In early April, Brian Drayton, bicycle activist and founder ofRichmond Spokes Bicycle Shop, got bad news: The nonprofit bike shop, which focuses on education and youth empowerment, was not able to reach an agreement with its landlord to renew its lease for another year.
Determined to save Richmond’s only bicycle repair shop, Drayton appealed to Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and the City Council for financial support.
“If cities like Richmond don’t have a bike business, then they are not gaining from the economic benefits of cycling,” Drayton said.
When it became clear that Richmond Spokes was not going to be able to keep its doors open past April 30, Drayton turned to Alfonso Dominguez, co-founder of Oakland’s Popuphoodbusiness incubator. Two weeks later, Drayton was signing a lease for a pop-up space in Old Oakland.
“The magic of that is some preexisting relationships. Alfonso and I have been working together for years,” Drayton noted.
Popuphood Co-Founder Sarah Filley said the timing was perfect for the business incubator, which wanted to support the Bike Happy Hour party in Old Oakland on Thursday, May 9.
“It fits our philosophy of having an underutilized space that ties in with the community,” Filley said.
Oakland SPOKES Community Bike Lounge will open at 465 Ninth Street this Thursday, May 9, just in time for the Bike to Work Day. Although tools will be provided for “people to get quick fixes, commuter fixes – lubes and chains and stuff,” according to Drayton, the lounge will be more of a community gathering space and gallery.
Drayton’s vision is to create a community hub, connecting Oakland’s bicyclists with the city’s bicycle shops.
“It’s kind of an economic mapping project specifically on bikes,” Drayton said. "We get the test out the brilliance of the idea and see if it’s something that works."
For the time being, SPOKES has a one-month lease, rent-free, through Popuphood, with the option to stay longer.
“Our goal is to be there for Bike to Work month and use it as a capital campaign to raise money to buy a space and have a permanent community bike shop in Richmond,” Drayton said. He added he hopes to raise enough to purchase a building for Richmond Spokes, so its financial future can be secure.
Mayor McLaughlin agrees that bicycling is important to her city.
“We do have an incredible, vibrant bike culture," she said. "We would love to have a sustainable bike shop in Richmond.”
Drayton’s vision is larger than the Oakland SPOKES Community Bike Lounge or even reopening Richmond Spokes. He said he hopes to turn SPOKES into a national organization (he has already heard from people interested in forming chapters in other cities) that gives grants to community-based bicycle organizations normally overlooked by federal funders.
Passionate about serving what he calls “hidden” cycling communities, Drayton said, “What we have discovered in urban communities of color is that people are riding bikes, but either they aren’t identified as cyclists or they don’t identify themselves as cyclists.
"They are out there nonetheless," he added. "By the thousands.”