CHB Interviews: Cassidy Vare, Bespoke Bicycles

A few weeks ago, we announced the opening of Bespoke Bicycles on Lafayette.  We spoke with owner Cassidy Vare about his new business and cycling in the city. cassidy

1. When did you decide to open a bike shop?  How did you pick Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene?

I've been dreaming of opening my own shop for years now. I wasn't going to do it this year, but I got laid off from another shop in October, and decided that, perfect time or not, I had to do my own thing, the way I've always wanted to. In a way, getting laid off was the best thing for me.

The location was a bit of an accident. It used to be a car service, and it wasn't until after I'd already moved in that I realized how perfect it was to reclaim a storefront from the clutches of cars and turn it into a bike shop. I'd been looking at Fort Greene for a while, and I always pictured a spot on Dekalb or somewhere nearby. But when it came to walking the neighborhood and looking at spaces, this one was the only one I saw. The price was right, the space was small but "just enough."

2. How long have you been cycling?

I guess it's been about seven years now, since I first moved to Brooklyn. I got a crappy mountain bike just to get from middle-of-nowhere (at the time) Red Hook to anywhere else. Well, that bike got stolen pretty quickly, and it wasn't until I had the second bike that I figured out how much I liked not only riding it, but also taking it apart and figuring it out. It wasn't long after that before I started working in a shop, and I haven't thought much about doing anything else since. 3. What's your personal history?  Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I was born in Colorado and grew up in Connecticut, and I was in and out of NYC from the age of ten. I knew pretty early on that this was the place for me, and when I was nineteen I moved here to go to Hunter College. New York (and even more so, Brooklyn) is the first place I really feel at home so far in my life. However, I did get a little burned out on the city after a few years, and decided to ride my bike to Seattle WA, to visit some folks and see what the west coast was like. I ended up meeting Kim, the woman who's now my wife, there, so I'm obviously really glad I went, but I can't say that Seattle itself agreed with me. I convinced Kim to move back with me, and we now live down in the ambiguous region between Park Slope and Sunset Park.

4. Do you see bikes as an important part of neighborhood (and city) culture?

They're absolutely vital. For me, a bike is the fastest (and cheapest) way to get almost anywhere in the city. A year's worth of Metrocards will cost over $1200. That same $1200 will buy a very fine bicycle that will last much longer than a year. But more importantly, a bicycle is a powerful social tool. You'll see things riding a bicycle from one place to another that you'd never see taking the train. You can also stop to chat with the people you pass every day. I learned the geography of Brooklyn from riding a bike. I learned who lives where. Bikes change the way we live--they bring us down to a human scale, and they remind us what it's like to be people around other people.

5. What kinds of services are you offering at the shop?

We are a full-service repair shop--we'll fix your flat, or take your bike apart and put it back together. My goal is always to make a bike better than it was when it came in. Of course, we sell things too. We have a line of Raleigh bikes, a stock of parts of all types, and accessories to make it easier to use your bike every day, for every purpose.

6. Explain the shop's name.

Well, this follows up nicely. We are also here to build up bikes to order. The word 'bespoke' isn't too popular here in the US, but it's an English word meaning 'custom-made' or 'made to order.' It's used mostly to refer to clothing and of course has the connotation of highest quality. I'd like to think that I can offer all of that in a bicycle. I'm here to provide exactly the bicycle that each client wants. I'll start with the frame that best fits your needs and go from there. This can be an affordable process, but depending on what you want the bike to do or to look like, the only limit is physics.

7. Many of us grew up riding bikes and then left them behind as we became teenagers and adults.  For someone looking to hop back on after years of hiatus, what kind of bike do you recommend?

Well, my first answer is: Any bike at all! Whatever bike you choose will be so much better than no bike at all that it's hard to compare! But if I don't let enthusiasm carry me away, there are some practical concerns. If you're in the market for a bike, first of all look for one that works. I've seen too many people come into shops with about three-quarters of a bike they've just bought for $50, hopeful that we can make it work. It's more expensive in the long run than paying two or three times as much up front for a bike that works properly.

8. Favorite place to ride to in the city:

I like the section of the west side bike path in Manhattan, above 79th Street up to the north tip of the island. Not many people ride that far north, so it's peaceful, and much prettier than below 79th St. I also really like riding the Rockaways.

9. Favorite hangout in the neighborhood:

The folks at the Smoke Joint are great, and it's conveniently right next door to the shop! I like Bonita and The General Greene a lot too. My friend lives on Quincy Street--does her house count?

10. If you were a flavor of ice cream, what would you be and why?

Jamocha Almond Fudge. Because it's amazing.