With spring upon us the cycling community start breaking out the hardware and traveling around in a form that doesn't require snow-tires. But like any form of transportation their bikes need maintenance, or replaced, or even just the need to buy a new one all together. Thankfully there's a community source in town looking to help you get around.
The Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective (a recent Best Of Utah winner) has been supporting the city in a way that your average bike shop can't compare to. Providing affordable bicycles to those who can't shell out for new or top-of-the-line who just need a one to get around, while also accommodating as a shop to upkeep their inventory and help out cyclists. A necessity these days for those not wanting to drive. I got a chance to chat with the Executive Director of the place, Jonathan Morrison, about starting up the Collective, their programs and impact on the community, thoughts on local cycling and a few other topics. Plus pictures of the place for you to enjoy!
Gavin: Hey Jonathan, first off, tell is a bit about yourself.
Jonathan: I am an import from Upstate New York with a past life in software; post the new millennium I moved here as a result of a corporate merger. I just knew two things about Utah: (1) the people were beautiful, (2) Moab was a mountain biking mecca, and (3) that I would be assimilated by polygamists. Like I said, I knew two things, the third one was something most of my friends and family concocted. Ten sunny years later I can say I am still not part of a polygamist compound, but the people are still beautiful and Salt Lake's mountains rival parts of Moab.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in cycling?
Jonathan: When did my addiction to two wheels begin? The first time I got high on riding a bike was when I was too young to ride one myself, like anyone vulnerable, I had pushers. Not only did they push broccoli and spinach on me, my parents also strapped me a makeshift kid-carrier-bike-rack, and would take me for seemingly endless rides and picnics. We lived near a bike path that ran along the old Erie Canal in upstate New York. I just remember looking up, the feeling of flying, trees a blur and the sky steadily trying to catch us. It has been awhile since I have let someone else steer long enough to safely look straight up, but I have found the view from the front of the bike is just as good. In short, like most kids, I blame my parents.
Gavin: What made you start taking part in the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee?
Jonathan: Peer pressure. All the cool kids from critical mass were doing it and I wanted to be popular. OK, so that didn't improve my ranking on AmIHotOrNot.com, but it did provide me with a productive outlet for civic duty. The MBAC is a place where one person can make a difference -- or vent about the lack of bike lanes and/or pot holes patches. I have to admit, any interface with government bureaucracy will cause you to check your watch now and again, but if you stay the course, you will make a difference. Salt Lake City is very lucky to have had the pro-bike mayors and city council that it has now. Without your support this won't last not last forever, so if you haven't been to the MBAC, it is worth your time.
Gavin: What was your initial take on Brenton Chu's original concept for the collective?
Jonathan: I didn't like the font he used in the proposal, but the rest was brilliant! Haha. Ironically I had had an experience in New York where I was part of an automotive shop that was run by students. It was awesome to learn how to do something from your peers using the right tools in a supportive environment. Given my greater love of bicycles, I couldn't wait to see a human powered version come to SLC.
Gavin: What motivated you and the others at the time to jump on board at the time to make it happen?
Jonathan: I think the famous saying is, "how hard could it be?" When you are young, dumb and fearless -- you get a lot done! Of course we made mistakes, and many things were learned the hard way, but we focused on our mission, and kept on pedaling our dream.
Gavin: How did you all get organized from that point, and what were the early planning stages like?
Jonathan: We met at Brewvies, only the first hour was productive until we started meeting at the library. Funny how that goes. Regardless, we assigned critical research to different "board" members and met frequently, usually weekly. Tasks like, what paperwork is required by the feds, state, and city/county to be legal? We were flying blind, and we knew it, but if you are resourceful that shouldn't stop you.
Gavin: I understand it was a bit difficult in the early going to be approved for 501(c)(3) status. What's the story behind that process?
Jonathan: At one point I was told the IRS receives 500 of these Form 1023 applications a day, many of them scams. So our approval process required a sizable fee for anyone getting started ($750 now), as well as six months from start to finish. We were very lucky to get a $5000 check from a family foundation, but that meant we had to be approved, or we had to give it back. It was a good motivator / deadline to have.
Gavin: Once everything was established, what was it like for you guys to establish the space and gather up finding and equipment?
Jonathan: A wild ride. Our personal tools became public tools, then we bought out a folding bike shop's equipment. We since buy most of our tools from various distributors just like any other shop, but occasionally we have some generous donations from Cornwell and Park Tool directly. Spaces have never been that easy. We started out taking any free space we could, which put us in a warehouse near the ballpark, an un-rentable storefront in Glendale, and a life guard tower at the Central City Rec Center. Eventually we met a cyclist named Bill Delvie at a presentation for an Exchange Club meeting. Bill was the 2nd of three generations that has owned Delvie Plastics, and it just so happened that his son John, also a cyclist, had a space for rent. We have been there ever since.
