Whatcom Magazine

Bellingham’s HUB Bike Shop puts ‘community’ in its name and its practices

When entering the HUB Community Bike Shop, you encounter thousands of used bikes, old frames and parts piled in corners, hung from the ceiling, and stored on open shelves.

A cornucopia of artwork covers the walls; a metal depiction of the Wicked Witch of the West riding her bicycle, a poster of Jimi Hendrix, and mannequin heads decorated with bicycle helmets, paint and glittering stars.

As Troy Petersen, one of the five paid employees, says, “No words describe the place. You have to come down and experience it firsthand.”

Located on the bottom floor of the North State Street scuba shop, the nonprofit bicycle shop was founded more than a decade ago by Kyle Morris. The entrance faces the alley and the South Bay Trail to Boulevard Park. One room houses a community shop space where people can work on their own bikes for $5 an hour. Specialized tools, such as pedal wrenches, and advice from veteran mechanics and volunteers, are available help those who prefer to do their own repairs. Riders also can also drop off their bikes for maintenance.

To cover expenses and promote their mission of reducing waste and reusing materials, the employees build custom bikes, often incorporating cross-generational parts, from as early as the ’80s to the current year. It takes employees six to eight hours to put a bike together, and they can create a bike that addresses the needs of the user, from summer exercise to kids’ bikes to year-round commuting bikes, although the shop stays away from mountain bikes with intricate suspensions.

The cost of a refurbished bicycle is about half of what it would be new. They also sell used bikes in original condition.

As a nonprofit, the HUB relies on community donations of bikes and parts. Not all donations are completely usable, so more than a thousand frames and hundreds of wheels have ended up in an overgrown area outside the building, what employee Steve Gadingan calls “bike purgatory,” materials that are “almost done but may still have some potential.”

There’s also a “Hubba” bike program, donating bicycles to people who have been referred by other agencies, although employees stress that’s done on a case-by-case basis and is not the shop’s main focus. In some instances, the donated bikes have helped people hold down a job, recover from addictions, and regain their health.

Community spirit is a major part of the HUB. Nearly everyone who works there volunteers at Bellingham Food Bank. The atmosphere is casual, and many people who use the services come by the shop to hang out.

Having fun is a major draw for the workers and volunteers. Petersen says they specialize in “Dad Jokes,” corny PG humor. Gadingan offered an example: “Say someone comes in and says, ‘Hi, I’m broke.’ Then I’d answer, ‘Hi, I’m Steve.’”

The others groaned and rolled their eyes as they remained focused on the task at hand, repairing, reusing, and building bikes for everyone who needs one.

Margaret Fox is a Bellingham freelance writer.