Hidden behind an impressive metal door in what can easily be mistaken as another alley off Grand Avenue is the Rusty Spoke bike co-op. And, as the name implies, it’s all about bikes — but not the kind you find adorned with a bow on your birthday.
The co-op is based on a simple idea: Teach people how to fix or build bikes by themselves.
“We provide them with the tools and resources, with the parts and the knowledge that we have,” says Ben Toczek, one of the co-founders of Rusty Spoke.
The program gets some financial backing from Bike Saviours in Tempe, but is based almost entirely on donations. The shop has some bikes that are more or less complete, but the majority of the materials are old parts brought in by people – be it staff or interested residents.
“It’s definitely about recycling,” Toczek says.
The organization is entirely volunteer based. It began over a year ago when Toczek and co-founder Nathan Leach were inspired by bike co-ops like Bikes Saviours. Spawned from a mutual love for bikes, the two decided to embark on a similar endeavor in Phoenix. Later, Toczek’s girlfriend, Amy Stewart, came on board, and the idea became a reality.
“Bicycles are unique in Phoenix because it’s a really important form of transportation,” Leach says. “It’s empowering.”
He notes that bicycles are a particularly significant form of transportation for low-income families and the homeless population in Phoenix. These people might not necessarily have the money or time to spend at a bike shop, which is where Rusty Spoke steps in.
“It’s sustainable transportation. It promotes local community. It automatically has you doing things locally,” Leach says.
Zack Newsome, one of the co-founders of fractal, where the co-op is located, has a similar mindset.
“Phoenix is synonymous with the automobile,” Newsome says. “The majority of people who live here can’t imagine living without their cars. But, being so tied to our automobiles has an effect on the city and people we’re becoming. We’re isolated, alone and often bored in our suburban neighborhoods. The bicycle as a transportation option allows us to be more present in our city.”
The original Rusty Spoke was located in a house on 5th and Roosevelt streets. But, the space was less than ideal. All work was done outside, allowing for bikes and parts to rust.
Eventually, Toczek was approached by Newsome to move into the space. Rusty Spoke relocated, and has been there for about a month.
“Our nonprofit, communitasPHX, looked into starting a community bike shop a year or so ago, but before we could, we discovered that the Rusty Spoke was already doing it,” Newsome says. “Instead of starting our own version, it made way more sense to help their existing efforts. It was a pretty easy decision for us.”
Being Downtown in general allows Rusty Spoke to capitalize on the environmentally friendly, local-first movement that has swayed residents. But, it also promotes understanding and communication between the different types of people who call Downtown home.
“I’ve always told them that I love the vision of a hipster working on their fixed-gear bike alongside a homeless guy tinkering on his mountain bike,” Newsome continues. “I hope that this time spent with us at fractal will give their organization a shot in the arm to take what they do to new levels.”
Rusty Spoke is located at fractal, 1301 NW Grand Ave. It is open every Sunday from 12-6 p.m.