Friday, January 15, 2010

El bike shop.

In 2003, I had borrowed about 3 bikes in 2 months. Figuring out that it was the fastest way to get to school, run out to get food, get to my two jobs and make it on time back on bart (living in Oakland to save money, saved me NO MONEY at all...) 2 of them came from the same source, one of my good friends that was able to live close enough to school, so he had no use for his 'extra' bikes. So there I went.
While saving up for a bike of my own, I borrowed his bikes, of course they broke down quite a bit so I had agreed to fix them as needed, a type of thank you-return. At the time, I had no idea how to even lower a quick-release seat post.

Well anyhow, in 2003, the mean, fast and furious skinny cool city kids were in full throttle and I was too out of the loop to know which shops were snob-free. Walking down south Van Ness one day, I spotted two guys smoking a cigarette outside this bike shop I had never gone in. They were both about 5'1 and I ask them to borrow their lighter. I no longer smoke, but that was also how I met plenty of interesting random people. They told me they were waiting for their bikes to be finished so they could go to their jobs in fisherman's wharf area. The bike was faster than any nite-owl muni bus by the time their shift ended, they told me. Our small smoky chat, all in Spanish, ended and I went in to check out the place.
"I'll be back tomorrow" I told this man, I didn't have my bike because I had snapped the chain. I had a 35mm camera and I probably looked like a very dorky art student taking pictures of random stuff. He asked me why I was taking pictures, I said I liked bikes. I don;t think he was too happy about that, but didn;t say much about it.

I'll have to dig in my old boxes from art school to dig those out because I'm sure I captured his grumpy energy. After a couple of days, I returned, he fixed the chain and told me that I take better care of the chain by lubbing it up. Fair enough I said.
After that repair, for some reason I just never returned. I enjoyed the fact that the shop didn't carry those trendy bags every cool kid had, I also enjoyed that the place was kinda beat and cluttered and all of its mess, I was perfectly fine with it. I plain and simple, didn;t find him very warm or friendly. It is a fix it and move on, functional place. I ended school a couple of years after that, and the shop was really not in my vicinity to stop back again at all after 2003.
Didn't expect him to make friends with me, but maybe a friendlier approach would have made me return to give him more business or recommend him to my peeps. Or maybe that is not his goal. Who knows.

At any rate. That is my experience with Don Rafa's shop, the only Spanish speaker bike-repair in the mission that I really wanted to like.
I had the writing crazies and thought I'd share the video regardless, as well as a little bit of my bike learning experiences. It wasn't always pretty.
However I enjoy the interviews of not only bikes, but a vast amount of interesting topics from the community and businesses in the mission district posted over at by – Enjoy

Don Rafa’s Cyclery by


  1. Wow!
    Great share Meli, Thanks!
    What a real place and time.
    Jon C

  2. Its hard to say how much I loved this. This is such a familiar spirit and ethic to me. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. i think i forgot to tell you that i love this post. :D punchy & i went to see him the other day to ask about getting a new wheel for punchy's bike. he was not snobby at all, unlike other places, unfortunately, i can think of.