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In The Beginning…

In the beginning…

… I legitimately figured that a bike shop would be a fun lark to waste time on during the pandemic while I ‘got my shit together’ and then would eventually go back into electrical work.

It certainly wasn’t supposed to ever last this long.

In 2020, I just still really loved bikes, even after retiring from pro racing due to a life-changing leg injury and a few rounds of MRSA. I had hated bikes in 2018 after I crashed and demolished my right leg, ankle and foot at US MTB Nationals, then slowly came back around to absolutely adoring them as my body and mind healed. But they didn’t have to be and weren’t supposed to be anything more than just a pure, enjoyable love affair anymore — I had already lived one life that revolved completely around this two-wheeled machine, and it had proven to be too much for me. I was cool with just hanging out and answering the phone while throwing a leg over some old school rides once in a while and learning small bits of random esoterica; I didn’t want to work at or in a bike shop ever again, and certainly not while I was still processing the damage done by my brief stint at Sport Systems earlier that spring.

But the more time I spent at The Bike Coop and the dustier and crazier it got while more unhappy folks wandered in and out or called and complained, the more I realized that something could actually be done — that action and love would be the only antidote to all that was poisoning The Bike Coop.

And there was plenty of poison to go around. PLENTY. The unabated hoarding situation, the never ending rush of bikes that came in but never left, the filth, the frustration, and the unusable, broken tools don’t even scratch the surface of the toxicity. No lock on the front door and no business license since 2015? No idea what inventory is inside because we couldn’t see in the cases that were piled high with junk? I wish I had taken more pictures and more video. I wish I had documented it like an archeological project — because that’s what it ultimately was. I wish I had actually written down the daily onslaught of sheer wildness that was July and August and September and October of 2020, because it was INSANITY. There are days where I still don’t believe any of it happened and where I can’t fathom how far we’ve come.

And then I walk through the back door.

Or I stand on the sidewalk across the street from the shop. Or, like last night, I scroll through photos with the people who lived the first ten and twelve and twenty years of it. And I smile a little, because everything has changed so very, very much.

It’s bittersweet and would be heartbreaking, to be honest. If I let it. It still could end in heartbreak. If I let it.

Because my first interaction with The Bike Coop was in 2016 during a ride on my POS Novarra that I’d found in a dumpster in Salt Lake City and only put new tubes in — I had gotten a flat somewhere along Silver Avenue and googled ‘bike shops near me’… and I was stunned that there was a small shop just around the corner! So I rolled my little heap of crap through the front door and just like that, I couldn’t believe I had a neighborhood shop so close to my new house! But it was short lived joy, because they didn’t really have anything I wanted to buy and the guy up front kept being weird in that specific way that women know to stay away from.

So I did. The shop was too dark and too weird and too, too, too strange to want to spend time in and it was almost impossible to browse or ‘look at’ bikes. And the smell was… phew. Stale beer, weed, and over a decade of unwashed floors, bikes and walls, all subjected to a daily bath of more dirt, more grease, more beer, weed and that certain unknown ‘bro stank’. You know the one. Not good. I can’t actually do the horrors of the 2016 shop proper justice. But if you’ve never had the displeasure of smelling burning layers of grime on track lighting with mostly-empty cans, you’ll just have to try to imagine the atmospheric repulsion.

Fast-forwarding to four years later in July of 2020, the entire situation had only gotten so much worse with the explosion of COVID-19 and the onslaught of people desperately getting back on bikes (any bike!) to combat their pandemic-borne boredom. But my boyfriend at the time had just gotten back into bikes the year before and I was trying to be encouraging, and he knew and had worked for the former owner in their original location at 3407 Central, so I gamely said “sure, I’ll come meet Greg and hang out”. I had just left the worst job I’d ever had at *that other bike shop* here in town and was in the beginning stages of legal proceedings against them during a global pandemic, so I was bumming around and literally didn’t have anything better to do.

That’s the god’s-honest truth, as ugly as it might all read.

So I did it. I went down, hung out, did mostly a bunch of nothing. At first.

