FRANCISCO COLON (Part Two)

Part One barely scratched the surface. As Francisco Colon approaches his 5th year living in NYC, he is still pedaling hard and pushing things to the next level for his fellow cyclists. There is more to the California native than Bike Stop Astoria. Cisco is, also, all about bringing the cycling community together alongside Edouard Hall with Drop Crank Society. In Part Two of Cisco's Spoke & Word,  he fills us in on East vs. West Coast bike culture, how he got involved in DCS's mission, and what people need to do to live a better life.

When did you first start riding?
As far as getting into biking and doing tricks? Around 7th or 8th grade, when the first X-Games appeared and watching people do flatland.  I got all into it. 

So do you identity yourself as a BMXer?
Not anymore. Most people who work in the bike shop industry, like myself, end up owning and changing multiple bikes all the time. I have about six or seven bikes. You just identify yourself as a cyclist. Even though, I still ride BMX a bunch. 

Which bike do you use to get around?
It depends how far I'm going. Lately, I've been riding an old Bottecchia converted to a single-speed. It has been the jam. As we know, single-speeds in NYC go hand-in-hand because of the flat terrain. You don't really have to worry about hills, maintenance, so on and so forth. 

You're originally from the Bay Area in California. Since moving to NYC, how do you feel about riding here?
It's fun! I really enjoy riding with traffic in the city. It's my favorite place to ride. I remember when I first went back home and talked to friends who had never been here, I told them that it reminded me of riding in Market Street in San Francisco, but every single street in NY is like Market Street.

What are some of the cultural differences (bike-wise) between San Francisco and New York?
To live in SF and be a cyclist, you really have to negotiate your travel plans and route to accommodate the changes. The terrain is ridiculous! As opposed to a sidewalk, you have stairs on the side of the street! I guess our bridges here would be the equivalent to hills. Then, there are the drivers. SF doesn’t have cab drivers like we have in NY. In general, motorists are much more polite. You pull up to a stop sign and a motorist alongside you will usually wave you on and let you go. Here - it’s pretty much dog eat dog, especially with motorists and cabs. There is no mercy. They don’t care about cyclists whatsoever.

That being said, would you consider NYC a dangerous place to ride a bike?
It’s as dangerous as you make it to be. If you cruise while being alert of what’s going on around you and mindful of the rules, then you’ll be fine. But if you’re the guy who just bought a fixed-gear and rides it with no brakes and decide to go 40 mph trying to race people through traffic, then you’re probably not going to do so well at the end of the day.

How often do you ride?
Now, much less. I usually ride about 2-3 times a week. I don't have to commute anymore, so it's more about exercise. When I need to get out and pedal, I'll go out and pedal. My history in cycling and background has been BMX. It's always a cornerstone. I'll usually wake up and go down to skate park under the bridge in Astoria Park. That's kind of why I moved to Astoria, so that I would have a local skate park. 

How do you feel about NYC becoming more bike-friendly?
I love it! First of all, I love New York! It's freakin' awesome for many reasons. If you look up at this poster [points above the counter], it was here before I started working at Bike Stop. It was one of the most impactful images I've seen. I owned vehicles in the past, but I don't like cars. I don't see a need for them really, you know? I find that people who cycle are genuinely happier. You're relaxed. You exercised. With the internet tying into the world and becoming such a dominant part of our lives now, why you would want to disconnect from one another further? Cycling is awesome! You go riding with people, you bond, you get something, you're tired, yet relaxed, you have lunch, drink some water, and etc. I love that the city is moving towards a more cycling oriented existence. It's good to see like-minded individuals out pedaling. 

Is there anything NYC can improve on?
I think the city is doing fine. It's more the Trifecta between vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. Everybody hates each other. It's the worst relationship ever. In addition, you have police, electric scooter delivery dudes, and people on vespas. It's really bad. If the Trifecta could get it together and respect one another, then this city would be rocking! I just don't know what to do or offer as any sort of recourse.

 

Photograph by Raised Fist Propaganda

Let’s talk about Drop Crank Society. I’m curious to know more on how it got started.
Drop Crank Society is the brain child of Edouard Hall, who is my partner in that endeavor. It started out as a sneaker, house dancing, party jump-off where they would put together events with really popular house DJ’s. It was bikes, beats, and kicks. When I moved out here, I had a customer come in and ask if knew Ed Hall. After I answered no, she said that I should. It was random. About a year later when I took over Bike Stop, a guy comes in to get a flat fixed. I asked 'is your name Ed Hall?' He answered yes and then it got awkward for a second. I told him how Mandy said I should know him. Immediately, we became friends. Then, I found out about Drop Crank. Through negotiation, I go to Ed and say 'hey man, are you serious about this? Because I would really love to get behind something and push it to the next level.' Being also the manager of this shop, it really gave me an alternative outlet. While the shop is more business, DCS is all extracurricular.

