By Greta Cobar
One thing about Venice is that everyone is rolling on something: be it a bike, skateboard, rollerblades, unicycle or tricycle.
“I’m here to keep the wheels rolling in Venice.”, said Manny Gonzalez, of Manny’s Lowrider Bikes. “I keep things as cheap as possible so people can afford to fix their bikes”, he answered when I asked him why his prices are so low.
Being one of the oldest, if not the oldest bike shop in town, Manny’s has earned and kept the allegiance of many, especially those that have been around the block once or twice. It is by far the cheapest place in town to get a new bicycle, tricycle or unicycle, an accessory or a replacement part. If you are looking for a new bike for hundreds or thousands, this is not the place for you. However, when it comes to customizing a ride or getting an old bike worth a fortune, it’s the spot.
Among 1960s Schwinn Orange Krates with gear handles on the frame and other classics sits a 1929 Elgin with wheels made out of wood. Most of the old collection got moved into storage to make room for new, shiny beach cruisers. Manny probably has one of the biggest collections of old, classic wheels around.
When I asked him how many old bikes he has, he said hundreds. When I asked him from what years, he said all years. “My kind of guy.”
But when I asked him how these classics are selling, he said: “people don’t have the money for the old bikes, they would rather get a car. But people should ride bikes more for their health ” too many people are overweight. Also, when you ride in a car you tend to miss things in the neighborhood.”
The shop tends to overflow its bicycles and customers onto the sidewalk, as there are just way too many of both. Most come in for a deal and a joke. Some walk away with just a conversation.
“If I make so much money why do I have my other job?”, Manny asked me, referring to his other full-time job: food clerk at Pavilions.
“Fixing bikes is my favorite part about the job. Repair is more challenging than selling a new bike, and I like it more. I enjoy what I’m doing. The day I don’t enjoy it, I’ll quit,” Manny said.
“Everything is getting expensive, and I try to keep my prices as low as I can,” he re-iterated, as if I didn’t already get that he is not there to make a killing. And it’s probably why he’s been there so long.
“Me and my compadre Joey Randall opened the shop in 1991, but after a couple of years he got different
things to do,” Manny said.
“My dad was born in Santa Monica in 1922 and he always talked about Venice, the fruit trees that were everywhere, and how Penmar Park used to be a lake. I like Venice because it’s old town and there’s a lot of
history around,” Manny said.
Talking about the time when he opened shop as a youngster, Manny said: “I wanted all the bikes I could have.” And thus his collection started.
“When I was a kid I never owned a bike. My dad couldn’t afford it at that time. I got my first bike at 12, it was a Red Hand little cruiser,” he said.
Venice legend German Peter rides a cruiser that says: “It’s the Journey, not the Destination.” And so it proved to be for Manny, who could
n’t have a bike as a child and then went on to become one of the biggest collectors of classics on one, two, three and even four wheels.
So which one does he take to the beach on the weekend? None, really. “I don’t have the time, I work all the
time,” he said.
Located at 1613 Lincoln, Manny’s Lowrider Bikes is in the middle of the gentrifying movement taking over Lincoln much as it did Ab
bot Kinney a few years ago. As Manny pointed out, the vacuum repair shop across the street from him will be gone
come next month. The printer that used to be a few doors down from his shop is already gone. And so are B&S Auto Shop, and of course Lincoln Fabrics, which has been replaced with a boutique-like antique store that moved from Santa Monica.
From Whole Foods on the Rose end of Lincoln, to the new cubiclelike construction on the Maxella end of the strip, with the Deus Ex Machina just mid-way on Venice, we are witnessing a hyper-gentrification with new places of business that are changing the local vibe by changing the price range.
“In any business there’s always competition ” I do the best I can and that’s it ” nothing else I can do,” Manny said. Bike shops are some of the most competitive businesses in Venice, with shops claiming territory and fiercely rivaling one another. Just as I was writing stuff down in the middle of everything that was going on in that bike shop on that day, someone called in asking for a price quote. Marty, one of the guys, quickly replied: “Just a couple of bucks.” I hope to be able to call that number and get an answer like that for a long time to come! If I couldn’t, I’d be like a lost kid on a bike.
It is important that we continue to support our tried-and-true local businesses like Manny’s Lowrider Bikes, which operates more to provide a service than to make another buck. As long as Manny’s happy while keeping us rolling, we will all continue to happily roll on.
Photos by Greta Cobar.