Anarchist Workshop Brings Bike Skills to the People

Ryan Gosling has seen better days. In fact, he might not make it. He’s missing a pivot that connects to his suspension. His bottom bracket is loose and its inner parts worn. His back brake is non-existent. And to top it off, he hurts to ride.

In an effort to save him, Caroline McCormack has painfully ridden him along to Tyred & Cranky Bikes, the first of a new series of bike workshops running every Wednesday night at the Barricade Inn.

Formerly Neary’s Hotel on Parnell Street, the Barricade Inn has been squatted since March by a new anarchist collective hoping to create a radical, autonomous social center and infoshop for the city.

The bike shop is just one of several services and events the collective runs. There’s the Bad Books infoshop/library, French classes, gigs, squatters’ workshops and film screenings, as well as other skill-share sessions such has “How to Kombucha”.

Located in a 30-foot-long room just off the Barricade Inn’s Bad Books library, the bike shop is a proper outfit. Half a dozen bikes line up against one wall. A cluster of spare wheels are stored under a work bench. There are bike frames just about every where you look.

Shelves and drawers house – neatly and otherwise – a multitude of ball bearings, sprockets, nuts, bolts, chains, chainrings, cranks, pedals, brakes, spokes, rear cogs. Pliers, spanners and wrenches of varying size are hung in an orderly row along the left-hand wall.

Caroline and her bike – sorry, Ryan Gosling – are the first visitors to the shop. Ryan is lying on his back, wheels in the air, worn parts exposed. Niamh Stevens, wearing greasy blue overalls, her brown hair held back in a canary-yellow headscarf, is the mechanic working on him.

The bike can be fixed, Niamh says, but it will take time. He won’t be leaving the shop today. Is Caroline willing to put in the time and effort required?

“If we can save Ryan,” Caroline says, “save Ryan.”

They get to work dismantling the bottom bracket. Niamh demonstrates how to loosen the bolts using a spanner and a wrench, and supervises while Caroline takes over. The bike shop is not just about repairing people’s bikes; its aim is to teach them the skills to mend their own.

Kamila and Rob at work.

Niamh has been working with bikes for about three years. Originally from Galway, she moved to Dublin for college. She’s a fine art graduate, and is studying web development.

To get around the city, she cycles. At first, if she had a problem with her bike, she’d bring it to a bike shop. Keen to know how to repair it herself, she’d ask the mechanics if she could see. She was told, politely, to fuck off.

She stumbled upon Square Wheels, a bicycle-repair shop in Temple Bar, where she met the owner, Kieran, “the most knowledgeable person on bikes”. Kieran was willing to teach her the trade, but encouraged her to go to Seomra Spraoi‘s bike workshop, the precursor to the Barricade Inn’s, to further her skills.

“It was an intimidating experience coming into a mechanics’ environment, knowing very little to teach people,” Niamh says. “But you just need to know how to fix the particular part a person is looking to have fixed.” In this way, little by little, by learning from the other mechanics, you build on your skill set.

Now she’s a dab hand.

Resident mechanic Rob O’Reilly looks on as Niamh and Caroline work on Ryan. Sporting oily green overalls and navy baseball cap, he wields the quintessential tool of any tradesman: a cup of tea.

He’s been working with bikes for the best part of five years. He was also a volunteer at the Seomra Spraoi’s bike workshop. Now defunct, its operation has been moved to the Barricade Inn.

Unlike Niamh, Rob lives here at the squat with about ten others. They all get on really well, he says. Before, he was squatting at Grangegorman, where the camp wasn’t so harmonious. There was an element of tension running through the place, which he chalks up to “contrasting personalities”.

There’s an obvious lack of tension in the Barricade Inn this evening. The atmosphere is relaxed, cool. There’s about a dozen or so people here. Some are out chatting on the couches in the common area where soft Irish fiddle tunes pour out from an old stereo.

Others are down painting white and red the front room by the entrance, which has a wrap-around counter top that served as either the hotel’s bar or its reception. Whatever it was, it’s to be a non-profit vegan cafe come Saturday.

In comes Gareth Walsh to the bike shop, wheeling his dull purple, expensive-looking racer. It’s got a punctured tyre tube. He’s brought a replacement, as well as a donation of bicycle repair tools he picked up a few months ago in Aldi, which he never got around to using. Nice, Gareth.

Tall, thin like his bike, with a shock of black curls, Gareth works for a food-delivery service in the city. Keeping his bike in working order is essential. It’s his first time to the Barricade Inn; he heard about the workshop through Facebook.

Rob shows Gareth how to remove the tube from the tyre, and then leaves him to inflate the new tube while he assists Kamila, who’s just come in with her bike.

He hangs Kamila’s bike by its saddle from a noosed rope that dangles from one of the joists in the ceiling. Both brake pads need replacing as well as a broken spoke on the front wheel.

The bike, an amalgamation of several others, was built by a friend of Kamila’s. It’s hers for the duration of her summer sojourn in Dublin.

She’s a sharp apprentice; one quick demo from Rob and she’s away tackling the back brake. Her gaze fixed on the task at hand through square-rimmed glasses mended by brown tape, she talks of her recent solo camping excursion to Glendalough.

She took the 44 from town to Enniskerry and from there hitchhiked her way into the heart of the Garden of Ireland to Glendalough. She set up camp right by the upper lake, made a fire, and cooked potatoes on red-hot stones. Next morning she got up, had a breakfast of berries and hitched back to Dublin.

The brakes take no time at all. The loose spoke is a little trickier. Sitting next to her, Rob shows Kamila how to use the tool to remove it. Replacing the spoke with another, he shows her how to tighten it, ensuring the right amount of torque.

A shower of sparks rains down right behind them. Indigo is angle-grinding a set of handle bars at the work bench, causing sparks to fly about the room and making an awful angry din. Another volunteer at the bike shop, Indigo has been rendered almost useless by recent lower-back problems. Indigo’s dog Museli, short and friendly with mop-like fur, wanders in and out of the shop for a nose and a pet.

Indigo, grinding.

The shop is now buzzing with workers deep in concentration. Less than five months ago, this room, this whole building was a dark, dead space of nothingness, had been for almost a decade. Now, as well as housing ten people, it supports a much wider community.

Through all the various initiatives carried out here, whether it’s the bike shop, the language classes, the gigs, the skill-share sessions or the new vegan cafe, the building has become a hive of activity. Thanks to the anarchist collective, it has become a very social – not to mention useful – space again.

Gareth’s tube has been replaced and his tyre is back on his bike. Would he know how to do himself now? “I think so, yeah,” he says. “It’s great having this place because I don’t really have the tools and YouTube tutorials can only go so far.”

Off he goes, on his bike.

Kamila’s machine is all patched up now as well, and she’s very happy about it.

All that leaves is Niamh, Caroline and Ryan. His bottom bracket is off. It’s been cleared of dirt and given a good wipe, and its inner parts – like the cup and ball bearings – will be replaced. The next job will be trying get a pivot that will fit the bike, but that’s another day’s work.

He’s not out of the woods yet, is Ryan, but he’s going to make it.

This is anarchy.

Tyred & Cranky Bikes will run every Wednesday 5-9pm at the Barricade Inn, 77 Parnell Street, Dublin 1.

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Damien Murphy: Damien Murphy is Dublin Inquirer's Northside city reporter.

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