Friday, October 26, 2007

Broadway Bicycle School

Another city and another visit to a unique bicycle shop. This time my travels take me to Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just outside Beantown. There are few U.S. cities more bike-centric than Boston. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was lucky enough to blindly stumble into this scene back in '98. In the early days, I was out exploring the local bike shops; trying to settle into a groove when I was awestruck by a one-of-a-kind Raleigh hitched to a signpost in Harvard Square. The bike was a traditional Raleigh Green with an immaculate Sturmy Archer internal 3-speed and an eclectic mix of old and new components. The crank set and BB had been upgraded and so had the fenders and chain guard, but this bike was everything vintage with the exception of a few new and improved critical components. I marveled at this work of art and not long after the first spotting I saw another, different in color and size but similar in build. Then throughout the summer I saw another, and yet another. I followed the breadcrumb trail and it led me to the Broadway Bicycle School.

Broadway is everything a bicycle shop should be: it's rich in history, has knowledgeable staff, and when you first open the creaky screen door and lay down a foot on the wooden floors, the passion is so thick you have to wade through it. Undoubtedly, Broadway's charm lies in how it's operated. First, Broadway is established as a Co-op, with multiple partners who jointly decide the direction of the shop. Staff is welcome to vote as well, weighing in on all products that are sold there.

When you initially set foot in Broadway, you are greeted by all the wonderful sights and sounds of a great shop. There is no shortage of interesting bikes to look at; many are perfectly suited to meet the Boston area's dependency on bicycles. Every bike shop has an area where they choose to focus, for some it is custom frames, for others it may be the triathlete crowd or new parents. Broadway focuses on the crowd who rely on their machine for transportation, recreation, and the therapy only a bicycle can provide. Much of the pure function that has been designed out over the past decades is available in spades at Broadway. Fenders, chain guards, and baskets are all commonplace, providing some respite for weary commuters from heavy loads and the wet streets of Cambridge. When the bicycle is your method of travel, the demands can be great.

As the name implies, Broadway is a school, offering one-on-one tutelage for customers interested in learning the inner workings of their machines. For those who have the mechanical knowledge but lack the space or tools to complete repairs on their own, Broadway offers everything a mechanic needs to chase and face a frame to building wheels. Tools, work stands, and instruction are all available in hourly segments or 5-minute blocks for the quick repairs. For those who prefer to repair rather than replace, there is an option to purchase used components or salvage small parts from the many drawers containing forgotten gems from the past.

One look at the Broadway frame decal and it is evident just how much style this shop and its employees have. The decal is reminiscent of the old Reynolds tubing decals of the 60s and 70s, a time when a frame was partially measured by the tubing decals they wore. The decal sums things up nicely, this shop is staying true to the cyclist in every aspect. There's no fancy computer to align your purchasing habits to other products you may enjoy, there is no fitting area for maximizing your power output. This, of course, gives Broadway the classic "bike shop" feel, that of an old shop, where the machine itself is the centerpiece and the concept of the shop rests on getting the rider back out onto the street where they belong. In all honesty, this is the highest honor I can give to any shop. Simply put, there is no bullshit at Broadway. Raw, pure functionality is the name of the game here.

Broadway Bicycle School
351 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139
Phone - 617-868-3392


Moveitfred said...

Cool. That's the way a bike shop should be.

B-Bike-G said...

I've built and repaired many a machine in this shop. Not mentioned in the post are the exceptional employee's, eclectic and knowledgable themselves. As a final benefit, they seem to have exceptional taste in music, so blowing an hour or two there wrenching is always an enlightening experience.

Radio Freddy said...

Gregor - Thanks for taking the time to drop by BKW. I am agree with you, the hours fly by when inside BBS, and it is easy to lose track of time. I touched on the staff briefly,but you are correct, the shop AND the staff need to be experienced to fully comprehend. - RF

Tarik Saleh said...

Way back in ninety and two I built my first wheel in that shop with the expert guidance of some patient broadway bike school employee. It was a flip flop fixed gear hub that served me for years of commuting and single speed cross. At the time it was one of very few shops in the boston area that actually had fixed hubs in stock.

Little know fact is that Sheldon Brown was one of the founders way back in the early seventies:

What I Think said...

Yeaaaah Boston. We've got cold weather, potholes, narrow streets, and an inexplicable non-grid downtown. But we keep on riding!

Thanks for the attention to my city.

Anonymous said...

Back in my youth, when Sheldon was one of the participants, I learned how to build my first wheel at this venerable institution. I've reached out and tried to help, with some instruction, and some donations. It would be interesting to see how many people whoread this were users of the location.

Anonymous said...

Never been there but I did fix up my old bike based on advice I found on Sheldon Brown's website. If he helped start the place, does that mean I'm a BBS customer? And Freddy, do you know of any comparable co-op style shops in the SF Bay Area?

Radio Freddy said...

Jimbo - Thanks for your comment. Your repair confirms you are a student of BBS. The only co-op shop in the Bay area I know of is Missing Link in Berkeley. However, I trust there are others. - RF