Comment of the Week: A new perspective on chop shops

Comment of the Week

“Most chop shop operations are not threats to legitimate bike shops, as the customer base is completely different – our customers are too poor […] to shop at any normal bike shop.”

Welcome to the Comment of the Week, where we highlight good comments in order to inspire more of them. You can help us choose our next one by replying with “comment of the week” to any comment you think deserves recognition.


Regular readers of BikePortland know David Hampsten as a frequent commenter on our posts. His comments take a lot of different tones, but the ones I like best are informative. He can often fill in useful background on a range of topics from his long years as an east Portland transportation advocate.

David lives in North Carolina now, but his comments in response to our post about a new ordinance in Los Angeles banning “chop shops” were not only colorful vignettes, but also added depth to my understanding of the “chop shop” world. David helps run something similar to a chop shop in NC. He writes from personal experience with a world-weary voice which can be hard to pull off, but which coming from David seems authentic.

Here’s what David wrote:

I help run a (barely) “legitimate” nonprofit chop-shop operation here in Greensboro NC. We collect and process about 600 donated bicycles per year from other nonprofits, the police, individuals, churches, and so on. This year we gave away about 75 bikes to Afghan refugees plus other bikes to the homeless, the nearly homeless, inner-city black kids, and to the working poor. We also typically sell about 25 used bicycles and scrap about 200 bikes.

From my experience in working with our volunteers (I’m a volunteer too) and in meeting with other chop-shop operators (including other nonprofits but mostly illegitimate back yard operations), I’ve come to some basic conclusions about the chop-shop industry at least in pleasantly mediocre cities like Greensboro (as we are clearly not on par with lofty Portland):

— Most chop shop operations are not threats to legitimate bike shops, as the customer base is completely different – our customers are too poor […] to shop at any normal bike shop, all of which are too far away from where our customers live – in what you might call bike-shop deserts.

— Nearly all chop shop mechanics and volunteers are too inept to ever work successfully at any local bike shop – either they are too slow at fixing stuff, don’t know how to fix even basic equipment, or worse yet cannot tell the difference between high quality equipment from junk – if it’s shiny then it must be good. It’s a serious challenge training our mechanics.

Unfortunately our customer base similarly knows next to nothing about bicycles and cannot tell the difference between total junk like Next or Magna from a used Trek with all its original parts still on it – they always prefer the shiny Next. And they don’t have bike tools nor a pump at home.

David wrote two other comments about his chop shop in dialogue with Watts, and I thought they were all interesting. You can read them and the full comment thread under the original post.

Thank you for sharing your perspective David.

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Fred
Fred
5 months ago

For me, this “comment of the week” really demeans the “comment of the week” feature. Yes, it’s clever and smart but it’s a classic red herring: David’s “chop shop” is a philanthropic nonprofit which is nothing like the open-air chop shops we see in Portland that are associated with drug use, public squalor, and other problems.

I think y’all should let the readers nominate the comment of the week. I don’t think any reader would have nominated this one – which reflects not at all on how clever and smart David is. Sorry!

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
5 months ago
Reply to  Fred

This really reeks of “I have friends who are Black so my opinions about race are legitimate”.

dwk
dwk
5 months ago

What a lame comment to choose from that thread….
Almost like you think the Chop shops are legal here or that they are just a bunch of mechanics looking for something to do instead of meth heads parting out bikes to sell for drugs….

Bobby
Bobby
5 months ago

I don’t get it, what’s the new perspective?

Frank Perillo
Frank Perillo
5 months ago

Comment really misses the mark. Thumbs down. Once again the enabling attitudes here are why Portland is the dumpster fire it is.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
5 months ago

Very poor choice for comment of the week. We should not normalize the predatory actions of bike thieves who pray on and victimize people; many who are low income and can’t afford to replace a stolen bike. Bike thieves do no favor and bring zero value to the community by selling back to us our stolen bikes. Bike thieves suck. Seriously.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
5 months ago

That’s a decent response and I appreciate the objectivity in your explanation.

John
John
5 months ago

Counter point (to other commenters): this was an interesting comment and very much highlighted an interesting perspective. A “chop shop” isn’t some crisp, clear, well defined thing that you can just say is definitely bad, and by their nature they’re not going to be in some shiny store front with fancy new bikes out front. Also by their nature, they’re not going to employ a bunch of hip 30 something year old clean cut but tattooed people. And they provide a service.

I think a point to consider from the original article is that stealing bikes and selling stolen property is already illegal, and a law that does absolutely nothing to help stop that but gives cops a new tool to harass people who aren’t doing anything wrong maybe has some negative consequences.

J_R
J_R
5 months ago
Reply to  John

“Aren’t doing anything wrong?” Clearly your definition is at odds with most readers.

