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.