Inside the Member-Supported Bike Shop Scenic Routes

Who becomes a professional bike mechanic at 48? People whose former occupations were “poet” and “bartender”, that’s who.

Jay Beaman is one. He and his 32-year-old friend and business partner, Michael Connolly, are the owners of Scenic Routes, a new member-supported bike shop that has found a home on Balboa Street in Inner Richmond after bike repairs out of Beaman’s house has become untenable. Like the unplanned growth of a suburb, it kind of happened.

Scenic Routes is a “four-year-in-the-dream” project between burly, talkative Beaman and soft-spoken Connolly, who is also a pediatric oncology nurse. The two met at Thieves Tavern on Connolly’s 21st birthday and first became friends over discussions about music and podcasts.

“Then the bike came,” Connolly says.

“Michael knew a lot more about bikes than I did,” Beaman said of the company’s unusual genesis. “But compared to what we know now, he didn’t know anything. And much more than my super-nothing.

They took courses in bicycle repair, so it is inaccurate to call them self-taught. By their own estimation, Connolly’s understanding of mechanics is more intuitive, while Beaman follows the order of operations to mastery of a task. There’s a quiet rebellious streak to Scenic Routes, if one is far too cuddly to be properly anarchist. It stems from the nagging dissatisfaction that characterizes most bike repairs, even when done by people you trust.

“Not knowing what happened and what work was done on it, sometimes the bike was mostly running, and you end up going back and saying something was wrong,” Connolly said.

Maybe the shifter feels fun in your hand, or maybe your weight isn’t on the geometry. Scenic Routes has a workaround.

“We have a rule here,” Beaman says. “If the mechanic who worked on your bike is there when you pick up your bike, you’ll talk to that mechanic.”

Anthony Ryan’s artwork already installed on the wall of Scenic Routes features Beaman’s Twitter account, @roadbeard. | Peter-Astrid Kane / The Standard

Many mottos spring naturally from chatter, and “Slow Is Forever” is one of them. It’s a reference to SF’s Slow Streets program – Lake Street, one of the most controversial, is within walking distance of the store – and Scenic Routes’ approach to broken stuff, with its strong anti-capitalist undertones.

Because their livelihood is at stake, Beaman says, most bike shops have no financial incentive to fix most parts. Instead, they sell you a replacement and charge you for the labor to install it.

“We’re hoping to kind of reverse that, which is maybe naive, by having a membership program where people pay a monthly fee,” he says. “If we have 200 members by the end of the year – which I think we will have – then the fixed costs are paid. Rent is paid, insurance is paid, electricity is paid.

They hope to equip additional benches with tools obtained through the membership program, starting with a hydraulic stand, which makes it easier to work on heavy and increasingly popular e-bikes. Plus, there’s a kind of saddle lending library – bike seats, for the uninitiated – that people can try out.

“Instead of getting a new one, you can come and borrow it,” Connolly said. “The loan of tools is an age-old disaster, but it’s something we will be able to offer.”

If this all sounds a bit like a marriage of the Bike Kitchen fashion mecca to Pedal Revolution, a beloved Mission bike shop that closed in 2019, that’s because it is. Connolly lived with the general manager of Pedal Revolution for 16 years, and that whole crew would have been at Scenic Routes’ grand opening party if they hadn’t all been to a wedding in Mexico.

The family continues to grow. A resident of San Francisco for seven years and a software engineer on sabbatical, Kat Siegal has volunteered up to eight hours a day with Scenic Routes.

“When I moved to San Francisco, I found it super intimidating,” she said. “I just haven’t cycled in the city for five years. I live near Page Street so have this [Slow Street] was really what got me on a bike. I became more comfortable with cycling around town, and now I cycle everywhere.

It’s a fairly common refrain in the city, where bike lanes have become noticeably more congested since the pandemic began. Assuming the membership program is successful, Beaman and Connolly can spend 45 minutes fixing someone’s broken pedals instead of throwing them away, and customers are strongly encouraged to watch and ask questions. The utopian ethos of the workshop could be summed up as follows: “If people cannot own the means of production, they can at least have a say in the means of repair.”

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Consuming less is one consequence of a commitment to slowness, much like Beaman and Connolly’s measured approach to cycling. They don’t run; They drive. While pedaling slowly across the state of Oregon (as they did in 2019) or the Great Highway, they can stop to examine an unusual mushroom or simply settle into a friendly silence, pushing back the act of riding as far as the limits of competitive sport. as possible.

“Riding slowly, all day, at a pace comfortable for you, is the greatest joy,” says Beaman. “It’s an activity together and also an activity not together.”

He seeks to create a “Commute Union,” or group rides built around finding optimal routes from home to work, and he escorts inexperienced cyclists on whale-watching rides to Point Bonita in the headlands of Marin.

When myself, a border-obsessed cyclist, objected that crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and reaching the top of Hawk Hill was not a beginner-level hike, Beaman had a cue ready.

Anyone can do it, he says, “if your bike is ready. If you have these low and low gears. And we try to equip people with those as much as possible.

Beaman is, among other things, a bicycle evangelist. He believes it to be nothing less than mankind’s supreme technological achievement. Aiming to clock 5,000 miles a year and still falling short, he checks Strava, the fitness app, to report he’s at 2,250 miles for this year, a little behind.

With the exception of a refrigerator, a Baldwin Acrosonic piano, and a load of wood, every item in Scenic Routes was transported by bicycle, and a recent tweet of him carrying 300 pounds of stuff has gone semi-viral. Yet unlike many enthusiasts, his garage isn’t overflowing with road bikes, gravel bikes, cyclocrosses or, horror of horrors, penny-farthings.

“I was always the kind of person who had two, wanted three, got three and decided that was the height of decadence and came back to two,” he said.

Peter-Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected].