Keeping It Wheel: Building Bikes & Community At Longfellow's 'Spokeland'

At bicycle nonprofit Spokeland, patrons can find boxes of gears, stacks of frames, racks of forks, and a judgment-free environment in which to learn about and work on bikes. 

Established in 2011, Spokeland has been at its present location at 813 37th St. in Longfellow since 2015. Volunteer mechanics help patrons work on bikes or even assemble an entirely new one from reused parts. While they offer space to help people learn, they will not do another person's work for them.

“We never take bikes out of someone’s hands,” said corps member Chris Salam. “We’re hands-off. We teach people. A person comes in with a part or a project, and we help them make it happen.”

Salam has volunteered with Spokeland for four years, getting his start in bike mechanics at nonprofit Davis Bike Collective. In moving to Oakland, Salam said he brought his knowledge and community experience with him.

“We make decisions collectively," he said. "We want everyone to feel involved."

Chris Salam helps a patron fix his bike.

The nonprofit is laterally structured, with no managers or employees. Anyone is welcome to volunteer, though to become a corps member, an individual needs to come to two meetings and volunteer at six shifts.

“We make enough on the sale of used parts to pay rent,” said Salam, who said parts are priced at a sliding scale, with new parts sold at cost. A suggested $5 donation covers a day’s use of the workspace, with no extra charge for input from volunteer mechanics.

“Our main mission is that a volunteer with no skills can come in, put parts together, and build a functioning bike,” said corps member Calem Golub, a high school student at Head-Royce School who's been volunteering for two years.

“When I started here, I came in with pretty much no knowledge and built a bamboo bike frame from scratch,” he said. Since then, Golub has gotten a paying job at Uptown Oakland Bike Station but still volunteers at Spokeland when he can.

Patrons sort through bins of parts.

Isaak Gartland, a student at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, told Hoodline that he tried another nonprofit, but found Spokeland more welcoming.

“This place is more of a community-type place,” he said. “No one will judge you for who you are. We just focus on bikes.”

Spokeland is open eleven hours a week, from 6pm to 9pm on Tuesday and Thursday, and from 1 to 6pm on Sunday. While the shop has a loyal base of customers and between ten and fifteen volunteers to keep it running, Salam hopes to recruit more.

“If we had more members we could have more hours,” he said, adding that the collective "would love to encourage more female and female-identified volunteers. And also nonbinary volunteers.”

Individuals interested in volunteering can contact Salam at christophersalam@gmail.com

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Keeping it wheel building bikes community at longfellow s spokeland