Urban Outdoors: Cville Bike Lab offers DIY repairs and more

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In good repair: Spencer Ingram’s Cville Bike Lab provides a space for cyclists to fix up their rides and get back on the streets. (Photo by John Robinson)

Spencer Ingram wants to see more people riding bikes on Charlottesville’s city streets. That’s why he, along with a few business partners, recently opened the Cville Bike Lab, a new hybrid-style shop with the mission of bringing new energy into the local urban bike scene. Located in an industrial warehouse turned indie business enclave—alongside Random Row Books and Sweet Haus Candy Shop —on West Main Street, the Bike Lab combines an interesting mix of business ideas. It’s part retail shop, part DIY repair garage, and part bike advocacy outpost.

“We already have a lot of great bike shops in this town,” Ingram said. “We don’t want to be the next glossy storefront. This is a different kind of experiment.”

Indeed, Ingram’s retail offerings are currently meager, and although the shop will order customers new bikes from Surly, All-City, and Civia, the majority of the space is reserved for using what you already own. Bike stands are set up and surrounded by an arsenal of tools, so cyclists can come in and do their own repairs. If customers find changing a tire or adjusting a derailer akin to speaking a foreign language, the Bike Lab offers mechanics courses every other Saturday and Sunday—101 for beginners and a 201 advanced class that involves removing and installing a bike’s main components. Once someone completes a mechanics course, he’s given a membership to the lab and is then able to use bike stands and tools for $5 an hour. Memberships can also be purchased by people who are already experienced in repairs and needing a place to work.

At the end of the month, the shop, which opened in December 2011, is offering a traffic skills class, taught by a certified instructor from the League of American Bicyclists.
“The whole point is to provide a service for urban bike culture,” Ingram said. “A lot of it has to do with education.”

Part of the Lab’s goal also involves attracting new riders. For would-be cyclists apprehensive about dropping top dollar on a new rig, the shop sells refurbished used bikes at a much lower price point. The lab hosts social urban bike events, including casual Friday night city rides and Alley Cat scavenger hunt-style races around town, and Ingram will do a series of events as part of the upcoming Tom Tom Founders Festival next month. Plans include additional races, workshops, and a bike rack design contest.

The Bike Lab owners are also willing to help interested customers build custom bikes or tackle other unique projects.

“We’re here to help make biking more accessible in the community,” Ingram said. “We want to be an incubator for bike ideas.”

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