I had personally met Greg earlier that spring and was stunned at meeting him the first time, because he was nothing like the giant of a man that had been described to me by multiple people over the years. At about 5’7” without the hunch of someone repeatedly beaten by life, he had the pallor of a man who had been dead for at least a decade and was so softly spoken that anything louder than a whisper would drown him out. His balding-on-top long grey hair hung in a limp ponytail down his back across the decades-old promo t-shirt for a bike company the shop hadn’t carried in almost as long. If he sounds like a fictional character that I’ve fabricated for pathos, just keep your eyes peeled around ABQ for another geriatric white guy on a super interesting bike with overdeveloped calves and the handling skills of someone who still builds bombproof DH wheels — although it takes him months. You’ve seen this guy. We all know this guy. If we’re lucky, we get to grow old enough to be that guy. Chances are good you’ve got a version of your very own in the back of a tiny neighborhood shop; someone who’s forgotten more about 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s-era bikes than you’ll ever be able to read about but who still views the yellow pages as a viable advertising platform because they forgot how to adapt.

The problem isn’t nostalgia — the problem is not giving a shit about anything but nostalgia. When you trade your future for fruitless efforts to recapturing the past, life gains a certain speed you can’t ever catch up with.

And it moved really fast once I showed up — from me reluctantly answering an e-bike question over the phone because I was the only e-bike certified mechanic in the place to deciding to make myself useful and just start ‘cleaning a little’, the whole transformation moved at a pace that scares me even now.

Once it got started, of course.

See, after about six weeks into my (unpaid) hang time, I volunteered to help Greg run the business in a direction that wasn’t into the ground — once more, I waded back into the dark, tumultuous waters of “let me give you these valuable professional skills for free because hell, I’m not using them at all!” He desperately needed whatever help he could get, be it from me or a stint on that TLC hoarders show. Turns out, I’d be the only help that showed up, but I didn’t know shit about what to do with illegal indigenous artifacts. Eventually, I’d figure out that the only thing to do was to just give ‘em back because it was extremely illegal and wholly unethical, but the layers of this onion didn’t all unravel at once. Things that should’ve been obvious stayed hidden for years in favor of the subtle bullshit we get when people want us to only see the good stuff — and there was way too much subtle bullshit happening beneath the surface to recount here. Nobody has thatkind of time anymore… not these days.

So eventually, I wrote up a private consulting contract for business management and development for The Bike Coop that would be an official act of allowing me to close the BikeExchange account that he was still paying for (!!!), as well as expand the shop’s Google reach and do a bunch of social media and web design. Oh, you’ve never heard of BikeExchange? Don’t worry — you’re not the only one. It’s okay though, because they bilked Greg for hundreds of dollars a month, right alongside countless obscure charities he threw money at to make himself feel involved… turns out that dealing weed and rare bootlegs out the back of the shop in between watching volcano videos and collecting obscure concerts posters doesn’t actually qualify as legal tender for the IRS or New Mexico Tax & Revenue. ‘Just needs a little polish’, I remember saying. “Just some organizing, a bit of cleaning and maybe a more clear web presence. Hell, we could probably use a few new lightbulbs in here, too!”

And that, kids, is how you end up full-time-fucking both yourself and your boyfriend right into failing-bike-shop small business ownership. What a beautifully insane bit of gaslighting I did on myself.

There’s more to it than that, of course, but there always is.

Almost immediately after Greg signed the contract, he began keeping even worse hours than he’d had for the years prior — showing up at 4p and hanging out in his tiny cave of an office that was stuffed full of so much crap that nobody even knew what was in there anymore and rarely working on a wheel here and there before leaving around 1 or 3am, possibly remembering to lock the back door behind him, because the screwdriver security gate was already in the front. Maybe. If he wasn’t too high or too tired.

Calling it an ‘unreliable leadership situation’ would be the understatement of the year — as we’d all find out much, much later, none of the bills and few of the mechanics were even being paid on any sort of a regular basis. But that comes later.

In the first few days following our contract signing for my cost-free labor and getting the official go-ahead, a series of previously-made poor decisions and random events led to the very same creepy mechanic from four years earlier finally losing his shit and screaming in my face over one of the display cases I had cleaned off while he was drunk and high (cross-faded is what he called it), then leaving for lunch and not coming back. Everyone on staff pressured Greg to finally fire him, and he did, but only after he was informed that Ryan had also been emptying the shop’s tip jar right into his own pocket for some time. The collective grievances had added up, and the rest of us walking in to work only to find random drunk strangers sleeping on the shop floor hadn’t helped.

