Pondering Boyle Heights During This Weekend’s Tour de Co-Ops

The Tour de Co-Ops stops at Bici Libre, an LACBC sponsored co-op  located southwest of DTLA. Both images: Erick Huerta

The Tour de Co-Ops stops at BikeRoWave in West L.A. Both images: Erick Huerta

Bringing together seven different bicycle collectives, the Tour de Co-Ops was a half-day ride that celebrated the “do it yourself” (DIY) spirit of the Los Angeles cycling community. Split up into two separate routes, the ride acted as a fundraiser for the participating volunteer-operated co-operatives. In 2005, Los Angeles didn’t have any store-front bicycle co-ops.

The co-ops are not just a place where someone can get their bicycle fixed, but a place where one learns how to repair their own bicycle. It also becomes a social and advocacy center for Livable Streets Advocates inside of local communities.

After the Bike Kitchen moved from the community kitchen in the Eco-Village to Heliotrope and Melrose, Josef Bray-Ali in Northeast L.A. and Alex Thompson in West L.A./Santa Monica led the charge to create the Bike Oven and Bikerowave in their communities. By the time Streetfilms featured the co-ops in 2009, there were three store-front co-ops.

Now, it seems the co-ops are everywhere…or almost everywhere.

The northern route featured stops at the CSUN Bike Collective, Bikesan@s del Valle, and the Valley Bikery, while the southern route, the one I participated in, featured stops at the Bikerowave, Bici Libre and the Bike Oven. Both routes ended at the Bike Kitchen for a ride after party.

At each location, volunteers shared the history of the space, how they operate, communities they service, and programming offered. While no two co-ops are the same, they all shared the guiding principle of DIY, facilitating a learning process for all those that visit to familiarize them with tools, their bike, and the space.

Hearing about the different tribulations each co-op has gone through over the years made me realize that the Boyle Heights cycling community still has a ways to go before a co-op can be established here. Currently, the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles Bicycle Brigade is the only group that I know of actively working on setting one up in Boyle Heights. In the past, Ovarians have set up mobile bike shops at different events to help bicycle riders fix flats or make minor adjustments, while talking about the work the group does as a collective. In collaboration with Bici Libre, they have also hosted women’s bike mechanic nights on a bi-weekly basis. Recently, they’ve been able to rent a building with two other individuals in Boyle Heights.

At the Bike Oven.

At the Bike Oven.

Maryann Aguirre said that the collective has an on-going conversation on whether the group can fully commit to a co-op right now. While they have a physical space to host more events and rides, having adequate room for bike stands, tools and supplies proves difficult because it’s a shared space. Because the Ovarians want to avoid going the non-profit route in terms of financially sustaining their space, they are taking their time, seeking instead to establish a sustainable financial support system that would be in line with the group’s values and principles. The few tools and supplies the Ovarians have collected in the last year are getting to put use for DIY bike mechanic and touring workshops with ‘Rio’ Jill Contreras of Multi-Cultural Communities for Mobility.

That being said, there is no shortage of bike shops in Boyle Heights, but they fail to create the atmosphere found at the bike co-ops I visited during the ride. It’s one thing to have someone fix your bike for you, and it’s another to be able to fix it yourself.

I have no doubt that if a co-op space were established in Boyle Heights, other co-ops and the rest of the bike community would support it, just as they have other co-op spaces when they got their start. And, like the other co-ops, the new space would take on the role and responsibilities of being the place folks can connect with the greater bike L.A. community, gather for group rides, and participate in workshops/classes on everything from safety to mechanics. And, there are benefits and limitations to this hypothetical space running as a non-profit or a not-for-profit space in terms of funding and how the shop can operate. In the meantime, I have no problem supporting other co-ops and local bike shops. Of course, not everyone is as willing, or able, to bike outside our neighborhood in their spare time…especially when they need a local co-op because their bicycle needs repairs.