Ever wondered what those attention-drawing, ruckus-seeking, bike-sporting guys and gals on Main Street are all about?
More than you think.
Joe Gaskin, co-founder of Zombie Bikes and UNF literature student (and a long-time friend) sits down to talk about all things Zombie.
Hi Joe. Thanks for seeing me in your "office". So what is Zombie Bikes and how did it get started?
Zombie is a bicycle collective. We repair bikes, provide bike parts, teach people how to build bikes, maintain their own bikes, and occasionally sell bikes, all for a minimal cost, if any.
We’ve been around in one entity or another since 2004. About that time I met this crazy chick from Spain, Lian, at a Food Not Bombs event. Lian and I hit it off and started hanging out. She collected bike parts and kept them in her backyard in Avondale, and it thought was pretty interesting. She started educating me about bike collectives, volunteer shops, found parts, etc. I liked the concept and it started to swirl around in my head.
Not long after I ended up riding my bike down from the Tennessee Smokies to Jacksonville. I vacation up there almost every summer and just thought I should try it. Along the way I passed through Asheville and Atlanta to check out some of their bike collectives and what they were doing. So when I got back to Jacksonville, we started to get more serious about it, and we moved the bike parts from the backyard in Avondale to a garage in 5 Points. This was 2006/07, so by this time we had a group of people that shared a lot of the same ideas.
In early 2008 I got a call from Josh Jubinsky, a friend that had a book and record store on Main Street called Inertia. He had extra space in his building and wanted us to rent it. At that point, myself and a few friends (Alex, Devin, and Bert) threw down money to rent the space. We then had the equipment, we had the space , but we still didn’t have a name. We just started throwing names around and came up with Zombie, because we’re bringing bikes back from the dead.
What specifically does Zombie do?
Basically we’re a volunteer run bicycle shop. All of the parts are found or donated. We man the shop whenever we have time. We teach people how work on their own bikes, providing the tools and used parts, and can even teach them how to build their own bike from scratch if they want. If new parts are needed, we acquire them at extremely low prices through Zen Cog, a bike shop in Riverside. The owner, Garf, is friend to the cause.
Actually, right now we’re going through somewhat of a transition. We’re trying to get non-profit status to apply for grants. We’ve conducted repair and bike safety classes at the Main Library downtown and The 8thStreet Sanctuary, and we want to look at starting some kind of after school program or summer camp centered around bicycle games, maintenance, safety, etc. I have this idea for a “Build-A-Bike” program, where a child would come in, we’d teach him or her how to build their own bike, then they would actually build their own bike themselves with parts from the shop. That would be pretty rad. We want to be community resource.
[ Joe ( wheel in hand ) and other "Zombies" working with children in the Main Library ]
I’ve seen some pretty crazy things going on here. What other things do you guys do?
As far as recreational activities go, we host bike jousting, bike polo, and bike whiplash events. We craft our own “freak bikes”, which is taking multiple bikes and welding them into one. There’s different types of freak bikes: Tall Bikes, Chopper Bikes, Swing Bikes, and the notorious Bikeasaurous Rex.
[ Tall Bike ]
[ Chopper Bike ]
[ Bikeasaurous Rex, sans wheels ]
We also take part in Midnight Mass, which is where 50 to 100 people meet at The Cummer Museum every Thursday night and ride around town in mass. It’s really just an excuse to get together and ride in the middle of the night. We enjoy the lack of cars.
We'll go out of Jax for bike events too. Bike Kill in New York is a big one. It’s a freak bike event involving different bike clubs from around the country. There are other cool events in Richmond, VA, New Orleans, Portland, Philly, etc.
Bike jousting? Bike whiplash? What the heck are those?
Bike jousting is just how it sounds, but on freak bikes. Usually tall freak bikes. We hop on a tall bike, meaning one that’s twice as high as a normal bike, wield long PVC pipes with cushion at the end, and take turns riding at each other, trying to knock the other person off. It can get intense. I shattered my elbow last year when my opponent jumped off his bike and body slammed me mid-air. If you Youtube “world’s greatest tall bike joust” you can watch it. I’m the guy with a shirt on.
[ Tall Bike Jousting ]
No – that’s not the kind of games we would play in an after school program.
Bike whiplash is where we tie a bungee cord around two people at the waist and have them get on bikes facing opposite directions. They take off, and the one who gets yanked off their bike first loses.
Ouch, and ouch. Well, how did you get into bikes in the first place?
I got tired of riding the bus, really. Back in high school I was given this cool little mountain bike. I hadn’t ridden in years. I started riding it everywhere and hanging out with some local bike mechanics, learning things. I guess it’s a slippery slope.
Since then there’s been a whole new bike movement caused by a number of things: high gas prices, the green movement, the healthy living movement, etc. It’s really sent it over the top.
Is there a bike lifestyle, or a bike culture of some sort?
No, not really. I wouldn’t say that. We just try and live outside “the system” if you know what I mean. At least as much as possible. So we’re self-reliant and self-confident. And we want to pass those traits on to others.
There are a few important things about bike code though:
1. A biker build’s his own freak bikes. You can’t have someone do for you or buy it off someone.
2. A biker can’t sell freak bikes. I saw a bike shop up in NYC get it’s window smashed for featuring a freak bike for sale.
3. A biker knows his or her bike, and knows how to fix it and maintain it.
4. A biker respects his fellow bikers. There’s a mutual respect there.
[ Zombie guys, from left to right: Willie, Coz, Jeff, and Joe Gaskin ]
We really like Springfield because (a) the rent is cheap and (b) it’s a developing neighborhood. Things are happening. It’s a good mix of neighborhood and downtown, and it’s a good connecting point for all of our people scattered around Jax.
And with all this crazy gentrification and development going on, it’s good to keep something grassroots, where money isn’t an issue or obstacle. We try not to deal money at all, or as little as possible.
I really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
For more photos, including a tour the Zombie HQ, funky art around compound, and Joe on a tall bike, visit the full Gallery:
Zombie Bikes Basics
Location: 47 W. 1stStreet. 32206
Hours: Most afternoons between 12 & 6pm. If the gate is open, they’re open.
Remember: Labor and used parts are free, donations are appreciated, new parts and whole bikes cost a little something, and Zombie events are usually not for the faint of heart!
I love it.
Feel free to PM me on this issue so we don't have to discuss it on a public forum, I'm sure we can come to some resolution.
Yeah Zombie, great work...you know "for the kids"... how about those kids who are trying to go to bed like the baby next door or the little girl in elementary school? Bill H, since you are such "good friends" why don't you PM me your phone number and I'll call you next time.