Niki gave us a tour of the entire floor of the old brick building, stopping last at her own Mobius Cycle space within it nearest the door. Daniel and I both fell in love with the whole space instantly. I could feel his thoughts in my mind. He would LOVE to work in a space like this when he makes the leap to full-time photographer. Individual spaces, within a true community space, with plenty of extra space to hang out, talk, play, listen. It is a space without pretention and without the pile of expectations that often come with more intentionally collaborative or cooperative space.
I half thought Daniel might put down his camera and start playing pool at their giant pool table. But the lure of shooting the space proved too great, and he disappeared completely about half way through the tour. Niki and I began to talk as we walked.
Lori: How did this come to be a work space?
Niki: [Niki laughs] Well, I was a bike messenger, in, I believe, 2004. And I started working a later shift, and working past 5 p.m. with a friend of mine, and he taught me how to use Craigslist for the first time.
So I wasn’t much of a computer person at the time. I’d taken a few years off just because the technology went so crazy so fast. And the first ad I saw for a work space—I basically needed a storage/workspace—I was planning on moving to California, San Francisco, to open a bike shop. And I’d been working as a bike mechanic for like 4 years. And even as a messenger, doing a dream job of mine, I was missing the bike work, so I had been doing it in my apartment for about a year and a half. Bringing home other messengers, working on their bikes, for free, for bars of soap, for beers, whatever, you know, they had to trade.
And I finally realized that I was starting to burn out doing both work on the bike all day and then bike work at night. And so I thought “Ok, well, how can I turn this into a business?”
And my plan was to go to San Francisco and start it up there. I did really like the idea of being in sunnier weather. But I was falling deeply in love with Seattle, and it was kind of hard to leave.
So I was trying to save money, sharing a space with a friend, and needed somewhere to keep my bike mechanic stuff. And I looked online, and I was really into playing pool at the time, and I saw the pool table here. We have an 8-foot slate pool table—and the open space behind it—and I thought “Wow. That’s really neat. And it’s downtown, so I can go there on my breaks from messengering and after work, work on bikes, and then head home up the hill.”
So I walked in the space, took one look at it, fell madly in love. I love old buildings. It’s an 1890s wood and brick building. In the spring of 2005 I moved in here from my apartment and started doing work on bikes.
At the time we had a manager who owned the Alibi Room in Pioneer Square. He just basically had it as a secondary office space, because they have really limited space down there. After a year or so of working here, he decided to leave the space, and it kind of left our tenancy up in the air since he was the one who knew the owner of the building.
So my buddy Rosa and I—who also holds space here—decided to take over and try to fill the space up more. Because the building was mostly empty. There were a few floors used for storage. But it had so much potential. And it was really my idea to work on the space to get it to where it is. Rosa helped by being the more stable financial person to kind of be my co-manager.
So we slowly worked on filling up the spaces. Got some of my friends in. Cory of Dank Bags, he makes the most amazing messenger bags I’ve ever seen in the back corner. He was the first person I moved in here before I shmuzed the manager. And then just kept bring people in who were a little bit bike oriented, because it’s hard to park downtown. And it works better with everybody here that they at least like bikes enough to be ok residing in a bike shop for their work space.
After a couple years, we’d been managing the space, a space downstairs came open and another space upstairs came open. My job with the landlord was kind of to try to keep the building full, so that he would be happy with the rent and let us keep having our wonderful space here. I started filling stuff up and then Rosa and I decided, like, “Why don’t we try splitting into two floors, instead of one.” And we had a full floor, managing that ok. So she moved upstairs. A few people moved with her. And then we filled up those two spaces over the year.
And then one of our other tenants I’d rented to decided to take the floor below. So now we actually have three working full, entire floor spaces full of artists. Upstairs is mostly folks that create for the market. Here [on this floor] is a lot of bike folks that do all kinds of diverse things. Then downstairs there are a few architects, painters, and their side work is a lot of art stuff. And a few office people doing different things.
Now we have three whole floors and the building is just jam packed with folks doing cool stuff.
Lori: Fun! When I was interviewing Colin, he was telling me that the old immigration building is now a big artist space too.
Lori: Lots and lots of—not as heavy industrial as he is—but lots of artists and a couple of bike people down in that building too. We want to go to that one too. I know where that building is, but I had no idea it had changed into anything else.
Niki: What’s interesting is we’ve actually been doing this since, I guess, the spring of 2005. I’ve seen all of those spaces come into being in the last few years.
Niki: I’ve been here 8 years now.
