Sopo Bike Co-op celebrates three years of pedal mettle

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Atlanta’s Sopo Bicycle Cooperative turns three years old this month, an accomplishment that is in no way unrelated to the friendly, educational and economical services the shop offers for local bicycle freaks and fools alike. They'll celebrate in style at their Cogtail Party Saturday, Oct. 11, at WonderRoot with local musical acts The Thieves and Herman Put Down the Gun, and Brooklyn’s The Shondes.

I visited Sopo for the first time a few weeks ago after mulling over the idea of adopting the bike for several weeks. Since my commute to work is less than two miles, the time seemed right for becoming the healthy, green commuter I’ve always wanted to be.

At first glance, Sopo is intimidating. It's a bunch of people working on bikes by spotlight out the back of a strip of shops and restaurants in East Atlanta Village, and while it's no secret-- I've happened upon it countless times while in the area-- seems like a strange scene to the uninformed eye. Though everyone working on these complicated, two-wheeled pieces of machinery looks knowledgeable, this is merely an illusion. Some are there because of their abundance of knowledge and love of bikes, but many others (like me) come to Sopo because they know nothing about bikes but want to learn. It's an “each one teach one” kind of place: The volunteers won’t take your bike and repair it for you, but they'll show you how to fix it yourself.

Upon our arrival, my friend John and I were immediately greeted warmly by Sopo's administrative manager, Rachael Spiewak, who helped us tend to our needs. Part of my insecurity in this venture stemmed from the fact that my bike is hot pink (I've had it since I was 14) and I showed up with a flat tire. But all Rachael said was that I probably would be more comfortable with something “a little more my size,” before showing me what size wrench to use to repair the flat.

At point, another co-op visitor tried to horn in and do my work for me, using tools Rachael didn’t approve of and depriving me of the hands-on education I was trying to receive. This lasted about a minute before Rachael kindly asked him to let me work on my own bike. I was impressed and pleased with the diplomatic manner she used to tend to the situation. (I would have stopped him myself, but I mistook him for one of Sopo’s volunteers-- even though he drinking a 24-ounce beer from a brown paper bag.)

Meanwhile, outside, John adjusted his brake cables and lubed his chain (that's what she said?). After putting the wheel back on my bike and taking a spin around the parking lot, I went outside and did the same. A new humming noise revealed that I'd put the wheel on crooked, so I adjusted it and received help to tighten a shaky front end.

After an hour or so at Sopo, Rachael gave us some motherly-- but welcome-- parting advice:

Yay, helmets!Get locks.Get lights.Sopo has a guideline of suggested, but non-required, donations: They ask for $5 per part, $5 per hour and $25 per frame used. You won’t get turned away if you don’t give them a dime-- it’s just not that kind of place-- but if you have the kind of great experience we had, you’ll be compelled to make at least the suggested donation.

Since my first visit, I’ve contacted Sopo through its website to ask about fitting myself for a new bike. Rachael answered my question via email within a few hours, giving me free advice that a bike shop wanted me to pay $75 for. I’m confident that my next visit, on a different bike, will be just as fruitful and enjoyable as my first.

If you can't make it to Saturday's party (or even if you can), visit the co-op itself, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. or Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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