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UCLA Bike Shop’s DIY approach facilitates learning for customers and employees

Sam Lederman, a third-year mathematics and philosophy student, fixes the tires at the UCLA Bike Shop. The UCLA Bike Shop has technicians standing by to help students and community members, who are provided the tools to fix their bicycles themselves. (Amy Dixon/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Tiffany Zha

Jan. 14, 2020 12:07 a.m.

It might not be a bad thing if you’ve run into a few bicycle problems – a visit to the bike shop on campus yields a do-it-yourself experience, a fixed bike and a new skill set to take home.

The UCLA Bike Shop, located at the back of the John Wooden Center, offers DIY classes to fix everyday bike problems from flat tires to broken bottom brackets. Members of the UCLA community can also walk in to learn how to fix their bikes themselves for free.

“The point isn’t to fix their bike,” said Nico Vastagh, a third-year philosophy student and technician at the bike shop. “The point of DIY is that people fix it themselves.”

Before coming to the UCLA Bike Shop, graduate student Bang Quan Zheng did not know much about repairing his own bike.

“I’ve been riding a bike for six years every day, and I never really tried to replace anything by myself,” Zheng said. “I always bring my bike to (a commercial) bike shop.”

The DIY experience starts upon arrival at the bike shop. If a customer cannot identify the problem with their bike, the technicians examine the bike and provide tools and guidance so that the customer can fix the problem.

To illustrate, Vastagh guided a customer through a bike seat repair by providing a wrench and demonstrating the steps involved.

“In the DIY experience, the person explores the space themselves,” Vastagh said. “We don’t butt in.”

Vastagh also helped a customer who came in with a busted bottom bracket by first explaining what tools to use and then explaining the steps.

“You take off the cap of the crank bolt using the crank puller,” Vastagh said. “I set them up so they turn the wrench. I demonstrate it but they take the bike apart.”

Sivananda Rajananda, a graduate student who visits the bike shop monthly, also said he values the skills he learned through the DIY experience.

“I get my bike fixed, I save money since I don’t have to pay for it, and I learn to fix my bike so in case the shop is closed I can fix it myself,” Rajananda said.

In that case, there are stations throughout the campus where bikers can use tools for repairs whenever they need.

The story isn’t one-sided: Working at the bike shop is similarly a learning experience compounded with the additional opportunity of teaching.

Beyond mechanical knowledge about bikes and becoming comfortable with using tools, Vastagh said he has learned how to facilitate the DIY experience for customers.

“I learned when to step in and give tips, what demonstrations to do, and when it is better to let people do repairs on their own,” Vastagh said.

Vastagh summarized the bike shop work experience with his primary reason for working at the shop: “You get paid to learn.”

While employees earn money to learn, customers save money and learn.

“The bike shop differs from other repair services in that its primary purpose is not to make money,” said Jianyu Chen, another technician and fourth-year Asian American studies student. “They just want to help customers and try to save customers’ money.”

Additionally, the staff patches most of the holes in used tire tubes so that customers can use the fixed old tubes for free instead of purchasing a new tube or patch kit.

The DIY aspect of the bike shop ensures that their bikes have been fixed correctly, Zheng said.

“Sometimes, I don’t trust people to fix my bike,” Quan said. “One time when I was at a bike shop, the guy forgot to tighten the screws. So when I stopped in traffic, I felt my tire get stuck. He forgot to tighten the tire.”

Zheng added that he has seen employees in commercial bike shops play on their phones and not pay attention to customers’ bikes during his visits.

“It’s not their bike,” Zheng said.

Rajananda said he gained more confidence in selecting a bike as well.

“Now I know what a better bike is, what I’m purchasing and how to maintain the bike,” Rajanada said.

Beyond bike repairs, the bike shop also offers classes throughout the year taught by the staff, including ones on mechanical skills such as fixing flat fires and bottom bracket repairs. Smart Cycling teaches bikers how to ride on the road safely, including using lights and how to navigate traffic.

“You learn how to act like a car in some sense,” Vastagh said.

The welcoming atmosphere of the bike shop is one of the best parts of the shop, Vastagh said.

Chen, who works most days of the week, sometimes goes to the shop just to hang out.

“It’s like a second home,” Chen said.

Visiting the shop has become a mental break for Zheng.

“Sometimes I would go to the bike shop to clean my bike so that my mind was not thinking about my research,” Zheng said. “I can take a mental breath for 30 minutes or an hour.”

Rajananda said he appreciates the convenience of having a bike on campus, but the best part about the shop is also the people.

“There are times when I have the same problem and forgot how to fix it, and they’re very patient,” Rajananda said. “They’re always very willing to help. When they don’t know the answer, they’re happy to ask another person who works there. It’s heartwarming to see this community that helps each other out. It’s like a small microecosystem.”

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Tiffany Zha
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