The Rapidian

Spoke Folks introduces tricycle work bench at ArtPrize

Jay Niewiek and company have teamed up with Terra Trike of Grand Rapids to build a mobile workbench.
Mariah Kennedy, Bruce Thompson, Keean Mansour and Jay Niewiek pose with the unfinished mobile workbench

Mariah Kennedy, Bruce Thompson, Keean Mansour and Jay Niewiek pose with the unfinished mobile workbench /Eric Tank

The co-op mindset on invention

"We're a co-op so we're not trying to corner the market on anything. If someone said I'd like to do that, I'd say here's my plans, go ahead. If you can make it happen, go for it."

-Jay Niewiek

Mariah Kennedy test riding the work bench

Mariah Kennedy test riding the work bench /Eric Tank

Mariah Kennedy test riding the work bench

Mariah Kennedy test riding the work bench /Eric Tank

Spoke Folks, a Grand Rapids nonprofit organization dedicated to the education and promotion of cycling as a viable and extra-recreational method of transportation has built its newest contraption: a mobile tricycle work bench.

Executive Director Jay Niewiek says he has been tossing around the idea for some time now. Spoke Folks had hosted a couple of community meetings in order to glean information about cyclists' wants and needs.

"In November of 2011 we got a group of cyclists together and asked them what's missing in Grand Rapids and they said opportunities to work on my bike, or to have the tool that's necessary to work on my bike or the have the knowledge of how to work on my bike," says Niewiek.

Attendence was primarily made up of commuters and one issue was clear to Niewiek: cyclists wanted a hands-on educational experience. So Niewiek got to work on what he describes as a one-of-a-kind invention. As far as he knows no one has built a mobile work bench in Grand Rapids that compares with his particular design specifications. And that makes it unique.

Currently a work in progress, the work bench is built atop a Terra Trike tandem, with the rear seat removed for the fold out box structure. The build is minimalist, with wood sides and tops with a metal frame. Both rectangular boxes fold together for travel and can fold out to form a bench complete with tool hook board and storage. Perpendicular to the bench protrudes a bike rack for hanging a bike with a metal grate box on the chassis for spare parts and tools.

When asked if he had a patent on the blueprints Niewiek's answer was a resounding no.

"We're a co-op so we're not trying to corner the market on anything. If someone said I'd like to do that, I'd say here's my plans, go ahead," he says. "If you can make it happen, go for it." 

Design particularities aside, Spoke Folks' philosophy deserves attention for its unique two-fold approach. Their mission is to "promote and support cycling in Grand Rapids by focusing on education and maintenence," says Niewiek.

Spoke Folks is working to foster the dialogue around cycling, encouraging people to take responsibility and educating folks about a viable method of transportation in Grand Rapids.

The idea is to ride the workbench to local festivals, events and possibly farmers markets where they can set up and be available to cyclists of all demographics.

Niewiek would like to be as inclusive as possible when working with patrons. Everyone from the high-end skin suit-wearing cyclist to the dude in cut-off jeans on a fixie, he hopes to be accessible and pertinent to everyone's needs.

Spoke Folks will be in front of the Historic Federal Building during ArtPrize. The design is not totally complete. Some cosmetic finishes will be added such as paint and design logo. Niewiek plans to install electrical as well in order to have working break lights, turn signals and headlights. The main focus is to have it functional and available during ArtPrize.

"I know a lot of people that ride their bikes because they have to- because it's their only form of transportation. They're riding on flat tires, just pieces of shit. I think it's a simple probem to fix so why don't we do something about it," says Niewiek. "I don't think bikes are a magic fix-all for everything but I do think they're part of the picture."

Spoke Folks' customer service model is different than a typical bike shop. And Niewiek is quick to affirm the merit and value that bike shops provide to the community. But he offers a different service. This is where the education part of it comes in, and the appeal to those riders restricted to a tight budget.

"Part of how we can keep our prices the way we do is that we have you do as much of the work as possible. So you're not just going to drop your bike off and get a tune-up. You're gonna give your bike a tune-up," he explains. "There's gonna be people there to help you out if you don't know what you're doing." 

Niewiek says not to expect to just drop your bike off and come back in a couple days to pick it up. If that's the type of service you're looking for, there are approximately 14 bike shops in Grand Rapids, says Niewiek, any one of which he will gladly refer you to.

Look for the Spoke Folks' mobile work bench during ArtPrize at 17 Pearl Street from noon until 8 p.m. Expect to give your bike a tune-up, with experienced guidence of course. And when Grand Rapids' art extravaganza is over in two weeks, Spoke Folks will still be making their rounds to city and neighborhood events. Follow them online at their website.

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