The Good Life Community Bike Shop

Interview by Elle McLean
Photos by Quin Hauck

The Good Life Community Bike Shop, located at 6016 3 St. SW, is a non-profit education and resource centre for individuals interested in building their own bicycle, learning more about the mechanics of bikes, or improving their bicycle repair skills. The Good Life Community strives to provide a more equal environment and opportunity for all who are interested in cycling and bicycle repair. Ali Lopez, who, among other roles, is the PR Coordinator at GLC, tells us more about where the company got its roots, discusses how it is breaking down gender stereotypes, goes into detail about several of the programs they offer, and explains its volunteer structure.

How did the Good Life Community Bike Shop get started?

In spring 2007, the goal was to create an anti-hierarchical, values-based organization to contribute to a dual/counter power system allowing individuals and communities to challenge the dominant system of power and create an alternative/replacement. There was already an amazing community of folks working diligently towards similar ends, including people working on an anarchist/radical bookstore/cafe, community gardens, and so on; a community bike shop seemed like a healthy and natural addition – especially in the context of an oil-centric and sprawl-positive city.  

In 2007, Jonny ran around putting together a business plan, met Gerald Wheatley at the Arusha who suggested the Wheels of Self Reliance at the Drop-In Centre, and there Paul connected us to Rick McFerrin and Two Wheel View. Rick had experience with community bike shops and said he’d be willing to help out. Two Wheel View has been a sister to the GLC since, and because of TWV, the GLC has done more than would have been otherwise possible.

The fantastically radical Jackie Mann got on board during that time to really push the project forward and we wrote a $5000 Ecotrust Foundation grant proposal that received funding in spring of 2008.  We sent out a broad social media message to folks who might be interested, saying that we’d been granted some start-up cash and wanted to have a meeting. 18 people showed up in Jonny’s living room on April 9, 2008 and thus the initiative really took form.  We established values, committees, goals, and decided to call these meetings, which would become regular, “Box Socials” in tribute to the boxes of beer at the center of the circle – the term also has other political connections.

Shannon, Rick, and Luc were on the venue committee and after much research by all, landed our amazing first location at Eau Claire.  This forced our collective to jump a few steps ahead because we now had to be open seven days a week to comply with mall rules.  With a huge push of volunteer effort, late nights, and good times, we got the place set up and running in a short time using mostly repurposed/dumpstered materials.  Jonny and his dad had been collecting old bikes for the start-up and then Paul W. from the Drop-In Centre set us up with a bunch of bikes that weren’t appropriate or useful to the Wheels of Self-Reliance’s clientele. 

We had a strong start and quickly learned that our intention of being entirely staffed by volunteers was not possible as folks need to pay bills, so we set the new goal of creating jobs. Eau Claire was awesome and we learned a ton, implemented a bunch of programs (Women’s Wednesdays – now GEM, Green Cyclers youth programs, Recycle-a-Bicycle Empowerment, and many more).  The lease was short-term but did end up being extended as the building was not torn down as planned. To our surprise, we were given notice that we had to move in February of 2011.  A bunch of volunteers rocked it and, with another nicer surprise and call directly from Mayor Nenshi, we had the opportunity to move into another fantastic spot for next-to-free until that building was torn down.  And so we spent two fantastic years in the old Ant Hill Building in Kensington.  When that opportunity ended, and with another huge push of enthusiasm and effort, we moved into our last location in Mission.  

The whole adventure has been ripe with learning, inspiration, amazing people, amazing friends.  We’ve come a long way and many people have given love, sweat, tears, courage, help, and support along the way.  We will always be grateful.

That’s a quick version of things at least.

What makes The Good Life different from other bike shops in Calgary?

The Good Life Community Bike Shop is different than other bike shops because it is a non-profit organization rather than a for-profit retail outlet. We sell used bikes and parts that are donated to us rather than new products, which typically means we end up with parts and components you can’t get in most shops and at a far more affordable price. Lastly, the aspect about our shop that makes us unique is that we are the only bike shop in Calgary where non-cis, white, male identified mechanics outnumber those that do identify as cis-male, or white. We are very proud of that aspect.

How is The Good Life set up to work with volunteers?

We recently updated our volunteer management system to a free platform called YourVolunteers that allows us to create volunteer shifts, and our volunteers can log on and sign-up at their leisure. To curb the effects of disproportionate access to the internet or a computer, we also allow folks to use our shop computers to sign up for shifts, or call in to sign-up. All of our volunteers earn a 5 dollar credit for every hour they volunteer; which can be used towards 50% of the cost of a bike and on used parts.

How did you decide where the shop should be located?

We had very little choice on almost every location move we’ve made. Our choices were mostly based on financial necessity or just literally needing a place and having very little time, which was the reason in the past. This time it was a lack of space and too much rent that was slowly killing us, and we seriously discussed The Good Life no longer existing and closing the doors forever. The reality of the retail lease market is that if you want to be in the core, or near it, you’re going to pay twice as much for half the amount of space you would get just a little outside of it. We found a location that offered us more space at half the cost, accessible by transit and bike and we took it. We’re much happier and more stable at this new location.

