It’s been suggested (here and here) that Tacoma is on its way to becoming one of the most bike-friendly cities on the West Coast. While seasoned cyclists like 2nd Cycle founder Noah Struthers might beg to differ, citing Pierce County’s thoroughly embedded “car culture,” a recent invigoration within Tacoma’s bicycling community is undeniable.
Blogs like Matt Newport’s Tacoma Bike Ranch and Chris Karnes’ Tacoma Tomorrow have put Tacoma on the map in the world of cycling social media. Cycling communities are increasing in number, and have been since 1888 when a group of “Big Wheel” bicycle riders came together and laid the groundwork for what would later become the Tacoma Wheelmen. And interest is only likely to grow.
Recent significant changes in the way the City of Tacoma approaches public transportation will require flexibility from Tacoma commuters in the coming years, and will likely make non-motorized travel more common. Fortunately, shops like 2nd Cycle Community Cycle Center have emerged to help meet the community’s needs.
The Center, which began in 2008 as an after-work bike repair project for friends Adam Barnes, Ben Atkinson, Travis Martin, and Noah Struthers, has come a long way since its early days in a nondescript Hilltop alleyway. On its way to non-profit status in 2013, the Center now exists as a volunteer-run, DIY bike shop with tools, space and insight for cyclists of all varieties.
Struthers and his partners saw 2nd Cycle as an opportunity to benefit the community and keep busy doing something they loved, but were unsure what shape it would ultimately take. Full-service repair shop? No-service? Co-op? Retail? Ideas came and went, and the business model was fluid for many years. But despite its fluctuating persona, 2nd Cycle’s mission has held firm: They aim to empower the Tacoma community with facilities and support for personal bicycle maintenance.
This year, 2nd Cycle is working to solidify its image and become more of an institution in Tacoma. “Wordage has always been important to me,” said Struthers. “If we’re going to have staying power, we need to be clear and intentional about who we are.”
So far, Struthers’ efforts seem to be paying off. 2nd Cycle has seen considerable growth and increased visibility since settling into its current location at 13th Street and MLK Jr. Way in February 2012. And he is hopeful that the increased organizational capacity, more user-friendly equipment, and more clearly defined volunteer positions will bring stability to the shop.
But a consistent business model isn’t the only key to success according to Struthers. Aesthetics also play role. “I’ve always thought it was really important for the project to be cool,” he said. “The art and culture [of 2nd Cycle] set us apart from other projects and make us unique.”
Punky promotional posters adorn the shop walls, and feature nature’s scavengers – raccoons, crows, mice, hyenas, vultures – as symbols of 2nd Cycle’s business of reclamation and repurposing. Most of the shop’s marketing materials are designed by Struthers himself, who has been an artist and illustrator for more than ten years. Their grunge-fantasy style brings an edge to the shop, and contributes to the creative, DIY atmosphere. And with the New Year came a fresh paint job, creating energy and warmth in a potentially impersonal workspace.
Though it’s no Portland, Tacoma’s cyclists find their needs met at shops like Bike Tech, Tacoma Bike, and Old Town Bicycle, which offer a fairly traditional retail experience. But 2nd Cycle stands alone as the only community cycle center in Tacoma, a model that, while new to Tacoma, is well established nationwide.
“[Cycling] isn’t a trend. It’s not going away,” Struthers insists. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that drivers and cyclists have yet to find harmony in Tacoma. “It’s true that the cycling community has grown and become more active in the last decade or so, but Pierce County is pretty staunchly a car culture.”
Perhaps 2nd Cycle is the missing link to peaceful coexistence. If lasting changes are to be made in the way the Tacoma treats its cyclers, impetus must come from constituents. As both a community-focused and community-supported organization, 2nd Cycle is uniquely positioned to address the needs of commuters and cultivate advocacy. And so far, the physical meeting space and networking opportunities 2nd Cycle provides have been doing just that.
“We’re kind of writing the book as we go here,” Struthers admits. But that kind of flexibility is what makes 2nd Cycle such an asset to Tacoma cyclists, and the city at large.
2nd Cycle is open Friday through Monday, 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm.