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Common Tread

Six questions with Moto Shop DIY workshop co-founder Aleks Grippo

Nov 10, 2014

My great friend, Aleksandra Grippo, is one half of the partnership that started a really, really cool business called Moto Shop, based in San Francisco. Three years ago, they started what they call a DIY motorcycle shop, so you could come in and work on your own bike, or learn how to work on your own bike.

If you've never heard of this kind of shop, it's because there aren't a lot. Every time I tell somebody about the shop, they always say, "That's so cool. That's such a neat idea." I talked to Aleks about the concept for a recent Moterrific podcast. You can hear the entire podcast here, but here are some excerpts.

Q: Moto Shop has the upper level, kind of a hang-out space, and the lower level with eight work stations. What exists at each station?

Gearchic's former SV650
Gearchic's former bike at a work station at Moto Shop. Photo by Gearchic.
A: Each station comes with a base set of tools. It comes with a motorcycle lift. It comes with a work bench. And with that comes anything that you need that's available in the shop, specialty tools. Each of those work stations has enough space that you can walk around it. You're not cramped, you can bring the bike up to eye level. It's comfortable.

Q: It's not a mechanic service where you go in and drop your vehicle off. You have to be the one working on your vehicle. I can hire a professional to sit with me and for the two hours, whatever, to do this job, and show me how to do it.

A: So a lot of times, people have very specific tasks they want to get done on their motorcycles and it doesn't really fit into one of our specific classes or workshops. For instance, you want to replace the clutch on your bike. We don't have a clutch replacement class because it's just not a common enough repair to warrant a class. So with something like that you can ask for an appointment where you and a mechanic work on your bike. Depending on your bike, it might take one, two or three hours. We give you an estimate and you pay by the hour for that service. We've had people work with a mechanic for something as basic as an oil change or something as complicated as an engine rebuild. It's great because that mechanic is right there with you, guiding you through the process, you're the one turning the wrenches, you're the one doing the work. They're the guide to make sure it's done right.

Q: What about the classes? How are the classes structured?

A: There are differences between classes and workshops. Class is something where you're observing a teacher do the work, not on your bike. A workshop is where you're actually doing the work on your own bike. Workshops are three people. No bigger. It's topic-specific. So, for example, we'll do a chain and sprocket workshop. Three students bring their bikes in and we are replacing the chain and sprockets and the task gets completed.

The introduction to motorcycle maintenance is by far the most popular class. We've had it up to three to five times a month. It lasts four hours. It's the perfect class for someone just beginning to work on a motorcycle.

The next most popular is our valve adjustment class, one of the most complicated. It starts at 10 in the morning and doesn't finish up until 5 or 6 p.m.

Q: Tell us about the National Geographic Channel show.

A: It was last summer. Zach Ness, the grandson of Arlen Ness, did a reality show, called Let it Ride, where he built motorcycles for, or customized motorcycles for customers. And he did one for us. It's a Yamaha R1. It's a beautiful bike.

Q: Where will Moto Shop be in five years?

A: World domination! [laughs] We've had so many requests from other people, not just in the U.S., but in Europe, as well, to open up another Moto Shop. We've got a guy in Austria who's very interested. We're talking to people in Los Angeles, in Pennsylvania, in Cleveland. We know that the business model we've created works, so we're actively helping other people open Moto Shops.

Before the shop opened, it never even crossed our minds that we would be building a community. And that's the humbling part. We're just so amazed by the people who come into the shop and we meet.

Q: So how does someone get to use the shop and what is it going to cost them?

A: This is the biggest surprise for people, that we're not a member-based shop. Anyone can come in any time to work. If all you want to do is an oil change, come in and do an oil change. If you want to come in and do a long-term project, come in and leave the bike with us. You can use the shop for an hour, for a day, or you can become a month passer if you have a long project. That means the bike is stored at the shop and you pay one price and you can work on the bike as much as you want for those 30 days.

Editor's note: As of 2017, Moto Shop is now known as Moto Guild and there are three locations in addition to San Francisco, in Chicago, Silicon Valley and Philadelphia

The hourly rates are very reasonable. So it's $10 an hour during the week and $15 an hour on the weekends. Anybody should be able to afford this. If you want to come in for the whole day and stay until we close, it's $65. The month pass is $175. That allows you to store the bike and work as much as you want on it, unlimited use.