How does The Good Life’s bike resale program work?

It completely exists out of the good will of the Calgary cycling community. Members of the community donate bikes to us that they no longer want or need and we do one of three things with them:

  1. Lightly used bikes in good working order will undergo a safety check and be donated to The Women in Need Society of Calgary (WIN).
  2. The Good Life Community will sell the bike. Revenue generated from donated bikes is what keeps our shop alive, covering about 90 per cent of our costs and bringing us closer to sustainability beyond depending on grants.
  3. Unusable bikes will be stripped of useable parts and recycled—way better than bringing it to the dump!

We do not purchase parts or bikes or do trades as we do not want to contribute to the theft economy. Used components are checked-over and sorted for resale at $5 for all our members, volunteers, greasers, and you, the community, to use or buy to replace parts on your bike or a shop bike.

Tell us more about your Gender Empowerment Mechanics program.

GEM happens every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., offering participants support with all their “D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) and D.I.T. (Do It Together)” mechanical and community-building needs. The goal is to provide a safer, welcoming, and empowering space for people who may feel less comfortable in what’s often assumed to be a male dominated atmosphere, while also making friends, having fun, and building community.

Our GEM program is reserved for women, trans and non-binary identified persons. During these days, the shop is operated only by women, transgender, and non-binary people. Only those who identify as women, trans or non-binary individuals are permitted; no exceptions will be made for any reason (this includes patrons, volunteers and staff).

The purpose of GEM is to promote balance by creating a safer, welcoming space for learning, socializing and fixing bikes. Women and trans persons are under-represented as cyclists and in the world of bike repair; studies show a 3:1 ratio of male to female cyclists, and the numbers are even more imbalanced in the world of bike repair. THIS IS SO TRAGIC!! Bicycling is a wonderful empowering activity and being able to keep your own bike in good working order is even more confidence-enhancing!

Mechanical repair has traditionally been a male-dominated field. Bike repair shops are often staffed entirely by male mechanics, and marginalized genders are treated differently, both in subtle and explicit ways. Differences in treatment could include:

– assumptions that people assumed to be women need more help than people assumed to be men, to the detriment of both.

– failure to explain the nature of technical problems to people perceived to be women (making the assumption they won’t understand or are not interested).

– comments about a person’s appearance and gender representation.

GEM help reduce barriers to bring more women, trans and non-binary persons into our shop, which helps GLC to train & recruit non-male mechanics for all other shop days, making those days more welcoming for everyone.

We greatly value the importance of welcoming and supporting all people at The Good Life Community Bicycle Shop. The Good Life Community should be a safer place for anyone to visit regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, size, sexual orientation, nationality, language, or ability. GLC actively addresses any behaviour that is disrespectful towards any shop user. All patrons, volunteers, and staff must treat all other shop users with respect.

The Good Life’s website says that you offer internships – what is the process for applying for one, and what is learned throughout the internship?

We offer internships through grant funding when they are available. The application process typically involves applying to us directly and then qualifying as an intern for placement through the funding body. Our internships can range from administrative to being a summer staff member and allow students to learn skills in both administration and bike mechanics, special events planning, fundraising and more.

The Good Life hosted artists for Sled Island in June 2017– how did that go, and has the company ever done anything like that in the past? What are your thoughts on being a venue for music during future events?

We’ve been an events venue for many years as an all-ages space. We have recently put events on hiatus due to our move, however we plan on continuing in the spring and summer. Hosting an event for Sled went very well, and we have had partnerships with Sled in various capacities over the years as we have a lot of integration with the music and arts community. Many of our current and previous staff have been artists and musicians, as well as many of our membership base.

Is anyone allowed to attend the Box Social meetings, or are they for staff and volunteers only?

Absolutely anyone can attend; however, only current members in good standing have voting rights on proposals.

Bike theft has been an issue in Calgary more than ever in the past year – why do you think this is, and what is your number one tip for theft prevention?

Bike theft will somewhat always be an issue, and this is partly due to the lack of access to resources for those that see stealing and resale of bikes as a lucrative way to make money. So, it begins as a social issue. However, as cycling in the city is becoming more and more popular and, therefore, folks looking for affordable bikes search for cheap ways to attain one, the online sale of used bikes becomes a perfect platform for the resale of bikes. Essentially the best way to prevent bike theft is to be aware. Know the safest way to lock up your bike and bring your bike inside if at all possible for overnight. If you buy a new bike, write down the serial number. There are many resources available online through Bike Calgary and the City of Calgary for bike theft prevention and what to do in the event that your bike gets stolen.

What kind of feedback has Good Life received from Calgarians?

It’s mixed. I think our values don’t always hit the right cord with certain people, but for folks who need a place like us that is affordable, inclusive and strives to be on the safer side for oppressed and marginalized groups, we are certainly appreciated and that’s what keeps us going. We’re here to serve our community and that’s our main priority.

Interview has been condensed/edited for clarity.

Follow The Good Life Community Bike Shop on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and you can help support the shop by making a donation here.