styles are hilarious!

05/26/2010 16:54

Had to forward your blog to a few cycling buddies of mine. We all had a good chuckle reading the 'intelligent' comments. I've seen more articulate kids hanging outside my local 7-11.

05/26/2010 18:39

I've gone to the Bicycle Kitchen many times, sometimes they are helpful, but sometimes they are swamped and I am on my own. Some of my bicycle friends have complained about BK being a bit too "pretentious". I have never experienced that, I guess I just got lucky. I do go to the Bikerowave in West LA/Mar Vista sometimes, even though I am closer the the Kitchen. You should try it sometime, I have never had a bad experience there and most of my bicycle friends go there exclusively. They are always friendly and helpful. They have more bike stands available and a lot more space.
The Kitchen is small and that may be part of their problem. They serve a large mid-city bicycle community with limited resources. Try the Bikerowave and see if you have a different experience. Keep on biking though, you have become a real voice and presence in the LA Bicycle Community.

05/26/2010 18:50

Hey skd!

I have tried out Bikerowave once, just went by to check it out, and I'm actually going there tomorrow after work (it's closer than BK to work) to try and finish last tweaks on new bike. (Woohoo!)

Hope to see you at LACM on Friday.

05/27/2010 21:07

hello. my name is derek. i'm a cook at the kitchen. so that you are aware, the intrepid volunteer manning our PR email has been soliciting input from our community and is possibly in the process of condensing an official response.

in the meantime, i'm here now and there is a bit of a knot building up inside of me that is somewhat enhanced by the wine that my roommate has bestowed upon me. so with a handful of disclaimers (that my views do not represent those of the bicycle kitchen, that i'm at the bottom of my third cup, that i don't know if i've ever commented on a blog before, and that i come in peace) i believe i'm about to start waxing philosophic.

First off. bummer. that you had an unpleasant experience. i can offer my own apology as someone who's been around for a fair while now and bears some responsibility for trying to impart a good sense of the traditions and codes down to the newer volunteers. i may not as diligent with it as i could be so for whatever role that plays in the larger scheme of things that would result in experiences like yours, i truly apologize for it and will definitely be more mindful of how i convey those things going forward

That said, there are a few things in this post and string of comments that are somewhat inaccurate, at least in my understanding and experiences, and i'd like to set the record straight as i understand it.

Buying parts. your salty encounter notwithstanding, there's a humble reason unrelated to snobbery that we are not allowed to sell parts outright. and it's not to try to milk stand time out of people. As a non-profit, we are not allowed to use our tax-exempt status on certain goods to unfairly compete with for-profit bike shops who are subject to taxes. So when someone comes in asking for a part, if a cook sells it outright without incorporating it into something that fulfills our educational mission statement, as defined in the documents we've filed with the federal government, that cook is endangering our non-profit status, and we technically could then be shuddered. Does it happen sometimes anyways? probably. is it supposed to? no. personally, after i explain that to a person, and bearing in mind the ready availability of things like cable clamps through many other outlets like the internet and the numerous bike shops in the area, i generally feel pretty justified in sticking to it. I realize that you were not given that explanation, and I only state it to hopefully convey to anyone reading this that there's no institutional snobbery at play with that sort of thing. and yeah, it's not so that we can force people to pay for stand time as was implied elsewhere. (it’s a core part of our model that nobody is turned away for lack of funds, and this is pretty liberally applied). But at any rate, I will personally do whatever i am able to do to try to make sure to impress on any new volunteers that come in that they need to fully understand and explain that rationale to clients when that situation arises.

As for the culture... The kitchen I see is very very different from the one that i see described in places above. While reiterating my disclaimer about acting alone here, let me give you my situation. I ride a hybrid commutery kind of thing with plenty of gears and brakes and ride it because i love the feeling of shooting down a hill, it makes me feel healthier, and i feel a responsibility to do what i can to preserve some green shit for my future grandkids to gawp at. when i first started biking in LA a few years ago, i had scrounged up a dilapidated old mountain bike that i didn't know anything about and rode it around trying not to shift gears too much because the chain would fall off and i didn’t know why. A friend told me about the kitchen and I came in and got the low down and was really stoked on the way that it was organized. I learned how to calibrate my derailleur and it made my life on a bike a whole lot easier. I was so impressed by my experience that I started volunteering and though being obviously very new to the mechanical aspect of bikes, (i didn't even know what a fixed gear bike was), everyone was super supportive and i started to get familiar. i learned something every time i came in and now a couple of years have gone by and i'm teaching basic wrenching workshops. and though i've been going in for a bit now, i’m still learning every day and it still never gets old to see people take pleasure and pride in the very simple act of empowering themselves to ride. fuck a fashion statement. if people are into their cool looking wheels or some brand of handlebars or something, that's fine. i don't care and don't think less of them. nice parts are nice. but coolness is not part of the equation for myself or any of the cooks whom i have gotten to know over the years. what the kitchen gave to me and what i personally enjoy being able to give back through it, is

05/27/2010 22:10


Thank you so much for your comment and sharing your story. I really appreciate it.

