What started as a small initiative centered around cycling and community has grown into a cooperative of much grander proportions. William Schaffer has been a cycling advocate for the city of Lakeland for ten years. Unwholly Bikes is the second bicycle co-op he’s created – a program called Veloswan was the first. The difference between the two concepts Schaffer says is an organized approach and a focus on becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Four months ago, Schaffer presented friend Mac Masters with the idea of having a group ride and a small workshop called Church of the Unwholly Bike. Schaffer envisioned it being, “a bunch of misfit punk rock kids building bicycles and helping the community.” But Unwholly Bikes has grown into much more than that.
Masters and Schaffer along with co-founder Tyler Fox worked to turn their small-scale co-op into a well-oiled nonprofit that has the potential to touch more lives (and bikes) in Lakeland.
“My original intention was for it to be a bunch of punk rock kids riding cool bicycles around and cleaning up lakes and helping people out. Now, it’s a full-fledged, fully operational bicycle shop with a 100 bicycle inventory, workbench, workspace and a storage unit,” said Schaffer.
CHURCH OF THE UNWHOLLY BIKE
Along with that 100-bike inventory in their soon to open shop, Unwholly Bikes has community outreach programs planned in addition to their Church of the Unwholly Bike. Church is in session on the second Sunday of each month. The three-phase event consists of an hour of food and fellowship, an hour of riding, and an hour of community service. During the summer, much of their efforts have surrounded picking up trash. In the fall, they have plans to partner with VISTE (Volunteers in Service to the Elderly) to clean up yards for senior citizens.
Though the program’s name is a play on words, it isn’t a religious service, but a running commitment to do good in the community. “All are welcome all the time,” said Schaffer.
“Everything we do is with a steward’s heart – everything,” he said. “We do it for the sake of doing the right thing and to promote cycling.”
THE UNWHOLLY SHOP
The Unwholly Bikes shop is “open to anyone and everyone,” said Masters. Whether it is a necessity or a hobby, all are welcome to use the shop to build or maintain their bike. Unwholly Bikes is ideal for anyone new to cycling, or those who either may not have the funds or don’t want to drop a ton of cash on a hobby they aren’t yet fully invested in.
Masters himself was new to the bike scene before getting involved with Unwholly Bikes. “The thing that drew me into it was the idea of having some kind of community project and doing good and having a weekend activity to get me out of the house,” he said. “It’s kind of grown and evolved into this bigger thing once I was exposed to the bike community here in Lakeland and also recognizing all the potential good that could come from getting people on bikes and educating them about bikes.”
The community is invited to come to Unwholly Bikes to build or repair their own, using the shop’s tools and expertise. “That’s really what we’re bringing to the table is a community bike workshop, but also having knowledgeable bike mechanics there to teach how to properly do everything,” said Masters.
The odds of walking into their workshop and finding a whole bike is slim as it would defeat the Unwholly purpose. “If you build it yourself you take better care of it, you take ownership of it,” said Schaffer. They want to promote learning to fix and maintain your bike, yourself.
“We love putting people on bicycles and have them build a bike that’s completely their own,” said Schaffer. “It’s a huge blessing to us to have these people come in and change their lives. There are people who come in that just need it to get to work and without that bike they are unemployed, there are people who want to start riding bikes with their kids, couples who come in that want to ride together to create something new in their relationship. The reasons are endless. It’s just, do you want to put your butt on a bike and your bike on the road? That’s all we care about.”
In a soft opening of their workspace, they’ve been fixing bikes in the shop since July 1. The roughly 400-square-foot location is off of Lake Mirror and has three bike work stations. Since July 1, Schaffer estimates they’ve fixed twenty bikes – and they haven’t even officially opened yet.
Unwholly Bikes will have a grand opening PARTY (Schaffer insisted it was going to be a PARTY – all caps) on September 14th. The grand opening will be an open house for the community to meet the founding members, volunteers, and see what Unwholly is all about. There will be a food truck (Cuban B’s), a ride-in bike show, t-shirts for sale, and a ribbon cutting. Mayor Bill Mutz is even expected to be in attendance. Be there or be square.
Schaffer and the team are psyched to attend the Punk Rock Flea Market, September 29. “We’re going to spend the whole day talking about the shop and what we’re doing,” he said. They will have shirts and stickers for sale as part of their fundraising efforts, and a drawing for four 20-inch BMX bikes that were built by volunteers. Kids 18 and under get one free ticket for a chance to win one of the four bikes.
The co-op is currently in the process of applying for their 501(c)(3) to become an official nonprofit. As a community program, they do have a few needs you could help fill. They have everything they need to operate but are always looking for more shop equipment, any bikes in any condition, professional bike tools, and volunteers.
Supporters of the Unwholly mission are encouraged to donate gift cards from Bent’s Schwinn that they can use to buy the tools and parts they need directly. “Bent’s is a huge fan of us and a huge supporter of our shop. They’ve given us at least 50 bicycles so far,” said Schaffer. “We would not be where we’re at today if it weren’t for them.”
One day, Schaffer would love to see Unwholly Bikes being healthily sustained and able to be open seven days a week, in a 2000 – 2500 square foot space where they can have storage, workshop, and community learning center all under one roof.
“The goal is to continue to grow and continue to be good stewards to the community,” said Schaffer, “And have the community buy into us and know that our mission is honest and pure, and get as many people to chip in to make this thing as sustainable as possible.”
925 East Rose Street, Lakeland
Grand Opening PARTY
When: September 14 at 11am
Where: 925 East Rose Street
Hours of operation:
Sat. 2 pm – 8 pm
Sun. 2 pm – 8 pm
Mon. 2 pm – 8 pm
Wed. 5 pm – 9 pm