For many people, commuting by bicycle is a fun, economical and healthy way of getting around. When their bike breaks down, they throw it in their car, drive it to the shop, then drive for several days until it's fixed. Some bicycle commuters, however, don't own cars. These people can't drive their bike to the shop, and have no independent means of transportation as long as their two-wheeler is gone. It is for people like these - and others - that Wyse Cycles exists. As far as its owner Ben Wyse knows, it's America's only self-propelled mobile bicycle repair service.
Wyse started off working in conventional bicycle shops in his current home city of Harrisonburg, Virginia. After a while, however, he started thinking about the ways in which shops missed out on serving the needs of the local cycling community. He proceeded to buy a bicycle trailer, build a wooden box for it, and fill it with bike tools and parts. Since 2009, he has been pulling that trailer behind his bike throughout Harrisonburg, paying house- or work-calls on bicycles that need fixing.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,500 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
"My jobs range from changing flats, to complete drivetrain overhauls, to custom wheel building," he told Gizmag. "I make house calls, as well as going to schools and workplaces to provide the on-site repair. There are several customers who I have not even met as they have given me a code to open the garage (or hidden a key). I have completed the repair in their absence, and they have mailed me a check for my services. I try to make it really easy for customers to get their bikes fixed."
Wyse charges a minimum of US$10 just for showing up, with parts and labor costs dependent upon the job - a tune-up will set you back $35, plus whatever bike bits are needed. Families with multiple bicycles will sometimes get a discount, while homeless or unemployed customers are often only charged for parts. "I often don't even tell the customer that I am not charging labor, but just tell them the price as if it is the price I would charge anybody," he explained. "People have more dignity if they don't feel like they need a handout."
While Wyse Cycles provides the bulk of his income, Ben also works as a city bus driver, and is paid to teach bicycle repair classes at a local university.
Needless to say, working out of a trailer does have its challenges. Although Wyse does carry things such as a repair stand and wheel-truing gear, there's no way that every conceivable tool and part can be stuffed into that little box. He usually makes sure to bring the things that each call will require, but that's not always as simple as it sounds.
"Many customers are not good at understanding what their bike needs, so they might say their brakes need to be adjusted, but in reality the wheel has multiple broken spokes and needs to be replaced," he said. "I have wheels, but don't carry them with me, so that is a situation where I would have to return to the shop to pick up a new wheel. This crops up with many different situations, so I just kind of assume that maybe one out of every three or four jobs will require a trip back to my house."
Harrisonburg has a population of approximately 115,100 and an area of 44 square kilometers (17 sq. miles), to give an indication of his potential riding distances. It sounds like it can be a lot of hard work, which begs the question - why doesn't he just drive a truck?
"The real reasons I am passionate about cycling for transportation has to do with a variety of challenges that society needs to reckon with," he explained. "Biking is fun, but when integrated into society as a mode of regular transportation it also helps solve some serious problems."
These problems, he added, include public economic woes, climate change, pollution, destruction of ecosystems, America's health crisis, and wars fought over oil.
Of course, not paying for the purchase price or upkeep of a truck also allows him to stretch his income farther. "I started doing this because I needed to support my family and I couldn't do it on the wages that were being paid by local bike shops," he said. "I can now charge customers less and make more money for me. That is a win-win."
Ben's friend Mark Andrew produced a short video about Wyse Cycles, which can be seen below.