By Claudie Benjamin
Without a doubt, energy and open friendliness is the vibe at Master Bike at 265 West 72nd Street. If this typifies the mood of the biking community, sign me on. I’m ready to jump on a Fuji, snap on a shiny, colorful, striped helmet and zip out the door. But new enthusiasts as eager as they are, often are cautioned at Master Bike about safety. Even experienced riders who know about mandatory helmets find it hard to simply walk out of the shop, if they are not holding or wearing a helmet without being questioned on the whereabouts of their helmets.
This concern for safety, resonates for these mechanics, mainly in two ways. Master Bike‘s mechanics are also serious cyclists who bike many miles a week. Mike Lourie has worked for ten years at Master Bike, he bikes 200-300 miles a week. During the worst months of the pandemic, he says biking kept him healthy and sane. His passion is shared by others. He says he sees 100s of cyclists riding across the George Washington Bridge.
Mike not only maintains a rigorous cycling routine, but he appears to know and love everything about bicycles. “You care for your bike as you would for yourself.” He’s pretty down on commuters who just ride their bike and hang it up on a wall when they’re home. In contrast, a serious cyclist doesn’t go to bed before cleaning the chains, the wheels, the tube – everything. This cleaning process can take an hour or more after each ride.
Clearly the comradery between members of the biking community is robust. Coming into the store, true members of this community greet each other exuberantly. They compliment each other on looking well. Smiles may not be visible, but their loud greetings are heard behind protective masks necessary in the Covid period. They may not have seen each other in months and now exchange gossip or sightings of well-known sports people seen riding in the neighborhood. “I saw…” “What was he doing?” “Just going along in the park.”
Master Bike’s owner Master Mechanic Imbert Jimenez knows everything about bikes. He loves and breathes cycling. “We follow every biking event big, medium and small. It’s what we do.” Imbert’s biking life began as a kid working on his own bike in the Dominican Republic. When he came to NYC at age 22, he got a job two weeks after arriving as a bike mechanic and worked in that shop for 15 years. He opened his own small shop on West 77th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway, moving to his current address 12 years ago. He bikes two hours a day from his home in Yonkers to work and back in the evening. The shop is open seven days a week. He is very fit and appears to be proud and assured of his skills. He engages easily with customers.
Knowledge of all that is cycling and having patience with customer concerns is primary. Customers are served promptly. The mechanic team all seem to have endless patience for concerns relating which lock to buy to which tires last longest, onto advising a customer on purchasing a new bike which may cost from $500 to $2500. Mike says the questions he asks are, “What do you want the bike to do? Go fast? In city? Off road? We go from there if you want a city bike, a cruiser to chill…. “
Many cyclists come in to have bikes tuned up is something that happens every few minutes as the weather is getting warmer. “I haven’t ridden in 14 months, I’ll just take it back,” says one man. The back of the store, a well-organized work room is stocked with 90 percent of what’s needed for repairs. The rest have to be ordered. Some things like gears are in short supply because of pandemic-related production and delivery delays. A customer may even be advised, for example to search online, for a shifter and then bring it in to have it replace the old one. “So, we’re careful to try to repair rather than replace,” says Mike.
The front of the shop is filled with every imaginable accessory to tempt a cyclist: water bottles, locks and chains, infant carriers, snap on footwear, gloves and a wide variety of very cool ventilated, padded biking attire. The middle of the store is lined with bikes for sale, mostly made overseas: Specialized, Fuji, Giant and Bianchi. Rentals are also available.
The workshop part of the store is neatly ordered. It smells as you think it would of rubber, grease and oil. Have an old bike? Depending on its condition, a vintage bike may be rejuvenated. Mike says, “If you’ve had it 20-30 years, we can bring it back to life.”
“All in all,” says Imbert, “We do everything mechanical, even strollers.”
Open 7 days a week: M-F 10:30am -7:00pm; Saturday and Sunday 10:00am-6:00pm.