Before you can head out on the highway, you need to get your motor running. For motorcycle enthusiasts with old bikes, finding a garage to do the work at all, let alone not charging exorbitant rates, can be quite the odyssey.
Former Saint Martin de Porres High School teacher Brian Schaffran has what he feels is the answer with his relatively new Skidmark Garage. The 10,000-square-foot community motorcycle garage recently moved from the Hildebrandt Provision Building to a new collaborative building located at 5401 Hamilton Ave. on the eastern edge of AsiaTown.
CoolCleveland talked to Schaffran, who last year hosted reality Esquire Network show Wrench Against the Machine, about his vision for Skidmark Garage.
What exactly is the idea behind Skidmark Garage?
It’s a community DIY garage where I provide you with all of the tools for you to bring in your motorcycle and work on it yourself. I opened two and a half years ago because I bought an old bike, 1978 Honda CV750, and I couldn’t find anybody to work on it. It’s a common problem — the dealerships won’t touch them. If you find a mechanic, they’re asking for quite a bit of money. And if you have an old bike, it’s going to break down quite often, so you better know how to fix it yourself. It just seemed like a natural answer.
I figured everyone that has an old bike is working on it themselves so why not create a place where everybody can hang out and work on their old bikes with each other.
Was there a business model you used to come up with Skidmark Garage?
No, there wasn’t one. I came up with it in 1995. I was driving an old Volkswagen in Los Angeles and having the same problems. I thought how cool it would be to have a garage where you could have like 10 lifts and people can drive in and put their car in and fix it themselves and roll out. I was like 24 at the time. I didn’t have any money, so I sat on that idea for 20 years. Then finally after thinking about it over and over and over for 20 years, I realized that it would be a lot easier for motorcycles instead of cars. So I started saving tools from garage sales maybe 10 or 15 years ago and stacked them in the back of my personal garage. Then I took the plunge in January 2015. It’s been pretty tough to grow because it’s a completely foreign concept for most people. It hasn’t exploded like I expected it to because it’s really difficult to market the idea. No one understands what it is. It involves education even more so than simply marketing. For a long time I had one or two members, and I’m finally up to the point where I have more members than I have bays for people to work in, which is a great problem. I can have up to 50 members with my 10 bays. Right now I’m up to 12 members.
What does a Skidmark Garage membership include?
A membership gets you unlimited access hours to all of the tools — hand tools, welders, sandblasters. Also, there’s the community of people who are helping each other work on stuff and the Wi-Fi so you can watch videos. Most of the guys who come in don’t know what they’re doing, so they need help. Everyone that’s there is helping each other figure out the problems and fix the things and hanging out and having a beer and jamming to tunes.
What kind of tunes are you talking about?
Everyone that joins gets to choose three bands to add to the Pandora shuffle. There’s a John Williams station so Star Wars-themed music comes on quite a bit. There’s also Lily Allen, Sam Cooke, Metallica, Miles Davis, Pantera and Billy Joel.
Have you looked into expanding the Skidmark Garage concept outside of Northeast Ohio?
Right now there are about 25 community motorcycle garages in the country and there’s only one in Ohio. I would love to have a circle of them around the rust belt area, like in Detroit, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Buffalo. One of the shorter of the long-term goals is I’m starting a nonprofit. I’m going to take a huge trailer full of tools and a couple of bikes and go around to three or four high schools every day and bring shop class back to the high schools. I’ll teach them how to read a manual, how to document what they’re doing, how to use their brains and hands at the same time, and make them aware that even though high schools are focused on testing to get to college, there are other options and they can’t be shipped overseas. There are things like being a mechanic and being able to problem solve. Hopefully I’ll have that going by the 2018-2019 school year. We have OTC (Ohio Technical College) here in Cleveland. Most kids aren’t even aware that’s a school they can go to learn how to be a mechanic. I want to in a sense be a feeder for those places.
Is there a sense that what you’re doing is tantamount to people belonging to an amateur radio or Commodore 64 club. That is, celebrating something from a bygone era?
That’s a good question. I suppose in a way I wish I could say absolutely, because I love being labeled alongside those super-geek clubs, but I think this is actually still a little bit more practical than the Commodore 64 club.
Any chance people mistake the name of your operation with an underwear mishap?
That’s the greatest. That’s why I named it that because I think poop jokes are the funniest thing ever. I thought it was a cool combination.
Just to be clear, a Skidmark Garage membership does include use of the bathroom?