Some longtime bike shops in the East Bay have taken a hit in recent years.
Hank and Frank Bicycles shuttered its Oakland storefront on College Avenue in August 2022 after serving the Rockridge community since 1925, relocating to its current spot in Lafayette.
About four months after that, Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative in Berkeley permanently closed after half a century due to a combination of the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, a decline in sales, and its building being slated for demolition to make way for a 26-story apartment complex.
In April of this year, Luckyduck Bicycle Café, which launched in 2016 as a bike store, coffee shop, and community gathering space in downtown Oakland, shut down following financial upheaval caused by a burglary, a flood, and the COVID-19 pandemic, as SFGATE and the San Francisco Standard reported.
But while these three locally-owned bike shops in the East Bay have relocated or ceased operations, one has expanded.
With its first location still up and running on Central Avenue in Alameda, Westside Joe’s Bikes opened a second storefront in early August on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, making it the only East Bay bicycle shop—and the only woman-owned bike store in the Bay Area—with two locations, according to its owner, Vivian “Vivee” Young.
“I want everybody to get on bikes,” said Young, who runs the Alameda and Oakland locations alongside general manager Dan Hensley, service manager Johnathon Ramirez, and bicycle transportation, donation, and recycling coordinator Chris Bartlett.
For everyday commuters and competitive cyclers alike, Westside Joe’s Bikes boasts a hearty collection of new bicycles, e-bikes, and equipment from brands such as Giant, Linus, Esker, Yuba, and Cleary. It’s also a full-service repair and maintenance shop, offering restorations on vintage bicycles, tire replacements and pressure checks, brake and cabling adjustments, bike tune-ups, and many other services.
Westside Joe’s new location, Hensley said, is intentional.
“Our goal is to help support local cyclists in the wake of three [East Bay] bicycle shops closing,” Hensley told The Oaklandside.
Formerly working in the manufacturing industry as an operations manager, Hensley said one of his biggest goals for the bicycle industry is to provide more concrete avenues for children and adolescents to learn about and pursue a career in bike mechanics, whether that be through partnering with local nonprofits or developing hands-on training programs.
“Bikes are still considered toys, so people don’t look at working on a bicycle as a skilled job,” he said. “It’s the same as being a plumber or electrician or framer of a house … You’re using your hands to fix things and diagnose and problem-solve.”
Similar to how many high schools offer woodworking and auto shop classes, Young and Hensley said they want bike mechanics to be taught to youth as well. Young described bicycle mechanics as a “lost art,” with no clear-cut degree, certification, or career pathway for aspiring bike technicians. Hensley said most bike mechanics get their start by working at sports and recreation retailers like REI or Dick’s Sporting Goods.
“The big joke is the standard in the bicycle industry is there is no standard,” said Hensley.
Hensley said paying a living and sustainable wage to bike mechanics can boost hiring and job retention—things that are currently lacking in the bicycle industry. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2022, bicycle repairers in the San Francisco, Oakland, and Hayward areas earn $22.25 per hour on average, the equivalent of an annual salary of $46,270.
“This is a highly skilled job, and the pay is not there,” Hensley said, adding that many companies don’t allocate sufficient money or resources to mechanics and service departments because “they don’t see the profit in it.”
Still, Hensley said he’s optimistic about the future of the bicycle industry. In the long term, he envisions Westside Joe’s Bikes opening storefronts not only throughout the Bay Area but across the country.
“We’re not here to get by; we’re here to win,” he added. “If my grand vision works, the entire bicycle industry will be different in 15 years.”
A ride down memory lane
Westside Joe’s Bikes has had a long and fluctuating history. The first iteration of the store—called Joe’s Bike Shop—opened in 1939 on Webster Street in Alameda. Following the founder’s death, multiple changes in management, and a move to Alameda’s Encinal Avenue, the shop shut down in the early 1990s.
Then, in 1995, Grae Wallace—Young’s ex-husband and former business partner who had worked at Joe’s Bike Shop as a mechanic during his teenage years—reopened the store on Bay Farm Island. After five years, Wallace sold the business and moved out of state, but he “never stopped missing his hometown,” later returning to Alameda “with a dream of reopening Joe’s,” according to the company’s website.
In 2015, Wallace and Young reopened the bike shop on Central Avenue, renaming it Westside Joe’s Bikes for its location on the west side of Alameda. Four years later, in 2019, Wallace stepped down from the business, making Young the sole owner.
The transition was anything but simple, according to Young. Before stepping into her current role, Young worked as a dental hygienist.
“I totally just switched industries, and I kind of just fell into the bicycle industry,” she said. “I learned a lot over these many years, and I’m loving it.”
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, health authorities urged people to avoid contact sports and indoor gyms to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. As a result, more Americans embraced outdoor and social distancing-friendly forms of exercise, such as cycling.
This national trend, Young said, was reflected locally: Westside Joe’s Bikes saw an unprecedented surge in bicycle sales in 2020 and 2021, with lines extending far down the street since the shop only admitted one customer at a time.
“I had a customer who called me about a month ago saying, ‘I was one of your customers that was waiting way down the street [during the pandemic], and I was happy to wait two and a half hours to get in,” she said.
She attributes the shop’s loyal clientele, as well as its success and expansion, to its approach to customer service. Johnathon Ramirez, the service manager of Westside Joe’s Bikes, echoed that sentiment, adding that he treats customers the same way he treats his buddies.
“It’s not your typical sales approach. It’s treating customers like your friends that come by and taking care of them, not just taking advantage of them because of money,” he said.
Hensley emphasized that Westside Joe’s Bikes is not competing with other bike shops; rather, they’re competing with every customer service experience a person has had.
“Whether it’s at their oil change place, whether it’s going to the airport, whether it’s going to a hotel, whether it’s a restaurant … anytime they deal with somebody that is selling them something or providing a service, that is our competition,” he said. “And we are the best, period.”
Westside Joe’s Bikes, 4319 Piedmont Ave. Open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.