Also I can’t think of any combination of activities at a chop shop on public property that could be considered anything but bad.

John
John
5 months ago
Reply to  J_R

Yes, taking apart, fixing bikes, having more than 5 bike parts, is all stuff I would consider “not doing anything wrong”, yes even when it’s a homeless person doing it. If selling bikes without a business license or some nonsense is already illegal, then the new law is again, simply overreach. If it’s on public property and you think that’s some horrible terrible thing, if it’s already illegal, again the new law is simply overreach. Stealing bikes is already illegal, no need for a new law there either.
But the principal of fixing bikes for people isn’t inherently wrong. The hyperbolic backlash against a homeless person doing it is just scapegoating and searching for ways to make their lives harder without doing anything to get at the root of the problem.

Although I also don’t think you speak for “most readers”, I really don’t care what the “majority” of readers think, the majority of readers can very easily be wrong and they aren’t going to change their mind if they don’t get some some push-back and other perspectives.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
5 months ago
Reply to  John

You’d think a struggling person on the street might be better off directing their energies to something other than managing their N+20 bike fleet.

J_R
J_R
5 months ago
Reply to  John

Do you really think they are fixing bikes? More likely just swapping components from one stolen bike to another to reduce the possibility of identification and recovery. Why do the chop shops along the MUPs feature piles of frames and so many incomplete bikes?

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
5 months ago

If you love capitalism don’t be too hard on chop chops. It’s the have-nots way of participating in The American Dream.

And, regarding drug addiction, it would be interesting to know how many Multnomah Athletic Club members are strung out on alcohol and prescription opioids.

PS
PS
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

So, by the logic of your false equivalence, someone who is using the sidewalk as their open air drug market, drug den, restroom, bedroom, and chop shop location, has the same impact on society as someone who, for some reason, pays dues to the MAC but is also “strung out on alcohol and prescription opioids”?

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

And yet can manage their lives so well that they can afford such a membership and obvious NOT harm their surrounding community.

Fritz
Fritz
5 months ago

I work in a building next to one of these chop shop encampments. There’s nothing legit going on there. Most of their “work” happens at night and when they’re not blitzed on whatever their substance of choice is. Tolerance is acceptance. I will not accept or tolerate crime. I’ve worked in bike shops and have been a victim of bike theft. Bike thieves can fuck off.

Lisa Caballero (Asst. Editor / SW Correspondent)
Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
5 months ago
Reply to  Fritz

Thank you for your comment Fritz.

Bryan Morris
Bryan Morris
5 months ago

Isn’t it interesting that crime on two ends of the scale, bike theft by homeless drug addicts and the attempted overthrow of our democracy by the former President of the United States, have exactly the same legal consequences – none? It’s a crazy world we live in.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
5 months ago

I on the other hand live in a NC community that has an over-functional overly conservative Quaker and Baptist city government, so much so that several of our front-yard bike chop-shop operators (often spilling into the street) were forced to relocate after local nuisance complaints got enforced. Apparently having a bunch of cars being worked on in your yard and on the sidewalk is OK by the city, but not a bunch of bikes. Our local parks department on the other hand badly wanted a free bike program for local inner-city black kids, in areas where no bike shops ever existed nor ever will – too poor, too many drive-by shootings, too many blacks, never enough bikeshare scooters – and so we agreed to help consolidate various illegal operations onto a disused inner-city parks facility. It sort of works. It’s not ideal. We’ve already had several personality falling-outs.

Fritz & J_R, we don’t accept stolen bikes. In fact, we never buy anything from any local person. We don’t even give tax deductions. We are all too aware of local stolen bike rings and we do our level best to avoid working with such people. Our parks maintenance staff make sure all our people are out of there by 8 pm and the local police are well aware of our operation and in fact support us. Our compound is very secure but not perfect.

MOTRG and others, we recognize our community has serious drug, mental health and homeless issues, as does Portland and all other US cities. We also recognize that bike repair can be therapeutic for both drug addicts and recovering drug addicts, as well as a lot of other folks from the greater bike culture. We operate chiefly to give folks a non-violent outlet to work out their mental health bike repair issues as well as other regular folks to learn how to do basic repairs as well as provide a homeless shelter for unloved bikes. We give away bikes to refugees and pretty much anyone who asks us nicely for one, 99% of which are department store bikes that no bike shop would ever touch. We also recognize we will never make a profit doing what we do – we do it for love for our common humans, for humanity and velocity, and to keep bikes working, out of the landfill, and out of trouble.

Nearly half of our members are Maga and evangelical, so we do our level best to avoid discussing politics and religion. However there are some local faith-healers who feed us lunch every Saturday, so we aren’t perfect, nor quite saved yet.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
5 months ago
Reply to  Bryan Morris

The difference is there is denial by one side and compassion shaming by the other.