05/29/2010 16:23

ha. i got so verbose that it cut me off. the meat was yet to come. i'll try to keep it brief but i really wanted to get to the idea of customer service in a completely volunteer run space...

So i don't disagree that even a space that's run completely by volunteers should try to be friendly. (i'd also argue that the kitchen is full of friendly folks and most of the interactions i've had end with people being stoked on their experience). but we are often somewhat understaffed. we may or may not have been when you were around, but there's a general weariness that can come hand in hand with that at times. which isn't an excuse for anything, but you write: "I guess I just hope that maybe this community can acknowledge that there is a segment of the community that’s like me. And while we’re small right now, aren’t we the exact segment that you want to build? Except when we come to the table, you treat us poorly. What gives?", it defnintely makes me feel the need to try to offer an alternative possibility, which is that there is definitely no systemic predjudice at the kitchen against any certain 'type' of cyclist and that the experiences you had are not patterns of a larger system. While things can certainly be improved, it does seem to me unfair to not take the idea that the place is completely staffed by people who do it not for the pay but for the love of cycling or the environment or the community or, fuck it, pretty pink handlebar grips. whatever it is, it warrants a closer inspection than taking a sample of two experiences and extrapolation a whole community off of it.

and speaking of community, i'll leave on this. there is no bicycle president. no club that you get a pass to. the bicycle "community" is an abstract that i have no more control over than you do. when you publicly draw conclusions based on a limited experience (i.e. that the kitchen has a "behavior and mindset" that results in "women and men who will never get on a bike"), you're doing something that has the potential to shape the language as much or more than any one of the volunteers who simply goes down there on our free time to try to get people familiar with their bikes. The kitchen is not some trendy place where snobby hipsters go to look down their noses at people. the volunteers range from 16 to 60 (seriously, there are some retired folks that come by and kick some serious ass). occupationally they range from doctors to actors to accountants to lawyers to architects to school teachers and tons of other things. same with the clientele. there are definitely kids with bikes from urban outfitters that roll through. there are also day laborers, weekend cruisers, health nuts, bike newbies. and there are plenty of working professionals like yourself that come through and i don't think it's a stretch to say the vast majority of them have a positive experience. Go check out yelp or do some other research if you don't believe me. There are definitely rough edges at the kitchen, but from everything i've seen, it's a place built on lots of love for all things bike. It's understandable to have a bad customer service experience and be salty about it, but when you start painting a little crappy communication as an symptom that points to a larger disease of snobbery or even gender discrimination it makes me defensive.

so yeah. i should disclaimer again that i don't speak for the kitchen. which is a little bit of a copout i guess, and i'm sorry to the folks there if this ruffles anyone. but that's my take on that. if you ever decide to come in again hopefully you'll have a better time of it. if you come in on most sundays between noon and 3, that's usually when i'm around and i'll do what i can to customer service the shit out of the situation.

and yeah. sorry for taking up so much space. i'd make a bad blogger. hopefully this is all read with the due respect and everything. the more that bikes are in the communal consciousness, the better to me. which is why i'm happy and humbled to be a small part of a place that's been enabling all parts of the cycling community to get rolling for the better part of a decade.

p.s. if you or anyone reading this wants to help improve the service at the kitchen, we're always happy to have more volunteers to staff the shifts, and we're pretty much a direct democracy, which means all cooks have a say in what goes on. plus it's fucking fun. sometimes hectic. yeah. the end.

05/30/2010 19:03

Due to the number of "troll" comments on this post (ie, not on the post, off-topic, etc.) which I have not approved, I'm closing this post to comments with the last comment being Cocinero's comment, which I think (while he qualifies himself as not representing Bike Kitchen) is a positive and excellent comment on the Bicycle Kitchen and what they do.

Thank you, Cocinero, for helping to end this discussion on a positive note.

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