Lori: It’s funny to be the old timer [Niki laughs], right?
Lori: That’s true in the coworking world here. Office Nomads is a coworking space for digital makers, basically. And, now there’s, I don’t know, maybe 10-plus coworking spaces in Seattle, and they just turned 5, or they’re turning 5 in November. And they’re the granddaddy’s of the movement! [Niki giggles, I join her.] Everybody goes to them for everything, because they’ve been doing it for SO LONG. [laughs] Everybody else is, like, a year.
Niki: It’s always funny when people come in here for the first time. The first thing is they’re blown away at how big the space is. How much open space there is just to be in. As city dwellers, we don’t quite realize how small our spaces are that we occupy. And it’s always been one of my major tenets of the space was “No walls, no separation.” Because that really closes down the space. And it’s really more of a community than anything. There’s no charter, we don’t co-op together necessarily, but we all trade. It’s really free form. There are no pre-set rules. But we’re all buddies. We all work together.
Lori: Do you have competing stereos?
Colin said they have a neighbor with competing stereos.
Niki: No, you know, that was one of the things about working in bike shops, was how annoying it was to have people fight over the radio. There’s something about this space that. People are far enough away, and everybody has headphones. That, it’s kind of like, I’ll play something for a while. I’ll get sick of my own music a lot of the time and I’ll be like “Hey, Cory, will you play something from YouTube? And then Matt Fey—he has a recording studio right over there—and he’ll play some of his cool samples that he’s made, get us all pumped up on that. But it’s kind of like “Hey, does anybody mind if I play a few songs?” And we just keep it to a minimum. I think we all know each other so well that there’s really not much head-butting or anything. We just kind of flow.
My theory has always been like everybody kind of knows I’m the manager. When I’m here I just, maybe I’ll have my iPod on, maybe I won’t even bother. But they’ll just make sure it’s ok with me and it just seems to kind of branch off from there. I’m not the kind of person who wants to lord over the music either.
Lori: So how many people work on this floor?
Niki: Fifteen to 20 at any given time, although it’s really nice because everybody has slightly different schedules. So Kim actually makes beautiful cashmere underwear and lingerie and sells them at the market, so she a lot of the time works earlier in the day. And then her husband shares the space next to her, and he’s a cyclocross racer who works on his own bikes and refinishes wood and stuff. So they’re a married couple sharing two spaces. They’re both here at different times as well. I actually hardly ever see Andrew. And I see Kim sometimes right as she leaves. But that’s kind of one of the things I make sure to let everybody know.
Hey, I have a bike shop here. It’s going to be a little busy after 6 p.m., between 6 and late, people are either like “Oh, that’s totally when I want to work and I need silence.” And I’ll say, “Well, we’ve got this floor upstairs, it’s a little quieter during that time, you could try that.” So it’s almost like the right fit already moves in at the beginning, so we don’t really. We kind of have a trouble-free space a lot of the time. [laughs] It’s really nice.
Lori: Yeah. It’s interesting, that’s true, of a lot of coworking spaces too. It’s all people who come in and want to work in a collaborative space. People, a lot of people don’t believe you when you say there’s no trouble. [We laugh together.]
Niki: Right?! Our biggest trouble has been the Internet going out. We had a little bit of trouble with one tenant, once, a while back, because he was hanging out here overnight too much. That’s our one rule. I feel like when work spaces become a place where somebody tries to live—even for a short amount of time—it can really spoil it for the other tenants who need to have that be just work space. And it’s accessible 24/7. So when we keep that hard, fast rule about no one encroaching on living space here, it really does keep the trouble to a minimum.
And the other thing too. There’s something special, I feel, about this space that really encourages creativity. And then when you’re working around people who are working so hard all the time, it encourages you to get into your work. You know, at the end of the night, a lot of times this will dissolve into a hangout session around YouTube videos, or we all just sit at the table and have pizza or something. It’s really organic that way.
And that’s kind of the way I work. Like, when I say I work on bikes holistically, it’s like when I touch your bike, I’m going to work on everything. I’m going to give you a lump sum for your labor amount, but I’m not going to leave anything unturned. If I see a problem, it’s going to get fixed or at least addressed to the point where it’s safe enough for you to continue riding the way it is. So I kind of use that same feeling with the space. Just to keep it really organic so that we only have a couple of really hard, fast rules and everything else is negotiable, let’s talk about it. If anybody has a problem, they come to me and we try to deal with it from there. Things just seem to resolve themselves perfectly, you know, when you give it that space.
