As a first-year, Kaithleen Coñoepan wandered into the New College Bike Shoppe looking for a bike to rent or buy. “I knew nothing about bikes until I went into the Bike Shoppe,” she said.
The student staffers pointed out a well-used black hybrid and said, “If you fix it up, it’s yours.”
She did, and it was – but it wasn’t long before she was back, looking for a speedier bike. What she got was a challenge; a rusted steel frame of what was once a racing bike. Again, they said it was hers – but first she’d have to check it for cracks, which meant sanding it down.
“OK, I’ll do it,’ she remembers telling them. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. But I wanted to prove to myself I could do it.”
It took a year, but now she proudly shows off the finished product.
The frame, she discovered, was a Peugot PX10 from the 1970s, and the rust hid beautifully carved Nervex lugs. Under the guidance of Bike Shoppe veterans, she outfitted it with parts, most scavenged from the shop’s “graveyard” – a Fuji fork, Suntour derailleur, a Grand Cru threadless bottom bracket and more.
Simply, it’s the most New College of bikes – an amalgam of parts from varying countries and times, coming together in something beautiful. She’s left the frame as clear-coated steel, to show its humble origin.
“Every time I wake up in the morning and see the sun shining on the steel frame and it’s like it’s sparkling,” she says. “That’s my baby!”
Many more bikes await rebirth at the New College Bike Shoppe. There’s a long row of wheel rims, some pristine, others less, hanging from the ceiling. Alongside is a row of bikes of myriad ages, pedigrees and states of repair.
The shop itself is undergoing something of a rebirth, too. Inside on a bulletin board, there’s a small sign: A professional bike maintenance order form, noting work requested and date to be completed.
While the Bike Shoppe has been a fixture on campus for some 25 years, the latest crew of managers has worked to turn it into a true resource for students.
James Montgomery, a thesis student in biology and the most veteran staffer, pedals in on an ’86 Bianchi he restored at the Shoppe.
He says the shop meets students’ needs at three levels: a place for handy or skilled cyclists to do their own repairs; a resource for interested novices to learn bike repair; and a place where busy or technically clueless students can drop off an ailing bike and pick it up, healthy and ready, a few days later.
“We focus as much on education and self-reliance as the student would like,” Montgomery said. “That’s the part I like most – educating people about bikes.”
Montgomery learned repair work by volunteering there starting in his first year. By his third year, he was one of the TAs who staff the shop for four to eight hours a week.
Joining him this year are Coñoepan and third-year Cole Zelznak, who brings both energy and experience.
Zelznak, a third-year history AOC from Tallahassee, started mountain biking with his father while in middle school. In 10th grade he got a road bike, learned how to maintain it so he could get around, and by age 15 was building bikes in a hometown shop. He quit his part-time job at a Sarasota bike shop to work at the College’s shop this year.
One reason, he says, is that here, the work is fun. While sometimes his Friday night shifts run two or three hours past the scheduled 10 p.m. closing, he gets to meet people, listen to music and tackling unusual repair problems.
He’s also focused on improving the shop. The order forms are one new feature. Another is the augmented set of tools on the pegboard above the bench. On a nearby shelf, they’ve beefed up the small library of bike maintenance books.
Another shelf holds a small inventory of maintenance items – chain lube, tubes and such. The shop also offers bikes for short-term rentals and rebuilt bikes for sale.
But the Bike Shoppe is hardly going corporate. It still hosts the occasional wall, and cyclists and noncyclists still come down to hang out, do homework and chat, Montgomery said.
Coñoepan has been working to integrate the Bike Shoppe and student cyclists into the community. Once a month, she organizes a Critical Mass ride, where riders take to the city streets in a large group to advocate for cyclists’ right to share the road.
The shop team also worked on a campuswide “re-cycling” activity, where they worked with students to turn used cat litter tubs into durable, waterproof bike baskets.
“I look at this as more of a community gathering area,” Montgomery said “We like to promote bike culture, but more so, so this is a place where you can learn about bikes and also just interact with students outside of class.”