Vulture Space Bicycle Collective rolls into downtown
For "Bike to Work Week," Michael Horne visits the brand new Vulture Space Bicycle Collective in the heart of downtown.
The giant velodrome that is downtown Milwaukee gained a vital amenity this week with the opening of Vulture Space Bicycle Collective, at 651 N. Plankinton Avenue.
Thanks to the efforts of founder Evan Pack and a group of volunteers, it is now possible to fix a flat tire in the central business district. That simple repair for a common malady previously required a trip of more than a mile away. But Pack and the collective want to do more than patch inner tubes.
“We will offer many services here, including downtown’s only valet bike parking,” Pack said, as he surveyed his new store in the Shops of Grand Avenue‘s Plankinton Building.
The space was formerly occupied by Vans Shoes and has been vacant for about four years. Pack got a deal on the rent through the Creativity Works Here program, and Vulture Space is one of the few shops at the Shops of Grand Avenue with direct street access.
The dark wood shelves and paneling of the shoe store have been painted over in lollipop colors from found paint by his work crew. It’s as if somebody took a Riverwest bike messenger’s apartment and dropped it downtown, Pabst cans and all. A mural of a vulture is on one wall, painted by Armahn Gonzalez.
An exception, he said, is the mop and bucket. Pack fesses up, “I borrowed them from my mom.”
Pack spoke from a countertop that has been re-purposed from a FREE PARKING sign. Meanwhile, volunteers used bike sprockets as stencils to decorate an old vending machine that will be re-purposed to sell patched inner tubes and compressed air—balm for those with flat tires.
Split tubes which are impossible to patch can be converted to other uses, he says. They make great grips for bike polo mallets, for example. Amidst the odds and ends are bicycles that had already been donated to the non-profit.
His own bike, a well-used Fuji, has travelled with him for more than 40,000 miles and was at rest for a change in a corner of the store as he spoke. Pack grew up in Glendale, right around where N. 27th street takes on airs and changes its name to Range Line Road. He was able to save $5,000 to open the store by working off and on for Sobelman’s restaurant.
His first sale came last Wednesday when a mall security guard dropped off a vintage cycle for sale on consignment. Pack put the curious vehicle—a 19th century lever-driven English adult tricycle—in the window and a passerby put a $100 deposit down within a day.
A few other vintage bikes grace the window, including an extraordinary Italian race bike, a top-of-the-line Schwinn Paramount, and a Team Wisconsin model from Waterford Bicycle Company. But these trophies are not his primary motivation. Getting decent working bikes into the hands of the public is.
Pack’s greatest act of scavenging may soon take shape outside the store, which lacks an outdoor bike rack.
A double u-shaped rack will be installed after a few modifications. It had stood for about 8 years outside Regano’s Roman Coin at the northeast corner of N. Astor and E. Brady streets. A couple of weeks ago it was flattened by an errant vehicle, where it lay, wounded on the field of battle, for some time. Rather than see it go to the scrapyard, Pack got permission to grab his tool kit and grind out the few bolts that still anchored the trashed rack to the Brady Street pavement. Right now it is just a few bangs and poundings from being patched up and taking up its new residence on N. Plankinton Ave.