That was only one of the first blow-ups (luckily, Ryan’s last), but the unbelievable behaviors that were tolerated for so many years and the length of Ryan’s unearned tenure should have prepared me for what was to come. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

At that point, I had started using my personal credit card to buy product for the shop and special order customers the parts they needed, because I was seemingly the only one able or willing to do the legwork that finding parts during a worldwide pandemic required — and I was good at it. I was REALLY good at it. I’ve always been fairly adept at Googling and utilizing internet tools, but I was motivated to make a point on a deeper level: I was still angry about the Ryan situation and upset over all the different shades of shit he had pulled as well as the lies he told people and the nonsense he would claim to avoid doing honest work or making an effort to find something for someone (“there are 40,000 people lost at sea!” is still a running joke at the shop because it was used repeatedly to justify his unwillingness to help customers), so I went above and beyond to show that it could be done differently.

I should clarify: I performed some downright motherfucking miracles, and everyone else on the team followed suit.

Miracles, apparently, were our forte. And I’ll be honest with you — working for free and buying product didn’t phase me because the high of playing bike Jesus was just that damn good. It was my drug of choice, and there was nothing I enjoyed more than calling a customer and proudly saying “hey, we got that part in for you” or “hey, we actually were able to fix your ___________” because it was POWERFUL. The Bike Coop’s slogan had long been ‘we fix other shop’s repairs’, and we all leaned into that like our lives depended on it. Long hours, early mornings, working late? Sundays? All-nighters? You bet. Obscure, insane parts and products that ‘nobody could get’?? You’d better fucking believe it! Whatever was wrong or whatever was needed, we could fix it, find it, get it or save it, regardless of what it cost my bank accounts or what it destroyed in any of us. We were doing it! We were rescuing the shop! And we did it well. Every single day. And the resulting momentum high was so, so, so very good. So we ran with it — like newly-baptized evangelists, we truly and genuinely believed that the influx of fresh customers and impressed longtimers would eventually make up for everything on the financial end.

We were running blind, however. Totally and completely blind. We ran blind and empty handed, and after months of feeling like we weren’t getting the whole story (or even legitimate reports of what we made every day), my boyfriend and I began saving every tally receipt that printed out the top of the old-school register in September and October of 2020. We knew we were being lied to, and it sucked. Even worse, the guys had stopped getting paid regularly, yet we all knew the shop was making more money than ever — we had all made sure that it was! Bike sales, service, repair, cleaning, shining, sweating and bleeding… for months! We were getting bikes back to customers who had forgotten they’d even dropped a bike off with the shop, years earlier! Bikes from 2017, 2018, 2019 and beyond. Bikes that had been waiting on parts that had never gotten ordered. Bikes that just needed a flat changed, but had been put to the side and forgotten, then buried. But we were doing and had done it — the impossible.

Photos of the shop from July of 2020 versus photos of the shop just a few months later show a notable difference.

Customers started asking if we had remodeled or even expanded, long before any walls came down or painting was even done. The high had been infectious and we were all at our very best, even with the limited tools and space we had, all during the biggest bike boom North America has seen since 1974.

Every mechanic in that shop had sacrificed so much of ourselves for this shop and the man we all thought of as legendary, and it had mattered to us to show that we believed in the shop and it’s future, as well as our own.

In hindsight, we were probably all far too optimistic about a person who had let the shop rot like that in the first place.

At this point, Greg’s hours had become even worse, yet he would come in before close to empty the cash register; on his bad days or almost entire weeks where we wouldn’t see him, thousands of dollars in cash would pile up, making all of us worry about being held up or worse (in our minds), someone breaking through the lock-less front door at night after seeing the full register, taking the money and undoing all of our efforts. It became a running joke of sorts — “how much are we leaving the thieves tonight?”

When he did show up to empty the register, however, we were almost guaranteed to get a lie about how much we’d made that day, even despite Greg not being there or knowing who had sold what. In one of his more memorable fuckups, Greg slipped up and didn’t check the register total before telling us that we’d done $1300 that day, only to have all of us openly object to that false report because everyone knew I had finally sold a $4500 carbon mountain bike build earlier that morning after spending months tracking down new parts and components that would update the older frame into a capable and desirable ‘modern’ competitor.

It was a big sale, and he blew up his own spot by refusing to acknowledge the immense work and effort we were all putting in. But that’s how it sort of went — we were there because we loved it and for a lot of us, we finally saw a glimmer of hope for the shop. I was also still there because I knew there was a way forward for Albuquerque’s oldest shop… I just didn’t know the uphill battle that going forward would actually be.

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In the beginning… … I legitimately figured that a bike shop would be a fun lark to waste time on during the pandemic while I ‘got my shit together’ and then would eventually go back into electrical wo

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