Just past Shay’s Restaurant, a favorite hangout of Harvey Pekar’s located at the corner of East 40th Street and St. Clair Avenue, sits a newer Cleveland secret. Weekend project motorheads who are aware of the space are flocking to Skidmark Garage. Skidmark is a community motorbike repair or modification workshop, and the creation of Brian Schaffran. Skidmark’s workspace is the culmination of an idea that finally came to fruition after 20 years of work.
Brian’s idea for a collaborative motorbike workspace came to him while living in California. Brian did not discover his love of motorcycles in Cali. He instead discovered how easy it was to work on engines.
His roommate at the time was a motorcyclist with a can-do attitude. “When he wanted to change something on his bike, he just did it,” Brian says. That DIY spirit jarred Brian, and soon he was tooling on his Volkswagen into the night right next to his roommate.
Years later while working as a teacher, Brian’s school had a transformative idea. To keep the kids engaged, every class would have one week off from the classic syllabus. The teaching staff took kids to various museums and other non-traditional classroom experiences to taste the culture. Brian brought in three Honda CB motorcycles. No field trip, just greasy hands.
“Seeing those kids tear those bikes down to the ground, I realized they had no idea how to start, they didn’t know how to use tools, but they were having fun,” Brian recalls. The kids’ active engagement was the first glimpse Brian had of how this community garage idea could work.
After years networking and collecting tools, Skidmark Garage officially kicked off in 2015. The heart of midtown is now the home of Cleveland’s DIY project bike revolution. Brian shares space with many local businesses, including Ingenuity, the local celebration of all that is DIY and weird. Brian has planted his business deep within the area’s self-starting culture.
Brian has made a space where people can tear motorcycles down and get their hands dirty. Dirty hands are not really commonplace these days. Brian still has people ask, “I can drop my bike off and you’ll fix it, right?” The answer is no. If you want to keep your hands clean and wait on a mechanic to call you and tell you it’s time to ride, that’s not the idea behind the collaborative workspace.
It’s an ongoing challenge to get people to understand exactly what goes on at Skidmark. In short, you rent a space and drag your bike in to fix it or slap on some new parts. The Garage offers use of all the tools in the shop and the knowledge of the community within Skidmark.
The Garage is adaptable, as Brian teams with businesses and even brides looking for an odd wedding venue to make the best use of the space. Skidmark is more than a huge garage filled with motorcycles in various stages of repair. They also have an old school lounge bar because a burgeoning mechanic needs to have a place to sit down and have a cold one after a hard day of wrenching.
Skidmark is a place for people of all backgrounds and skill levels to come and try their hand at fixing something so they can ride off and see the other side of Cleveland. Brian’s next step is to make Skidmark mobile, taking tools and old bikes or cars into schools all across Northeast Ohio. It’s an appropriate goal since Skidmark started with the accomplishment Brian felt as he would watch the kids wipe the grease off their hands and marvel at something they mended.
If you’d like to get your hands dirty, learn more about Skidmark at skidmarkgarage.com or @skidmarkgarage on Instagram.
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James Earl Brassfield or simply JEB is a writer, podcast host, humorist, actor and “Black Hunter Thompson” type madman of no ill repute. Language has yet to evolve fully to describe his unique view of Northeast Ohio and the world. JEB produces work across all media with his original and clearly stated voice. @Jearlbrass