I've been stewing about something for a couple of weeks, precipitated by a couple of things. First, a good thing: I needed my front wheel trued a while back, and my neighbor recommended Thomas Bike Shop in South Park. I found their address online and a few good reviews on Yelp, so one afternoon, I took the wheel off my bike and walked it down there, expecting to leave it, as I have had to do in the past at a different local bike shop. It was a pleasant walk through a nice neighborhood, and I like to walk as much as I like to ride, so it was no big deal. Plus, it gave me the afternoon off from work.
There were two folks in the shop when I arrived, and they immediately put my wheel on the truing stand and told me it would be about ten minutes. Well, ten minutes turned into about half an hour as we talked about everything from spoke design to the history of the shop (with lots about old bikes in between). Thomas Bikes has been around for something like 100 years, and the current owner has photos of the original shop from just after the turn of the century. The last four digits of their phone number are the same as they were when the shop's original number was issued back in dickety-aught-whatever.
They're very down-to-earth there, and although you can buy a $1,500 race bike there, you can also by an old $80 Schwinn, plus all the parts and accessories you're likely to need for it. It's a small shop, run by good people who genuinely care about all bikes and riders, not just those willing to drop money on a high-end bikes. The owner asked me what kind of riding I did, and when I answered, "Well, I guess out of necessity," he answered, "Bikes for transportation, we love that, man." He also waxed about the virtues of steel vs. aluminum rims and spokes, concluding that he liked steel better. I agreed, although I don't really know anything about it. I walked away from the shop with my straightened wheel and the satisfying feeling that I had finally found my local bike shop.
The next thing that set me to thinking was the fact that I've gotten emails from several people offering to pay me to write posts about or link to their bike businesses. Well, I never intended to make any money off of this blog, and it doesn't cost me anything to run, so I don't really see why I should. What's more, the businesses that want me to do this don't really have anything to do with old bikes--bikes, yes, but not old ones.
So, here's the thing: this isn't really a blog about bikes. Really, it's about a form of what I call "durable technology," and it's about learning to maintain and repair that technology. We live in a culture that idealizes "new" and ultimately, transient, forms of technology. Since we're always after the new stuff, yesterday's new stuff quickly becomes tomorrow's junk. But bikes have pretty much been the same now for over 100 years, and they're not likely to change too much in the next 100. They're going to be around for a long time, and many of them already have. Learning how they work and how to keep them working isn't really about fetishizing the bikes themselves, it's about teaching yourself a set of skills that can be used to keep a form of durable technology working. Basically, these are the same skills that Mr. Thomas was practicing some 100 years ago when he opened his shop, and I think that's pretty cool.
So, no, I'm not going to take your money to write an article about your bike shop or post a link to your site. Or rather, if I am, it's going to be because I think you and me are simpatico on the subject of making durable technology useful again. There are all of these old bikes out there, still perfectly functional, that can be put to good use instead of going down to the local trendy bike store and dropping $1,500 on a new bike. The only things people need to get these bikes back on the road again are a few tools, some patience to learn a new set of skills, and a desire to make things work again. It's not about the bikes themselves. It's about self-sufficiency. It's about durable technology. It's about people taking back one of the most basic and revolutionary innovations of the last 150 years.
Oh, and I didn't post a link to Thomas Bike Shop because they don't have a website. Give 'em a call at (619) 232-0674 or stop by at 1635 Fern Street San Diego, CA 92101.