What would you say is Drop Crank Society's mission statement?
An attempt to elevate the urban cycling experience through social events. There is always music. There is always dancing. It's not like a contest, even though there are always prizes and sometimes trophies. But it is more than just having a winner. It's more like a gathering where everyone gets to meet old friends, make new friends, and just bring the community together. It's all inclusive and aimed at anyone who rides a bike in an urban environment.

What is the significance behind the name?
My rendition of dropping crank is when I come off the 59th street bridge. I get onto 2nd Avenue going south, it's mayhem, and I have to go as fast as the cars. That's when it's time to drop crank! Just make it happen. Obviously, I'm wearing a helmet and not riding like a maniac, but it's Go-Time! I'm not the guy on the CitBike pointing at the Chrysler Building saying 'oh, look at that' while there are cars honking behind me. It's time to make moves. It's business.

How many events a year do you guys throw?
Depends on the year. It’s a gray area as far as a number goes. When 5-Pointz was around, we worked a lot with Meres and them. We did Bike For Pointz, which consisted of five events: a slalom race, longest-skid, longest track-stand, bunny hop, and wheelie contest. Cyclists got points for higher finishing (like top three, etc) and at the end of the event whoever had the most points would be the winner. Since 5-Pointz is no more, we've been trying to figure out a way to still have the event. DCS and Bike Stop still team up for a lot of other events, such as Gold Sprints, throughout the year.

Between DCS and Bike Stop, you get to mingle and interact with a lot of people in the NYC cycling community. How do they feel about the city's direction?
We have a couple of things going on here. You have the messengers, who are on bicycles all day. They're basically the 'bad-asses' of the cycling community. These guys ride bikes all day long! A lot of them ride fixed gear bikes with no brakes, ride in traffic, and don't use the bike lanes. In the end, I don't think they care at all because they're busy working. Then, you have the guys with track bikes because messengers made them popular and they love the aesethetic or whatever other reason for really liking the bikes. Those guys, too, I don't think any of them have animosity against the growing number of commuters. In fact, I think they dislike CitiBikes more than anything. [And why is that?] Because of the people who ride them. They're out-of-towners stargazing and don't know how to ride a bike in New York. They're all making us all look bad by endangering pedestrians and themselves. They're probably public enemy #1. There should be designated bike paths for tourists.

What would be your sales pitch to get people on bikes?
There are so many. You'll get there faster! That's number one! From the second you get on a bicycle, you're saving money, exercising, getting there faster, the list goes on and on. You'll live a better life. Simply put. 

Photograph by Diana Diroy

Be sure to check out Drop Crank Society's homepage and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

FRANCISCO COLON (Part One)

Let's face it. Whether it was to get your first bike, purchase a tube, or tune-up your precious road bike, we've all needed to go to a bike shop at some point. My local neighborhood shop in Queens, Bike Stop Astoria, is a favorite among locals by virtue of its team and store manager, Francisco Colon. As a frequent customer (and three bikes later), I decided to hang out with Cisco at Bike Stop to tackle those questions about the shop life that we all may be curious about in Part One of this edition of the Spoke & Word.

How long have you been working in the bike shop industry?
About 8-9 years, but I’ve only been at this particular store for 3 years.

What are customers often buying at Bike Stop?
One of the basics - lights, locks, tubes. 

In terms of repairs, what is the most common problem people come in with? 
Probably a flat tire.

Do you feel fixing a flat is something riders should know how to do to save themselves some cash? 
Yeah. Learning how to change a flat will better your self-sufficiency with cycling by leaps and bounds. Even maintaining your tire pressure or lubing your chain, these are things super simple things that most people don’t take into consideration when their bikes are making noise or it feels hard to ride. When you have really low tire pressure, you end up with more rolling resistance. Any part of the bike which is not lubricated correctly is going to end up squealing. Those are small things people can do on their own which are extremely simple that would make the cycling experience that much more enjoyable. 

Over the past few years, there have been a lot of changes in NYC. One of them being the addition of Citi Bike. What is your view on it?
We've gotten a lot of questions about that. Questions about what we think about the program and if it's going to affect our business. The answer is no. They're not taking from us at all! If anything, it has helped promote cycling in the sense that people who were apprehensive about making the purchase (as far as the investment is concerned) would then join the program, ride the bikes, realize how awesome it is to get around, and then want their own personal bike as opposed to a 50-pound blue one. 

