Lexington has four good bicycle shops. They have expert mechanics and sell a wide selection of new bikes, specialty clothing and accessories.
The Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop won't be much like them.
That is because the volunteers starting Broke Spoke hope to focus on a different slice of Lexington's growing number of bicyclists: "The people often referred to as 'invisible cyclists,'" said Brad Flowers, one of the organizers.
Many of these cyclists are not like those of us who ride for fun and fitness. We can afford to buy what we want — or drive a car when it serves our transportation needs better than a bicycle.
Broke Spoke's primary mission will be to get used bicycles — like the ones gathering dust in your garage — into the hands of poor people, kids and others who could use them for basic transportation, exercise and fun.
Used bikes and parts will be sold at low cost, or in return for work at the shop, which is in a room behind Al's Sidecar at East Sixth Street and North Limestone.
The shop opens this weekend to begin taking donations of used bicycles and spare parts. Musicians Ben Sollee, who often tours by bicycle, and Justin Lewis will perform a benefit concert at 8 p.m. Saturday next door at Al's Bar to raise cash to help cover the shop's startup costs.
Broke Spoke's opening also coincides with the Midwest Open Bike Polo Tournament, which will bring 48 teams from across the region to Coolavin Park. That confluence of events says a lot about how Broke Spoke came about — and what organizers hope it will become. It is neither a business nor a charity, but a place for community engagement around bicycles.
Broke Spoke will make tools and space available at nominal cost for people who want to work on their own bikes. A network of amateur mechanics will provide instruction. The shop hopes to become a hub for people interested in local cycling advocacy. And it will provide consignment space for those who make bicycle-related crafts.
"We want this to be a social space," organizer Shane Tedder said. "A place where all of the great things about cycling would be celebrated."
Many bigger cities have community bicycle shops. The idea for this one began five years ago, when Tedder started the Wildcat Wheels loaner bike program at the University of Kentucky.
"We were doing a lot of the wrenching out of my living room, and it developed a community bike shop feel," he said. "We thought (a shop) would be a good idea, but we didn't have the time or money."
After several false starts, things started coming together a few months ago. Les Miller, an owner of Al's Bar and Al's Sidecar, and Stella's restaurant on Jefferson Street, offered to make the Sidecar's back room available under flexible rent terms. He also offered Al's Bar for monthly benefit events.
Nick Such, a young technology entrepreneur, donated money he made from selling "I Bike KY" T-shirts to help buy shop tools. The Bluegrass Cycling Club, which uses profits from its annual Horsey Hundred tour for bicycle-related causes, also is providing support.
Organizers hope that Broke Spoke eventually will be self-sustaining, with regular hours beyond the initial 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays.
"We know that there's a strong market for used bikes that is competitive with the cheap bikes sold at big-box stores but not the new, good bikes sold at the bike shops," Tedder said.
Lexington's bicycle shops have always been community-minded. One example is the Shifting Gears program at Pedal Power Bike Shop, which Flowers started when he worked there. It takes donated bikes, repairs them and gives them to legal immigrants resettled by Kentucky Refugee Ministries.
"The last thing we want to do is be competition for local bike shops," organizer Tim Buckingham said. In fact, Broke Spoke hopes to boost the shops' sales through sales of new parts and stronger community interest in cycling.
"The degree this will be successful," Flowers said, "will be the degree to which we can make it really fun, useful and inclusive."