“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.”
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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.
Lisa Caballero has lived in SW Portland for 20 years. She is on the Transportation Committee of her neighborhood association, the Southwest Hills Residential League (SWHRL) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.