I also give a lot of trust here. I have a full bike shop full of beautiful objects, expensive objects too. Instead of having locks on every case, I’m sharing with 15 people, and I have not a lock in sight. The only lock is on the door. Because if you give people trust, they act trustworthy. I’ve found that to be more than true. I don’t think in the entire 8 years that I’ve been here anyone has stolen a single item from my inventory.
Niki: And a lot of that is just because it’s just obvious that you’re being trusted. People are terrified of going in the case, even though all it does is slide open. They’re like “Oh, it’s not ok, right? It’s so pretty, I can’t.” And I’m like, “No, go ahead. Open it. I’m over here doing this thing. Just look at the thing. I know there’s one of those in there.”
Niki: I’m not too concerned that it’s going to walk away.
Lori: Yeah, I think having coworking in my house has taught me that. People who show up, and lead with trust, are trustworthy. [We laugh together.]
Lori: If you’re going to come and trust me. I live in the Central District. It’s kind of unusual just to walk into somebody’s house you don’t know. And come in and work.
Niki: Especially in Seattle. [laughs]
Lori: In Seattle, yeah. Whatever fear I had in my mind, it’s completely gone now. Because everybody who’s shown up has been amazing. Whoops, so yeah, I’ve gone completely off script.
Niki: That’s ok.
Lori: So, my next question is what work is done here? What work do you do here, in this space?
Niki: Holistic care for folks, through bicycles.
Niki: Because, I mean, I originally wanted to be a surgeon. But then I realized that emergency medicine wasn’t teaching people how to live differently. You’re not giving them skills, and so then I thought about massage therapy for a while. But then I realized that I personally needed a little bit more of a separator.
Lori: [to Daniel] Daniel, she did think about massage therapy as a career for a while! [Niki laughs.] He heard “holistic bike shop” and he’s like, “Ooo, do you think they have massages there?” [We laugh together.]
Niki: Well, I kind of realized that I needed a little bit more separation, just emotionally, for my own boundaries. Because that’s a really exhausting career. But what I ended up realizing, when I sat down in my middle twenties, is I thought about “Ok, so what does all the stuff I like to do have in common?” And the only thing I ever came up with was bicycles. Because I’d ridden them since I was 3 or 4 years old, I never stopped. My mom never. We owned a car but we road bikes like 20 miles in a day on a day off. Just kind of got around that way. They’d always been such a big part of my life. My first bike was custom. She went to the junk yard, got a bunch of stuff, repainted it, painted “Niki Snooper” on it because she’s an artist, and a dancing Woodstock on the headbadge. And so it was like “What am I missing in my life that I really need?” And it’s bikes. Whatever it is, it has to be about bikes.
So for me, that was. I like a lot of different things, a lot of different subjects, and so I kind of had to bring as much of every other part of life into bikes that I could. Working for someone else was kind of difficult, because there were limits as to how far you could go, and how good you could be. The better you were, almost got you into more trouble, just because there was. Everybody just wanted to maintain this line, but I wanted to go beyond the line. And actually have a way to support my life so that I was happy, and I just didn’t find that career working for someone else.
Then I messengered, and I was like “Freedom! Oh my goodness! Maybe this is what I need?” I’ve always felt like I could be the boss, but I never wanted to be the boss. So I realized that I wanted to work for myself, not alone, but without being a boss. And owning your own business, and doing bikes the way you want to, the only way to really control the product, literally, is to do it yourself. And if you’re the excellent mechanic around, you don’t want to say “Oh, I’m going to start this bike shop, make sure there’s parts, and leave some people to tend it.” It’s like “I’m going to build bikes for the rest of my life if I can! And now I’m building these bikes I love and need photographs because they go out there and get hammered and used, you know. But they always get used, because that’s the most important thing. That’s the clientele I want is the people who use the object.
So then it just became art. It became life, because it’s how I get around. And it became just an organic thing that I continue to change. Like, yes, I’m going to build a dark room to develop photographs of bicycles but other things, because now I’m really into photography as a passion. And then, just kind of keeping adding to it, and continuing to evolve with my interests, my abilities.
Because, you know, I had a bike injury as a messenger 5 years ago that made me a lot more sedentary as a person, but it also opened back up that intellectual, slash, I don’t know, I just apply myself to so many different things that it actually reopened things that I had forgotten about. Like, ok, I’m going to walk around town because my back hurts. What am I going to do with that time? I’m going to take some photos. I’m going to stop and enjoy it, you know, I’m going to look at what I like, and do it with a camera.
