by Collins Laatsch

Learning Cycle

Self reliance has been marketed out of the modern bicycling industry over the past few decades, but small local bike shops and scrappy co-ops like Franklinton Cycle Works have made it their mission to bring it back. Bicycles are great liberators, allowing all the ability for fast, sustainable, and reliable transportation. This may come across as hyperbole to readers in a car-focused city like Columbus, and it’s because of that focus that establishments like FCW need to exist.

A bicycle cooperative (co-op) is an educational space where people learn the basics of bicycle repair so they can fix and maintain their bicycles on their own. Columbus is lucky enough to have two co-ops for community use, Franklinton Cycle Works (FCW) on West Broad, and Third-Hand Bicycle Co-Op on East Fifth. FCW is a streamlined version of the co-op notion that focuses on community accessibility. Bringing the knowledge of self-reliant bicycle repair to the people is their first mission.

The workspace at FCW is well-equipped. Six individual work stations with a full complement of basic Park Tool brand bicycle tools for each. A clearly-marked and organized wall of shelves houses bins with specific parts inside. The work space is actually bigger than most professional bicycle shops. On Saturdays, FCW hosts a community open shop day where members can work on their bicycles with the provided tools under the watchful eye of volunteer mechanics. Membership is $25, but residents under a certain income level are welcome to sign up for free. FCW only stocks used bikes. One huge goal is to keep bicycles out of landfills as long as possible. If a frame is broken and dangerous to ride, serviceable parts will be removed from the bike and used to make other bikes rideable. 

FCW keeps all members of the community in mind. Every third Thursday, they host WTF Night, where Women, Trans, and Femme identifying individuals are encouraged to learn about their bicycles and help each other repair and maintain their bikes. Finding a female professional mechanic is getting easier, but it wasn’t always that way. An intersectional, accepting, welcoming, and bully-free atmosphere is very important at FCW. Their website takes a page from kindred bike co-op spirits in San Francisco, The Bike Kitchen, and plainly illustrates the policy. Machismo is a huge issue in the cycling industry, and one of the main reasons community resources like bicycle co-ops came to be. The professional bicycle mechanic’s knowledge is learned over years of experience – but to teach that knowledge in a few minutes to someone new to the subject without condescension is incredibly difficult and requires an immense amount of tact. Many professional shop mechanics suffer from a lack of customer service training, and because of this, imparting to a customer what would be simple knowledge to the mechanic can sometimes seem like a chore, or worse, an impossible affront to the profession. This is how the cycling industry marketed the self-reliant customer out of the shop. If the mechanic has this esoteric knowledge, they must be kept in the back of the shop and hidden from the helpless bourgeoisie customer on the sales floor. The knowledge will be protected and monetized, and gradually the customer will come to terms with the gap between what they think they can do and what the mechanic is paid to do.

Don’t get me wrong, we still need expert mechanics that know how to remove a stuck fixed cup, overhaul a loose ball bearing hub, or properly rebuild a suspension system. But having the confidence and knowledge to be able to prepare your bicycle before a ride correctly, and being able to change a tube in the field, are far more important every day than all those skills. And all it takes to learn that, is a little time at a bike stand with a patient professional.

Jonathan Youngman, the Executive Director of Franklinton Cycle Works, pointed out to me that there are no bicycle shops on the west side of the city. Even the one shop that was in Grandview is now an upscale lube boutique. Franklinton may have the workings of a 21+ playground now, but there are very few practical services for the community at the moment. FCW fills a huge gap providing cheap transportation and education in one building. All the bicycles and 99% of the parts in the building are donated. Many of these bicycles are kids bikes and space is at a premium. So, FCW works with Binns Elementary, who recently added bicycling as part of their Physical Education curriculum. FCW is also partnered with Trek Bicycles; when a kid outgrows a new Trek bike, they can trade that in for one that fits, then the trade-in bike gets donated to FCW. FCW is also helping with mechanical support alongside Baer Wheels for the 57th year of the longest-running American bicycle tour, the Tour of Scioto River Valley (TOSRV).

You probably remember riding bikes as a kid. How easy was it to just pump up the tires and go all day? You weren’t afraid to get dirty. You probably struggled to fix a flat tire, or maybe struggled wheeling the bike to the local bike shop to hope they could fix it for you on the spot. Maybe this was when the easy romanticism of bicycling became too difficult and too real. Access to the tools to fix the problem yourself was unattainable, and money for the labor fees for a professional was unavailable. Cycling had turned into a chore instead of easy joyful play. The bicycle cooperative model is a way to help people overcome that accessibility hump to get on their bikes and ride! Franklinton Cycle Works provides an invaluable resource to the community: knowledge. 

For more details, check out the the Franklinton Cycle Works Facebook page.