Adventure (?) Culture (?): East Village Bike Shops; Winners and Losers.


 

Two guys, one bike. (Excuse the quality – photo taken with my iPhone)

 

I, Andrea Pagliai, am feeling kinda foolish… I keep convincing myself that there is something off with my bike. On Monday, I said to myself, “Kia” (that’s her name) is riding funny; it must be because the tires are too flat. So, I went to the bike shop to fill them up with air; filled them up too much, and popped both of the inner tubings. $26 later, the bike specialist at NYC Velo on 2nd Ave and E. 3rd St. says the tires probably didn’t need any air in the first place. I must have bike hypochondria.

Expensive little malady.

As I may have indicated… I am not quite sure how Indefinite Transit should categorize this post. It lies somewhere between Adventure and Culture…and is about bike shops in Manhattan. Specifically one bike shop: NYC Velo, located on 2nd Avenue in between E. 3rd & E. 2nd Streets.

I am very interested in East Village bike shops, mainly because I live in the East Village and ride a bike. Sure, I’d like to believe that I am a biking afficionado; that know all about bikes, and that I could fix a flat, stat. But that would be a huge lie. I do love bikes – I grew up riding; I had one when I lived in Florence, Italy; and my new bike Kia is one of my best friends in the city – but, I know nothing when it comes to fixing them. Not only do I not know how to fix a flat, I clearly don’t even know how much air to put in one. But I do know who does, how much the charge, and the quality of their “bike-side” manner.

Since buying my first bike, last May, I have been to a number of bike shops in the city. “Practical Lady,” my first New York bike, turned out to not be so “practical.” First off, she was too small. Standing tall at 5’11”, I need a bike’s seat and handle bars to be a certain height. “Practical Lady” was a lovely Holland-Style city bike with this great back wheel kickstand. She was silver and I loved her, but I bought her at this place in Brooklyn for $125, and let me just tell you, she ended up costing me way more than that. I bought my bike in Florence for 40 Euros, so I was totally cheap when it came time to buy a bike in NYC. $125 was the lowest price I found in the city and I scoured Craigslist for weeks. I finally found a post, linking me to this refurbished bike-shop in Brooklyn, which I can’t seem to find online anymore, but it was somewhere around Berry Street and 6th Street in Williamsburg. I remember because I went to the Williamsburg Diner for lunch, while the shop was fixing something on the bike that was broken.

Anyways, I later had to: 1) add a basket (used + installation: $15); 2) buy reflectors and lights ($17.50); 3) buy a helmet ($35); and 4) buy a lock & chain ($65 – its a damn thick chain). I did this all at Bikes by George, a great little bike shop on E 5th Street in between Avenues A & B, which has since closed. I loved George because he was a nice man and he did good work for a reasonable price. Most everything on my bike needed tweaking. I got a flat tire, almost in the next couple weeks and because my bike had the crazy amazing kickstand that I loved – it wasn’t located on the side of the bike, but was attached on both sides of the back tire and would hinge down vertically, to literally lift up the back of the bike, propping it up steadily. It would never teeter over and pretend to almost fall over. That was the most “practical” thing about her. But it also, apparently, made changing the back tire a b!$%h to fix or replace. George patched up the back wheel’s inner tube the first time with special glue and seal, but it ended up only lasting the day. He was too busy to take off the whole back wheel’s contraption, so he sent me over to Busy Bee Bikes not too far away, on E. 6th Street in between 1st Ave. and Ave A. At first I really liked them and their service. The guy that helped me was really nice and fixed a couple of other glitches that were going on with “Miss Anti-Practical Lady” as we started to call her. They charged me $25 for replacing the back wheel.

It was there that they told me they thought “Practical Lady” was too small for me. I had problems with the back seat, which wouldn’t go high enough and it was giving me some knee pain, which I was worried about. It was getting close to the time I was going to leave the city, so I decided to sell the bike to my friend, (who is shorter than me, and just loves Lady) who would be able to use her for the rest of the summer.

