Meet the Staff Series #3: Open Shop Leads Open Up

By: Halla Dontje Lindell

If conspiratorial tones or muffled chuckling is heard around either of the Cycles for Change shops, there is a strong chance Jacob Schile (he/him/his), St. Paul Shop Programs Coordinator, or Andrew Magill (he/him/his), Minneapolis  Shop Programs Coordinator, is nearby.

These mechanics and teachers are the backbone of Open Shop at Cycles for Change, where they move from assisting one person to another—whether a neighborhood kid riding a battered BMX bike, someone with a brand new just-came-in-the-mail bike, a youth apprentice, a volunteer mechanic, or another staff member—all in stride. Although Andrew jokingly maintains that he spends most of his working hours picking up nitro cold press for the rest of the mechanic team, Jacob more accurately describes the work they both do as “answering questions about a variety of issues, but usually about bicycles.” Their joking, despite the oftentimes chaotic atmosphere of Open Shop, can be characterized by Jacob’s main catchphrase: “I’m just aiming for the most smiles per mile.”

Jacob was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, IA, but claims his “hometown” as Planet Earth, Alpha Centauri. Andrew is similarly hesitant to claim one specific hometown, but admits to growing up in Milwaukee, WI. And both Midwesterners didn’t fully embrace the bike scene until they were college students.

“I started biking when I was a kid, stopped biking when I got a car, and started biking [again] in college when I found a bike on the side of a road,” Jacob said. “I used biking for freedom. I liked to be able to just disappear. I started learning bike mechanics four years ago when I got a job fixing bikes at Erik’s [Bike Shop]. I’d worked on mopeds, but never fixing bicycles. Where did I learn to fix mopeds? The internet—same place I learned the most about bicycles.”

Andrew, on the other hand, became captivated by bicycling while riding a more upscale bike.

“My parents had bikes when I was real little,” Andrew said. “My mom had a 5-speed with a seat on the back that I would ride on; my dad would commute to work on a bicycle and in high school I would bike to school some. When I graduated from high school I got a Takara. Rad, it was rad. That was my only bike for close to ten years; I just rode it everywhere. When I went to college I would go on rides and get away from studying and all that, explore and get to places. I didn’t have a car. That’s probably when I fell in love [with biking]: in college. I still have that [Takara] frame.”

What keeps Jacob and Andrew motivated at work is the joy of repairing bikes as well as  the connections they are able to make with their co-workers and a wide community of Open Shop participants.

“Taking something that doesn’t work and making it better is satisfying,” Andrew said. “Like a lot of things, with bike repairs, there’s always something new to learn. Even though you fix a million flats, you can always learn about something that’s been around for a long time that you didn’t know about or some new technology that’s cool and actually pretty complicated. And I think with many bikes—not all—form and function meet. Bikes are tools to get around, but also impressive works of design. Bikes can be artistic and beautiful, and I think that keeps things interesting.”

Likewise, Jacob explains that in our day and age, things are more difficult to get repaired.

“Open up a car, nowadays, and there’s one piece of plastic over the hood,” he said. “We have all these electronics and they’re trying to ban the ‘Right to Repair’ in many states. Lots of people don’t get the opportunity to challenge themselves mechanically or they think ‘I’m not a mechanical person, and I can’t fix stuff.’ But if they hear about us and they end up here, we can teach the simplicity of the bicycle. You can learn how to fix a flat, you can learn how to adjust a brake, and you can feel some ownership over your bicycle. It’s no longer just a tool you’re using, but a tool you know how to fix. And it feels empowering to be able to offer those skills.”

Their passion isn’t limited to bicycles themselves, and includes the personal aspect of bike repair.

“I think getting to hear a bit about a person’s story, like why they want to buy a bike or how they got into biking or why they have this particular bike, and getting to know them a little is really cool, “ Andrew explained. “A bike is an object, but there’s a human side. Each bike that comes in comes in with a person.”

And at a time when many are thinking deeply about the power of collective and individual action to achieve change, Jacob and Andrew agree that fixing bikes is simply one (powerful) part of a larger movement.

“One time I saw this sign in the lobby of an apartment building that said ‘What skills do you have for the apocalypse?’” Andrew recalled. “Bike repair will definitely be needed. And more seriously, when we hit a point when we don’t have petroleum to fuel vehicles, people will still need a way to get around. Bikes are one way to slow the effects of climate change, and I also think it is easier to interact with people in public when you’re on a bike rather than in a car. That’s one of the things about a community bike shop—people come in from different walks of life but with a common interest. People have different things they are skilled at and passionate about, and all of that is needed. But people have to get to the protest, right? Direct action is important, but so is behind the scenes work.”

Jacob sees a community bike shop as an opportunity to model a shifting paradigm.

“Having a space like this, we can role model that there are alternate ways to meet problems,” he said. “Maybe someone has other skills, and they can see this model and be inspired. Riding a bicycle, even when only one trip a week, it’s still one trip a week saved. And more importantly, when the world’s falling apart, biking can give you some endorphins to think better and feel better.”

Finally, the program coordinators emphasize their gratitude that they are a part of the Cycles for Change community.

“If you have to make a living, if you can do it in a way that makes someone’s day better or advances someone’s ability to do something around bikes, that’s a cool thing,” Andrew said

“There’s not a place I have ever known like C4C,” Jacob echoed. “And if I’m going to trade my time for money, I think this is one of the luckiest opportunities I have to do that.”