“The Bicycle Kitchen is not a bike shop,” says Joshua Moody, one of the roughly 40 mechanics, or “cooks,” who volunteer there twice a week. It’s a Tuesday night around 6:30 when Moody unlocks the door to the Bicycle Kitchen, which is housed in a small storefront on Heliotrope Drive near L.A. City College. When the door opens, he runs straight into a wall of beat-up bicycle bones. Used bikes, some ready to ride, others mere frames, are packed tightly from front to back. A few patrons are here early and they help Moody and some volunteers with the nightly routine of unloading the bikes from the Kitchen and lining them up on the sidewalk. There are about 60 used bikes in all. “Believe it or not, we’re really running low,” says Moody.
That’s a good thing for a nonprofit organization, run entirely by volunteers, whose mission is to get drivers out of their cars and onto a bike. The shortage of supply means that demand is high and business is good. Once the Bicycle Kitchen is cleared out, it quickly fills back up, this time with people. The Kitchen opens at 6:30 on weeknights, and by 7:30, it can be tough to squeeze you and your bike into one of the makeshift workstations, each of which is equipped with a stand and easy tool access. If this sounds too hard-core, well, that’s how it can feel at first glance for timid rookie cyclists. But at the Bicycle Kitchen, “education is key,” says Moody, and the intimidation factor disintegrates as soon as you ask a question.
Keith Gretlein was a newcomer once. “I was never a bike guy,” says Gretlein, who was finally driven to bikes by the daily torment of traffic. Gretlein went to a few local shops but they were “unfriendly” experiences that left him sour and bikeless for weeks. “They talked down to me and tried to sell me something I probably didn’t need,” he says. Enter the Bicycle Kitchen, where the sales-pitch ethos that makes some bike shops feel like car dealerships is nonexistent.
At the Bicycle Kitchen, the volunteer workers hand patrons the tools — they’ll tell you how to fix your bike, but won’t fix it for you. Monday nights, dubbed “Bicycle Bitchen,” are strictly women only — female cooks work with other female riders. “Bitchen,” along with the youth-focused “Earn-A-Bike” program, are outreach projects at the Bicycle Kitchen geared toward education and community outreach. The only thing they’re trying to sell is an idea. Get a bike, learn how to fix it, and love the lifestyle.
Taking a break from the nightly bustle inside the Kitchen, Moody stands outside nursing a bottle of Perrier. He finds fulfillment in helping car-attached Angelenos rediscover bicycles. “People come in and they’re miserable,” he says, “and they make me miserable.”
“So, what keeps you coming back?” I ask.
“I came to Los Angeles to make money and I’m doing that,” he says, “but it’s in my nature to want to help people.”
The Bicycle Kitchen 706 Heliotrope Dr., L.A., (323) 662-2776