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Building Community One Scraped Knuckle at a Time

Or, how I learned to change my own motorcycle oil at Moto Shop.

Ever come across a new business that made so much sense you said to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Well, here is another one.

Let me introduce you to Moto Shop, a DIY motorcycle repair shop in South San Francisco just behind the Tanforan Shopping Center that offers fully equipped maintenance work stations complete with pneumatic lifts and carts full of tools. The shop also holds classes in the basics like changing oil and tires and air filter cleaning, not to mention women’s-only classes in all levels of maintenance, too. Non-mechanical beginners are encouraged, by the way, and are a large portion of Moto Shop’s new clientele.

“Anyone can come and work on their motorcycle (street, dirt, or scooter), with or without help,” said Pacifican Wilder Grippo (a mechanical engineer) who opened the shop several months ago with his wife Aleksandra (a visual designer). “We also offer classes in just about anything you need to know to keep your bike well maintained and are happy to give individual instruction while you are here if you run into a snag.”

Moto Shop offers motorcycle enthusiasts a clean, well-lit place to come and do regular maintenance as well as long term modifications to their machines at a fraction of the cost a traditional motorcycle repair shop or custom bike builder would charge. All this and more are eight short minutes from Pacifica.

From a hobby to a business

The story of how Wilder and Aleksandra thought up and created Moto Shop is an interesting and organic tale of romance, friendships and organized motorcycle rides spanning eight years, tens of thousands of miles and hundreds of scraped knuckles.

Wilder, after four years of marriage, convinced Aleksandra to take a basic motorcycle-training course, the kind that allows you to get a motorcycle license without having to submit yourself to a DMV driving test.  

Aleksandra aced the course and started riding on weekends with Wilder and his buddies. They started a riding group, the Bay Area Moto Group (BAMG), and organized rides hither and yawn for the group’s eventual 300-plus members on most weekends. Some rides were nothing more than a back yard BBQ while members worked on their machines.

One day, Wilder and Aleksandra decided there was a market for a DIY maintenance shop. They took their lifestyle one step further and made it into a business by creating Moto Shop. The process was a progression from pure enthusiasm to realizing they could marshal that energy into doing something they both loved for a living.

Opening Moto Shop was the end result of a four-year journey neither knew they were taking until they arrived.  

Wilder’s mechanical engineering background is an enormous benefit in the shop, especially when he’s helping customers that are new to tinkering on their own machines and doing complicated tasks like synchronizing carburetors or an electrical modification. He’s generous with his knowledge, which in turn builds confidence in his customers. Wilder and Aleksandra consider Moto Shop a community center of sorts, and the couple hopes the shop becomes just that for motorcycle enthusiasts of all shapes and sizes: a place to hang out, learn, fix and ride.

Inside the shop

Visiting Moto Shop is like walking into Santa’s workshop if Santa was a friendly biker. First, you are greeted by Tracker, the shop dog, a chocolate brown Lab that has a deep sounding bark. But don’t let that scare you, because Tracker’s tail will be wagging so hard and so fast he will barely be able to walk up to you for a welcomed scratch. Looking to your right you will see a beautiful wall-to-wall mural done by seven Bay Area graffiti artists. To the left, you will see a 1980 factory works small displacement Yamaha road racing machine up on a table that will transport you back to when you first fell in love with motorcycles and your mom tried, in vain, to warn you to stay away from them, just like, “those types of girls.” Sorry mom, no can do. 

Walking further into the 4000 sq. ft. facility, you start to see the workstations, the bike lifts and big red rolling tool chests stuff full of possibilities just like on those motorcycle reality shows. This time, however, those lifts and tools are for you, not some pampered biker’s son or some overmedicated self-absorbed biker legend. Those trays of socket wrenches, that oil changing station, that welder and wheel balancing machine are all yours.

If you haven’t worked with a pneumatic bike stand before, where everything is made easily reachable and you don’t have to sit on a cold concrete floor, you are in for the treat of your life. No more bending yourself over into an awkward pretzel to get to that freakin’ screw, no more reaching up and around for that spot that can’t be got to. No, with a pneumatic lift you simply raise and lower your bike as needed to reach exactly where and what you need to adjust, remove or replace. That alone is worth the insanely reasonable pricing of taking you motorcycle to Moto Shop.

And if you haven’t had the pleasurable experience of changing your oil and filter while sitting on a stool as you foot-paddle yourself around an elevated motorcycle lift, lazily humming fancy tunes to yourself as your bike drains its expired elixir, brothers and sisters, I’m here to tell you it is the most amazing sense of freedom from cold, dust and dampness you will ever have.

Building community

Moto Shop wants to promote the idea of community, of a safe haven where enthusiasts are encouraged to engage one another as they tinker away on their respective machines, just like in the old days when Wilder and Alexandra and their 300-plus members of BAMG would, talking and working on their bikes.

Moto Shop is a new kind of bike shop, one made just for you by a couple of people that are just like you where it’s okay to ask a question and get some hands-on experience. 

To contact Moto Shop, visit their website. It has a complete description of the services and classes that are offered as well as pricing. You will find schedules for upcoming classes in the basics as well as advanced instruction on rebuilding your carburetor(s) and brake calipers. There is also information on upcoming seminars and lectures by well-known authors and innovators that are usually free.

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Cindy Abbott February 10, 2012 at 12:33 AM
"All of this and more are just eight short minutes from Pacifica." Wondering if there were options to open this shop in Pacifica. If not, what hindered that? No big open mechanical space? or?
Todd Bray February 10, 2012 at 02:12 AM
It's the type of space and zoning Cindy. Not much real industrial space in Pacifica or zoning that would allow this type of business to open.
hutch February 10, 2012 at 03:27 AM
Yeah except down on Palmetto near the trailer park. That's our light industry area.
Cindy Abbott February 10, 2012 at 04:49 AM
Thanks for clarifying Todd. I was also thinking of the mid-Palmetto area but also have read in the general plan proposals that area -- at least the west side -- might be better served (and safer with the eroding hillsides) to be more recreation oriented.
Diet T February 12, 2012 at 02:28 AM
Todd, what a wonderful article!
Todd Bray February 12, 2012 at 04:42 AM
Thank you, T, it wrote itself.
aleks February 28, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Hi -- I'm one of the owners of Moto Shop and thought I would chime in about the location decision. We actually own a house in Pacifica and lived here for 6 years so we're quite familiar with the town too. We wanted to be as close to possible to SF and the freeway systems. South SF seemed to be the best spot. --- Thanks Todd for such a great article!
Iya March 03, 2012 at 10:17 AM
Nice one guys. Great idea. Hoping to get to the US one day so maybe you guys can point me in the direction of where to hire a cycle. Got a full U.K / Irish driving licence but not sure what the rules and regs are in the US.... Always dreamed of riding the US freeways with the wind in my hair. Great article Todd. Owen
Todd Bray March 03, 2012 at 03:29 PM
OWEN!! Just get here my Brother. If I can't borrow something for you rentals with insurance and taxes are about $120 a day for a freeway rated machine. Lots od choices from Harley's, BMW and Japanese models. You can even rent a Royal Enfield!

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