Who becomes a professional bike mechanic at age 48? People whose former occupations were “poet” and “bartender,” that’s who.
Jay Beaman is one. He and his 32-year-old friend and business partner Michael Connolly are the proprietors of Scenic Routes, a new, member-supported bike shop that found a home on Balboa Street in the Inner Richmond after fixing bikes out of Beaman’s house became untenable. Like the unplanned growth of a suburb, it just sort of happened.
Scenic Routes is a project “four years in the dreaming” between the burly, voluble Beaman and the soft-spoken Connolly, who’s also a pediatric oncology nurse. The two met at Thieves Tavern on Connolly’s 21st birthday and initially became friends over discussions about music and podcasts.
“Then bicycling happened,” Connolly says.
“Michael knew way more about bikes than I did,” Beaman said of the business’ unusual genesis. “But compared to what we know now, he knew nothing. And way more than my super-nothing.”
They took courses in bike repair, so it’s inaccurate to call them autodidacts. By their own estimation, Connolly’s grasp of mechanics is more intuitive, while Beaman follows the order of operations until achieving mastery of a task. There’s a low-key rebellious streak to Scenic Routes, if one far too cuddly to be properly anarchist. It springs from the gnawing dissatisfaction that characterizes most bike repair, even when performed by people you trust.
“Not knowing what happened and what work went into it, sometimes the bike would mostly work, and you end up going back and saying something wasn’t right,” Connolly said.
Maybe the shifter feels funny in your hand, or maybe your weight isn’t sitting right on the geometry. Scenic Routes has a workaround.
“We have a rule here,” Beaman says. “If the mechanic who worked on your bike is here when you pick up your bike, you’re going to talk to that mechanic.”
Artwork by Anthony Ryan already installed on the wall at Scenic Routes displays Beaman’s Twitter handle, @roadbeard. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard
A lot of mottos bubble up organically out of chatter, and “Slow Is Forever” is one. It’s a reference to SF’s Slow Streets program—Lake Street, one of the more controversial, is within walking distance from the shop—and to Scenic Routes’ approach to broken stuff, with its strong anti-capitalist undertones.
Because their livelihood is at stake, Beaman says, most bike shops have no financial incentive to fix most parts. Instead, they sell you a replacement and charge you for the labor to install it.
“We’re hoping to sort of subvert that, which is maybe naive, by having a membership program where people pay a monthly fee,” he says. “If we have 200 members by the end of the year— which I think we’ll have—then fixed costs are paid. Rent’s paid, insurance is paid, electricity is paid.”
They’re hoping to outfit extra benches with tools obtained through the membership program, starting with a hydraulic stand, which makes it easier to work on heavy, ever-more-popular e-bikes. Plus there’s a sort of lending library of saddles—bike seats, to the uninitiated—for people to try out.
“Instead of getting a new one, you can come and borrow it,” Connolly said. “The lending of tools is an age-old disaster, but it’s something we’ll be able to offer.”
If it all sounds a bit like a marriage of how-to mecca Bike Kitchen with Pedal Revolution, a beloved bike shop in the Mission that closed in 2019, it’s because it is. Connolly lived with Pedal Revolution’s general manager for 16 years, and that entire crew would have been at Scenic Routes’ grand opening party if they weren’t all at a wedding in Mexico.
The family keeps expanding. A seven-year San Francisco resident and software engineer on sabbatical, Kat Siegal has been volunteering up to eight hours a day with Scenic Routes.
“When I moved to San Francisco, I found it super-intimdinating,” she said. “I just didn’t bike in the city for five years. I live near Page Street, so having that [Slow Street] was really what made me get on a bike. I became more comfortable with city cycling, and now I bike everywhere.”
It’s a common enough refrain around the city, where bike lanes have grown perceptibly more crowded since the pandemic began. Assuming the membership program succeeds, Beaman and Connolly can lavish 45 minutes on mending someone’s broken pedals instead of chucking them out, and customers are strongly encouraged to watch and ask questions. The shop’s utopian ethos might be summed up as: “If the people cannot own the means of production, at least they can have a voice in the means of repair.”
Consuming less is one consequence of a commitment to slowness, as is Beaman and Connolly’s measured approach to cycling. They don’t race; they ride. Pedalling slowly across the entire state of Oregon (as they did in 2019) or down the Great Highway, they might pause to examine an unusual mushroom or just settle into a companionable silence, pushing the act of riding as far outside the bounds of competitive sport as possible.
“Riding slow, all day, at a pace that’s comfortable for you, is the greatest joy,” Beaman says. “It’s a together activity and also a not-together activity.”
He’s looking to create a “Commute Union,” or group rides built around discovering optimal routes from home to work, and he escorts inexperienced cyclists on whale-watching rides to Point Bonita in the Marin Headlands.
When I—a borderline-obsessive cyclist myself—objected that crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and summiting Hawk Hill is hardly a beginner-level trek, Beaman had a ready retort.
Anyone can do it, he said, “if your bike is ready. If you have those low, low gears. And we try to outfit people with those as much as possible.”
Beaman is, among other things, an evangelist for the bicycle. He believes it is nothing short of the supreme technological achievement of humankind. Aiming to ride 5,000 miles a year and always falling short, he checks Strava, the fitness app, to report that he’s at 2,250 miles for this year—a bit behind.
Apart from a refrigerator, a Baldwin Acrosonic piano and a load of lumber, every item in Scenic Routes was transported via bike, and a recent tweet of him hauling 300 pounds of stuff went semi-viral. Yet unlike many enthusiasts, his garage isn’t bursting with road bikes, gravel bikes, cyclocross, or—horror of horrors—penny-farthings.
“I was always the kind of person who had two, wanted three, got three, and decided this was the height of decadence—and went back to two,” he said.
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