David Spaulding loves the bicycle. “It’s the most important discovery next to fire,” he says. If you know Spaulding, this statement shouldn’t surprise you. The veteran bike mechanic is a vocal advocate for bikes, bike infrastructure, and anyone who rides a bike. He is also the owner of Pedalworks, a mobile bike-repair shop that operates out of a Ram ProMaster van.
Although his current shop only opened in June, Spaulding is no stranger to bikes or business. He is a graduate of the United Bicycle Institute and a certified mechanic with the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association. He started Liberation Bike Shop in 2014, which laid the foundation for Wheelhouse Community Bike Shop, a nonprofit that opened in 2016.
Wheelhouse promotes cycling within the Tri-Cities in various ways, with bike maintenance as a central tenet. Of course, COVID-19 changed things. “Wheelhouse had to shut down during the first months of the pandemic,” Spaulding explains, “So, the board and volunteers drew the focus on outreach and education, rather than spend limited time and energy on retail services.” But Spaulding wasn’t about to stop repairing bikes. He began planning Pedalworks in April 2021, and the business opened two months later.
The decision to have a mobile business is central to Spaulding’s service philosophy. “It’s the same idea that brick and mortar shops wrestle with, compared to online shops,” he explains. “And that is, how do you get a customer to come to you, which is an active way of shopping when they would prefer to have the store come to them?” For a physical service like bike repair, a mobile shop’s convenience gives Spaulding a competitive edge.
Most of Spaulding’s customers fit one of three demographics: people he knows, referrals from people he knows, and people who previously had their bikes serviced at other shops. “We’ve got great brick-and-mortar shops here,” he emphasizes. “But one of the challenges in bike repair, in general, is that our experienced bike mechanics don’t live forever, and there’s not a system really set up in order to educate future bike mechanics.” This makes it difficult for repair shops to hire and retain professional-level technicians.
Spaulding sees an additional downside to the current brick-and-mortar model: most shops operate under the assumption that a bike isn’t your primary vehicle. “They assume you have the time to drop it off for who-knows-how-long in order for the bike shop to work on it,” he explains. “It’d be like always taking your car to have the oil changed, and they’ll go, ‘Yeah, we’ll have it done in the next couple of days.’ Well, how am I going to get around? That’s why they have same-day oil changes.”
While the mobile bike shop meets many of Spaulding’s goals, he admits there are obstacles. “I want it to be accessible,” he says. “But because I have to charge a minimum to go to somebody’s house and work on their bike, it’s not accessible to the original target client of Wheelhouse, which was income-challenged folks. I hope to be able to come around to that or see that evolve out of Wheelhouse, or through someone inspired by Wheelhouse, but right now that’s a segment that we just can’t hit.”
Challenges aside, Spaulding is excited to see bike use in the Tri-Cities evolve. “Bike culture here is standard for a city of its size, especially in suburbia — it’s a very sport-oriented thing,” he says. “What we don’t see here, or see well, is the bike culture that is mobility. It’s hard to use a bike strictly for transportation throughout the cities.” This is directly the result of city planning, he says, but “if planners put in more bike infrastructure, we have the culture here that would begin to utilize bikes more and more.” He is especially enthusiastic about the changes that e-bikes will bring. “That’s going to create infrastructure for greater accessibility, such as sidewalks and bike paths. And so people that are bound to chairs, kids, people with other ability challenges, older, whatever — are going to find that their accessibility is opened up more because of this.”
More than anything else, Spaulding hopes to change the way we think about bicycles. “If bikes weren’t viewed as toys, I think there would be a big change,” he says. “I wish people would see them as the vehicle of social change that they are, not as an exercise machine. The beauty of a bicycle is that it’s hyper-dynamic — it can be an exercise machine, it can be transportation, it can be a device of social change. That’s what it’s been in history, and that’s why we view it so negatively. It is a device of freedom.”
Pedalworks is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays by appointment.