Gavin: When you finally opened up how did that first year go for you?
Jonathan: If you build it they will come. So once we finally had a regular space with regular hours, word of mouth took hold and everyone started to come.
Gavin: For those who may not know, what kind of services do you offer for cyclists?
Jonathan: For cyclists we have Do-It-Yourselfer nights at our Community Bike Shop, where anyone can learn how to work on their bikes using our expertise, tools, and even basic parts. We also have free formal Park Tool School classes on every Monday night from 6-7. During the summer we can be seen providing Valet Bike Parking services for various community events like the Farmers' Market. Ride your bike there, leave it safe and sound with us, and volunteers will make sure it is there when you get back. Last summer we parked over 5000 bikes. For kids, we have an Earn-a-Bike program and a Trips for Kids program. We partner with various after-school programs to offer these, but the gist is simple. In TFK we bring the mountain to the kids, and show them the natural beauty of the Wasatch front through mountain biking. In EAB, kids pick out a bike to keep, but they have to take it apart and rebuild it from scratch in order to earn it. Of course we are always looking for people to volunteer for each of these programs.
Gavin: How did the decision come about to start up classes on bike maintenance, as well as the Earn-A-Bike program?
Jonathan: Education is a more fundamental part of our mission than the Community Bike Shop, so it was a natural decision. In fact we started doing the EAB classes before we had a Community Bike Shop. The Park Tool School came about from people asking for a more formal training environment.
Gavin: When did you guys decide to expand and start up locations like Riverside and the U?
Jonathan: In all cases it started with someone that was willing to spearhead it. In Ogden, Josh Jones started things rolling in 2009. In the same year one of our Board Alumni, Clinton Watson started the Day-Riverside location. Before that we started working with the Bennion Center at the U in 2006, thanks to an ambition student named Jonathan Wilkey. We are also working on one in Provo.
Gavin: What other services and programs do you offer that people may not be aware of?
Jonathan: We have a Bikes for Goodwill Organizations program, where donated bikes get repaired by learning volunteers and then given to those in need through partnerships with other local non-profits such as the Road Home, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the International Rescue Committee. Depending on supply, we also give away free helmets.
Gavin: What's the overall goal of the bike collective right now and what do you hope to achieve with it down the road?
Jonathan: Like all non-profits facing a poor economy, are goal is to provide the same great services to the community with less financial resources. But we aren't just any non-profit, we are hoping to grow. How so? We want to increase the number of kids in our TFK programs, create some part-time jobs through Valet Bike Parking, and increase the number of bikes we give away in our Bikes for Goodwill Organization program.
Gavin: A little local, what are your thoughts on the possibility of rental bikes coming to downtown?
Jonathan: The University of Utah Bike Collective actually has a rental program. In addition, one of SLC's full time bike / pedestrian coordinators, Becka Roolf, is exploring bike share programs such as bcycle.com in Denver. Contact the city, give them your support.
Gavin: What do you think about the local bike culture that's growing, especially in the downtown area of SLC?
Jonathan: This is our wet dream, so "giddy" is an understatement. We may all ride for different reasons, but the Collective is all about more butts on bikes. When I first moved to SLC, I could tell who was at a restaurant just by the bikes in the bike rack out front -- it has been years since I have been able to do that. Change is good.
Gavin: What's your take on extreme sports and how its affected cycling as a whole?
Jonathan: Again, we all ride for different reasons, and that is great. I originally came here because of the recreational mountain biking. At the same time this provides a challenge to bicycle advocates. How do we make a mental shift in the minds of people that view bikes as something purely recreational and/or for kids? In commonly quoted examples like Amsterdam, bikes are for transportation. There aren't many cyclists, but there are tons of people that ride bikes. The average Amsterdam bike isn't expensive, lite, or for racing -- it is just a basic bike that you can use to get to work in your suit, or high heals. Luckily, U.S. bike manufacturer's are helping make that shift by producing more commuter bikes, brands like Torker, Civia and Globe, to name a few. But as the early adopters of the transportation revolution, we must set the example by riding bikes that anyone could see themselves on -- and do it in mass.
Gavin: Speaking of those sports, what do you think of the Bike Jousting events now taking place?
Jonathan: I have to admire the kind of courage/insanity it takes getting on a questionably welded 10 foot tall bike with the possibility of being abruptly knocked off with a lance. That takes something I don't have. This is just one sect of the local bike culture that is growing, bike polo, cyclocross, local frame builders and fixed gear folks converting back to gears are all exploding. It is great to see, after all, it just means there is something for everyone.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and the shop the rest of the year?
Jonathan: We have a great staff this year, so expect more efficiency and organization.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Jonathan: Support us! If you like what we do, please open your wallets, and/or your day planners, because we need funding and volunteers. Not to mention we are always in need of used bikes, so if you have one collecting dust, let us give it a good home. Visit our website or call 801-FAT-BIKE for more info.