So when I got back to the city, this past September the first order of business was buying a new bike. This time I went to Hudson Urban Bikes, in the West Village on Charles Street and Washington. I love this shop and it is where I found my darling Kia – she is bright and yellow, matching my Klean Kanteen. George, the owner of the shop is really nice guy who is supremely passionate about bikes. His prices are fair, and he gave me a 30-day guarantee on my used bike, which I thought was great. My chain broke and my brakes went faulty two weeks into my purchase and the shop fix “Kia” at no charge. I love that shop. George also organized an amazing bike ride, which I wrote about a couple weeks ago, here. The only problem with George’s shop is that I live on the other side of town. When something happens to the bike that rendures it un-rideable, the walk over to Hudson Urban Bikes just takes too much time out of my busy day. Also, not having a bike in the city, after having a bike in the city, drives me absolutely crazy. Walking takes too much time! I’ve become so used to getting everywhere in 15 minutes flat!

So, for major fixes, I am limited in a sense to my area and need to find an East Village bike shop. Lets face it, walking a bike around far distances is quite annoying, so us Manhattan cyclists are at times constrained to shops in our area, especially if the fix requires an overnight stay.

Earlier in the week, I went back to Busy Bee Bikes to have my seat raised and my handle bars slightly lowered, because they were affecting my gear line. They charged me $5 to lower the seat and raise the bars (which is a less than five-minute job consisting of tightening and loosening screws). I am all about paying for service, but at this point, I had established a certain relationship with this place (I had been there over 6 times) and to charge me for that is like charging for an extra shoe bag or like charging for water at a bar. I’ll pay for it, but really? This is not cheapness…it is customer service. A client is much more likely to get his repairs done at a shop that gives that extra attention. Well, a bike shop that charges for quality, but doesn’t rip you off is NYC Velo.

I went to them at 7:15PM EST, Monday night, with what I thought were flattish tires. This is where the whole over-filling-the-tires-and-causing-them-to-pop-loudly-and-obnoxiously-on-the-street debacle happened. The guy working the front register, Chad Selberg saw me struggling outside where the air hose when he took some boxes out to the curb. He came over and helped me fill the back tire. (This one actually popped later, once I was already inside the store.) Just as he was doing this, the first wheel popped. I was confused for a moment; I thought a gun had gone off for a minute. Selberg tried to contain his smile – probably because he didn’t want to make me feel more foolish than I was already feeling – and he said, “Luckily we are open until 8PM.” Yes, “lucky me,” I thought.

I went inside and proceeded to get the inner tube of my wheel changed. Chris Harris, one of the bike technicians started to take the front tire off to fix it when the back wheel also popped. I felt a mix of embarrassment and shame that a novice might feel in front of experienced pros who would never do something so stupid as pop a tire due to over-filling it with air. Harris told me kindly not to worry and, “that it was a learning experience.” The man was far too kind and didn’t make me feel like a clueless girl who likes to ride a bike in New York, but really has no idea what she is actually doing if something actually goes wrong.  I thank him for that. I think he could just really tell that I was highly embarrassed.

After the second tire blew, Dave Sommerville joined the ‘lets fix Kia team’ – two guys, one bike; lets just say Kia was very happy. Sommerville actually went above and beyond, adjusting and tightening all of Kia’s nuts and bolts that were also out of whack, going far enough to even realign the front tire, which he said probably was causing some wobbling when ridden. See! I knew there was something off.  And then, Sommerville didn’t even charge me for all his extra service!

I went to the register to pay for my two fixed tires and the lovely Selberg only charged me $16 for one flat! I am not suggesting that they do this often, or that I don’t believe in paying for great services rendered, but Selberg explained that because he had partially filled up the second tire, which had subsequently popped, he wasn’t going to charge me for it. So unnecessary, but highly appreciated.

And that folks is what good service is. They look out for the rider and want to develop relationships. They converse with you while you sit and wait with no pretension or attitude whatsoever. NYC Velo is my new East Village bike shop because of their great service, honest prices, and all-around great vibes! So stop looking.

Moral of the story….if you don’t know what you are doing (like me), fill up you bike tires with caution. If you are in the East Village, ask a bike expert at NYC Velo to help you out.

Happy riding!

-A

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