Have you noticed this growth in urban cycling first-hand with the customers that come year-in and year-out?
It’s hard to distinguish until Fall or Winter at least because in the Summertime, everyone wants to jump on a bike and ride in The Season because the weather is nice. The Season is overwhelming. When you're in the store, there is a line out the door, babies crying, people screaming, dogs barking, etc. You know, we all want bikes and we want to ride them today! When Fall rolls around and November is here, you'll know whether there has been a pick up or not.

Well, Winter is here! And there are certainly less riders on the street. How is business? 
Well, we refinished the cabinets! You can see there is some woodwork on the sales floor. This past winter, we sanded them and relacquered them because it's so slow! The only guys that keeps us in business during the Winter are the delivery guys. I moved from San Diego where it was summer all year. It's so different when you get here and you're like 'Oh, Winter...that's real! Nobody rides! White Christmas? What's that? Oh, got it!'

Does the shop follow a strategy to bring in more customers throughout Winter? Or is it just a lost cause?
It is what it is. It's the time of year where we get to re-evaluate what we're doing in the store and what we want to do in the Spring and Summertime. I really appreciate the seasons. Now, we're geared up for the winter. We're not going to refinish the cabinets again because we did it last Winter. What are we going to do? Between Carlos, Ali, and I - there is a lot of bouncing ideas off each other. What things we want to stock more, what did we like about this past season, what didn't we like, what went well, what didn't work, etc. We try to make adjustments so when the new season comes, things flow smoother.

Cisco helping a customer in purchasing a new lock.

What would be the percentage of new customers make up your business?
They are like the 1%. You’ll get the one random guy who is like 'Oh, I was visiting a friend and I got flat,' or just had to pick something up. All of our customers, from the delivery guys, the commuters, the BMX kids, to the single-speed dudes that ride around, are all neighborhood. 

With track and single-speed bikes becoming so popular, does it reduce the number of returning customers since these bikes require minimal maintenance?
No, we still do great. Those guys love their bikes so much and they bought it for the aesthetics. It's like fashion. Every year, they'll come in 'Alright. I want new wheels. I want deep rims. I want this color. I want that color. I want all this to match,' because that's what they want. That's what they're into. I mean they definitely account for their portion of our business. 

Are there any customer habits that really grinds your gears? (See what I did there?)
I'm direct and very to the point. If you come in and you tell me what's wrong with your bike - I will fix what you tell me is wrong. It's like this...when you're sick and go to the doctor, you don't say 'Doctor, I have this.' You would say 'Doctor, I have these symptoms,' and then the doctor tells you what is wrong and helps you along the path to recovery. It's the same idea here. If you come to the bike shop and don't know about bikes, tell them the symptoms and let them help you. You know what I mean? I'm sure more customers would say I'm difficult to deal with than I would say they're difficult to deal with because I'm so direct.

How do you try to compete or separate yourselves from other local bike shops?
Well, when I started here a big part of becoming the manager of this store was to try to create an identity because I felt it was really lacking. Social media accounts and throwing events has been huge for the shop. We really try to bring the community together and give back. We're here and we're a business, but at the same time we're normal people and really like to have fun. We really love and have a passion for riding bikes, too. It's not like 'This is my job and this is all I do.' A lot of my customers end up becoming friends because we share so many of the same interests starting with cycling, then they come to the events, and goes something like: 
'Hey, you're an awesome person!'
'Yeah, you are too! Let's hang out!'
Put it this way, we are on a first name basis with at least 50% of our customers.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor? Is it the internet?
No. You know what? I don't even see a competitor. I feel the competitor is ourselves from the season prior. That's what winners are about - trying to improve and re-evaluate. 

Cisco giving a hand with repairs

What does a bike shop offer that the internet doesn't?
You get a face-to-face experience. As far as bikes are concerned, when we sell someone a bike - we offer 4 years of tune-ups. When we do a tune-up, it is thorough! We go through your entire bicycle, pull all your cables out whatever they're connected to (your brakes or your gears), lube the entire cable, spot true all the wheels, nut and bolt check, and basically make your bike run as best as possible without replacing anything. Like I said, we're on a first name basis with a ton of our customers. It's almost like Cheers when people come in. We offer an environment or atmosphere where not only do you enjoy your time out riding your bike, but you also enjoy coming in and shopping here. You know we'll do everything we can to guide you on the path to whatever it is you're shopping for to help alleviate whatever woes, whether it be fenders or a new seat. There are times you don't even need to buy something. Customers come in with their money in hand and we just to help so you could be on your way.  For example, when the season starts people always come in and say:
'My bike has two flats.'
'Well, did your bike just sit for two months?'
'Yes.'
'Okay, let me just give you some air and you can be on your way.'
I just saved them $26 on two flats, you know? It's things like that. We offer so much more.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Bike Stop Astoria
37-19 28th Avenue
Astoria, NY 11103
(718)278-2453

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