Meet Jay and Cari Niewiek, some of the most kind, innovated, talented, generous and all out cool people I know. They are bike commuters. They are business owners. They are good friends. They are the Spoke Folks.
The Spoke Folks is a cooperative bicycle shop focused on empowering and educating all levels of cyclists in the Grand Rapids area, started by my good friends, the Niewieks. This Saturday, May 3rd, The Spoke Folks, Brewery Vivant and New Belgium Brewery are putting on an event –Kickstand Kickoff | 2014– that you are going to want to attend. So here I am telling you about it by telling you more about it and interviewing the people who started The Spoke Folks.
I met Jay and Cari 5 years ago playing Settlers of Catan with good friends, over good beer and nachos, when they were living in a small community house in Eastown with other fantastic people (actually, I could write a blog post about ever person who lived there, they are all so awesome). We have been good friends ever since. So good, that they both stood up in our wedding.
I could give a long winded account as to the ways they are amazing friends and rock stars of the human race, but today, we are talking about bikes.
Ever since I’ve known Jay, he has been talking about starting a bike coop. And then one day, in 2012, they took the plunge. Jay and Cari found a cute little spot on Logan St SW and next thing we know, Jay quits his day job. I asked Jay some questions to fill is on who the Spoke Folks are and what his passion, this bike coop, is all about.
Interview with Jay Niewiek // Co-owner and Shop Keeper at the Spoke Folks
Q: First, what is this Kickstand Kickoff you are throwing, on May 3rd –this coming Saturday, from 10 am -6pm, wink wink- and why should I go (besides the fact that I’m performing at it-shameless plug)?
A: The Kickstand Kickoff is a family friendly, festival style, celebration of bicycles (and outdoors, summer, beer, good food, music, family, friends, fun, etc, etc, etc.) There is going to live musical performances, awesome games and classes for all ages, tons of Vivant and New Belgium beer on tap and good food. If you think any of these things even remotely sound like things that you enjoy, you should come. This isn’t a party for people that obsess about the Tour de France or an opportunity to show off how much you’ve been training all winter. It’s an opportunity to just hang out and have fun with bicycle related things like we all used to do as kids.
Q: Why do you guys like bikes so much? I mean, what’s so great about bike commuting anyway?
A: It’s hard to answer this question because there are so many reasons to ride a bike. For me personally, I love the freedom it gives me to slow down and feel like a kid. Every aspect of my life I feel like I’m frantically just trying to keep up. My phone is always ringing, texted, reminding me of my next appointment, telling me I have another email, or that someone just “liked” some snarky comment I made on Facebook. Incorporating biking into my lifestyle -mainly through commuting- allows me to get away from all of that and take a break from the chaos that is my life.
Also, physically commuting by bike allows my body to move and means I don’t have to go to the gym. Our bodies were designed to move and be active. As a culture though, we live very sedentary lives and then have to awkwardly force physical activity into our day by going to the gym. Bicycle commuting is a way I’m trying to honor the way our bodies were designed and live an active lifestyle.
It occurs to me more and more that I don’t think of myself as a cyclist. I’m someone who loves being outdoors, enjoying time with friends, laughing, staying out of traffic, hearing birds, going on adventures, exploring, taking care of the planet, saving money, eating too much food without feeling guilty, etc, etc, etc. That’s why I like riding bikes so much.
Q: What is a coop (short for cooperative) and why did you choose this business model for your shop?
A: There are a lot of ways a cooperative can be run. We are a consumer cooperative. What that means is that we have intentionally set up our space to meet the needs of the customer and intentionally ask our potential consumers what they want so that we can meet those needs.
We are also a non-profit so we do what we do to have an impact within our community, not to get rich.
What this all boils down to is that we are in the business of meeting your needs and supporting you as a cyclist. We don’t try to sell you things you don’t need. We don’t charge you more than what you should pay. It just sounds like good business to me.
Q: If I show up at the Spoke Folks and I know absolutely nothing about bikes what can I expect to happen?
A: Our hope is that you will feel right at home. We want to be a place that is not intimidating, free of judgment, and welcoming to all cyclists of all mechanical and educational levels.
At our shop, you’ll find that we have all the tools and supplies you’ll need to work on your bike. Additionally, you’ll find that we have friendly, inviting volunteers that can help you with whatever bicycle related project you are working on.
If you’re new to this whole bicycle thing, we’ll help you understand what tools might be good to bring with you when riding, what things to be paying attention to on your bike, & what you should be regularly maintaining. We invite questions and assume that if you already knew this stuff, you probably wouldn’t need a space like The Spoke Folks (except maybe for the tools).
We also offer classes and general tips on bikes to help educate you on all the non-mechanical aspects of riding your bike as well. These classes cover topics like how to ride in the road, what the traffic laws for cyclists are, and how to prepare for all forms of weather.
Q: What is your biggest pet peeve about car commuters? What is your biggest pet peeve about bike commuters?
A: It’s actually the same pet peeve for both. SHARE THE ROAD WELL! Too often I see either cyclists or motorists navigating traffic like they have something to prove. We get it, that’s your lane of traffic (again I’m saying this to both cyclists and motorists). So share! I’m not trying to get everyone out of his or her car and onto a bike. I also don’t think that a bike is the right form of transportation for every occasion. I just want there to be options for different modes of transportation and for that to be ok. So again, don’t be a dick, SHARE!
Q: What do you consider to be your dream bike and if you could ride it anywhere, where would it be?
A: This is hard because it’s generally just whatever bike I’m on. However, generally by favorite biking is with cargo bikes. These are bikes specifically built to carry large amounts of cargo (see where they got the name!). I think these bikes are just hilarious and tons of fun to ride. The adventure of seeing how much you can load onto your bike and then still ride it somewhere makes me feel like a kid every time.
Q: Jay, you ride this amazingly cool Xtracycle that can carry an absurdly large amount of weight. What is the craziest thing you have ever carried on your bike?
A: I’ve carried a large number of absurd things on my Xtracycle. Trips have included a quarter keg and a second bicycle (that was at the same time), a friend for a birthday bar crawl, a projector and projector screen along with my computer (along with snacks for the meeting), and a 50lb box of parts just last week. If you want more photos of crazy things people have taken on their Xtracycle, just google image search Xtracycle.
Q: So, how can I become a member and why is membership worth my while?
A: We would love for you to become a member! Membership is only $50 for a year and is a great option for people that ride their bikes a decent amount and just want this community resource in their back pocket to help keep them moving. It’s also just a great way to support us as a community resource, even if you aren’t sure that you’ll use it all that much.
We get that for some people, our membership option isn’t quite right for them. We won’t turn you away. We also have a daily $5 fee if you aren’t a member so you can still use this resource and check us out before you commit.
Thank you so much Jay for your words and friendship and love of everything Bicycles. The Spoke Folks is located at 221 Logan St SW in Grand Rapids. Their summer hours are Tuesdays 12-9 pm, Wednesdays & Fridays 12-5 pm and Saturdays 10am-7pm, but you can keep up to date with the hours on their websites calendar.
Happy riding everyone. WEAR A HELMUT! Hope to see you all out at the Spoke Folks this Saturday.