Drew McLachlan
The Navigator

Photo by Drew McLachlan

Hub City Cycles, Nanaimo’s bike co-op, officially opened in March 2012. What started as  home-based repair has now become a popular downtown fixture underneath the China Steps. Tyler Walker has been with Hub City for over a year and runs many of the co-op’s workshops. He claims to “live, breathe, and eat bicycles,” and has ridden through Central America, Europe, and Western Canada.

The Navigator: Why is cycling important to you?

Tyler Walker: Because I don’t have to drive my car, I can afford better food and take better care of my body. Since I’m outside all the time, I can meet more people. I’m never waiting in traffic or for a ferry. And it’s way faster to get around, especially in places like Vancouver. It’s faster than the bus or driving, too. I was living in Toronto for a while and there was a commute from North York to Mississauga that would take two and a half hours by transit, and it took me just over an hour to ride it.

N: Have you always cycled, or did you switch at one point?

TW: I stopped driving in 2006. I did a bike trip in Central America, and when I came back I thought ‘why am I driving?’ I was spending $60 a week on gas and $100 a month on insurance. I started riding my mountain bike to and from work until I found an old Appollo road bike in the ditch. It was my size, and I had some background with mechanics at that point, so I checked out the bearings and wheels, which were really bent, but the rest of the bike was in pretty good shape. I strapped it to my backpack, took it home, built it up, fixed it, and found new parts for it. I rode that thing solid for two years. I did my first race on it. I did my first Canadian bike trip with it. It was my first real commuter bike, and ever since then it’s been solid.

N: What separates Hub City from other bike shops? How does a bike co-op function?

TW: We’re a cooperative, so that means we operate in a couple different ways. One is that we are a non-profit organization, so we apply for grants, we have a number of youth programs happening, we had bike camps during the summer, and we’re also able to rent out our shop space for others to come in and use it. We have a partnership with VIU as well. When somebody rents out the shop space, they pay $5 and that buys them a share in the company. Then it’s $10 an hour for shop use and $15 for instruction. We also do monthly workshops for members.

N: Can you tell me a bit about the workshops?

TW: They’re on various topics every month. October is weather riding, and we’ll also be doing discounts on rain gear, lights, and things like that. We’ll be teaching people how to ride in Nanaimo winter/fall/spring weather.

N: There are also women-only and LGBT workshops?

TW: Yeah, we try to make the space appealing to everyone. We have people of very different economic backgrounds that come into the store, and we also have a women’s night. Unfortunately, we have yet to find any female staff, so it’s run by men at least half the time.

N: What is Hub City’s relationship with the VIU Students’ Union like?

TW: There’s a partnership going on. We do free workshops once every two weeks or once a month at VIU where we set up a stand for three hours near the Students’ Union building. They bring out free coffee for everyone­, and we do free bike repairs and show people how to fix their bikes. There’s also the tool box in residence, which is pretty cool, and students get 10 per cent off at the shop.

N: And you work with local high schools as well?

TW: Yeah, there are two bike clubs happening. One’s on Thursdays at Woodlands Secondary, and there’s one at John Barsby as well.

N: Do you find that cycling is very popular in Nanaimo?

TW: Yeah, off and on. More with the low income folks. That’s who we get in our shop most often. We’ve got lots of used parts, and we try to help people out as much as possible. It’s definitely growing—mountain biking in Nanaimo is huge, but there aren’t as many commuters. Nanaimo doesn’t have the infrastructure yet. We really need more infrastructure, like on Bowen Rd where there’s no bike lane. Try biking on a highway. It’s ridiculous—you feel like a sore thumb. There’s nowhere for you to go, so that bugs me a bit, but the E&N trail is great, though I’d like to see a divider between the E&N and the highway so it’s less like an extended sidewalk and more like an actual route.

N: Are you seeing a lot of support for the shop so far? Are a lot of people volunteering?

TW: For sure. We get a lot of volunteers. There are almost 700 members. We’ve got lots of repeat customers who come around  almost every day to check out new parts and things like that. A lot of people are really committed to the shop. It’s really growing. We’ve got a great relationship with the DNBIA, and Parks and Rec, and the high schools.

N: Do you have any tips for cyclists to get the most out of their bikes?

TW: If someone doesn’t like riding, or they don’t like their bike, instead of just ditching, it find out what’s going on—take it into a shop and get someone to look at it, get some suggestions. More often than not, it’s not because of the rider’s competence or physical fitness or anything like that that’s causing the issue, it’s the bike. It’s really easy to fix bikes to make them work super well. There’s a lot of magic you can do with bikes.