Lori: You started to walk into one of my last questions. Some people I’ve been interviewing, we’ve been talking about work and play, work space vs. play space. So [Niki laughs conspiratorially.] our web site’s called Different Office. We are on the look-out for self-created, soul-satisfying work spaces but.
Do you have a feel for how much of what is done here is work versus play?
Lori: Is there a difference in your mind?
Niki: Actually, let me start with a definition. I feel that work has been misdefined in our culture recently.
Niki: And that one of the things I was trying to do here was literally what you said: get rid of the “Shoulds” in my work environment. And I’ve done that, one at a time, slowly over the years, as I’ve realized that I had a “Should” attached to something. One of those things is time of day that I work. The fact that I come in at 6 p.m. just blows people’s minds regularly. Used to be 5 and I tried 4, I tried 2 p.m., I tried Saturdays, that was terrible. Nobody ever came in. Nobody really wants to be downtown on Saturday unless they’re there to consume and purchase things at big stores that are already prepackaged, you know, it just didn’t quite work.
What I realized quickly. Well, when I started I was working full-time as a messenger, so that was the only time I could work. But that’s when everyone gets off work, with the exception of restaurant folks, and that’s when they need a shop to be open. Because bike repair, to me, should never be a hurried thing, unless it’s to get a messenger back on the road, or somebody who really just needs to finish their commute. And then it’s like, sure, I can power through race-mechanic style.
What I’d rather do is take the entire evening with you and your bicycle, strip everything down that needs to be done, maybe it’ll only take a few hours. Maybe it’ll take 6 hours because we’re hanging out and talking the whole time. But to me, the connection that we share over your bicycle, and that I help strengthen your connection to your bicycle through the process—I also teach how to repair—needs as much time as possible.
So for a while I was coming in at 5 and people would come in after work and be really harried and be like “Oh, I just got off work, let me tell you about all this stuff that happened in the office, it was terrible! It really doesn’t matter!” But it was just, ah, it was just so agitated. And then I would say “Why don’t I wait until 6 and see what happens?” And people started coming in like, at 6:30 after maybe, if they’re into it, maybe go have a beer, or go home, go get food, and then they come in with this different energy, mindset, of “I’m done with my day, I’m ready to commit my energy and awareness to this thing that I’m doing.”
And so, for me, that’s the most important. Is keeping that safe space surrounding the bike work. And so that’s where the entire space is grown out of. Is really just that needing to have a comfortable, intimate space to share the connection that someone has with their bike. It is really an emotional thing, having your bike worked on. And a lot of times people get, um, just kind of a rough time at bike shops, because they’re restricted by the amount of money they can pay, the employees, because of their overhead, because making bikes has never really paid a lot of money to anyone, really.
It’s hard to be a bike shop owner, people don’t realize that all the time. It’s always going to be a struggle. It’s never going to set the world on fire, so to speak, monetarily, but it gives you a chance to really enjoy your life. Because you’re not dealing with paying for a car, if you’re commuting with your bicycle, so you have a different kind of freedom, and a different kind of economy. You need less, basically, and helping enable people to do that. One of my favorite things is when people sell their cars to build a bike here, I’m like “Yay! That was cool!” And sometimes it’s that they switch to Zip Car, like my partner and I have, you know.
Lori: [giggling] I switched to my feet.
Niki: Yeah, exactly, walking is fantastic.
Niki: Especially with a camera! [laughs]
Lori: After all my years of commuting to Microsoft, when I quit, I said, I’m just going to quit for myself, I’m just going to work from home, and I started walking everywhere, sold the car, and I was like, ah. I was so much less angry. Like now, I’m very conscious—because [Daniel] still has his car and I sometimes take it places—I’m conscious that being in the car is one of the only places anymore where I will ever get angry.
Lori: So it’s like, why spend any time in a car at all? [laughs]
Niki: I couldn’t agree more. Cars are funny because they reinforce the disconnect, I feel. Like, you know, people complain about the Internet being kind of a disconnect, or texting, or whatever, all that stuff. And really you’ve got a bunch of tools. And it’s how you decide to use the tools. But I think the combination of all those things is difficult, because what happens a lot of times, I feel, is the “Shoulds” take over. Like, “I Should be able to own a car.” “It Should be as high-quality as I can manage.” And then as soon as you get into that loop, you’re in a difficult spot. Because not only do you have to upkeep the car, keep putting gas in, you have to deal with tickets, just the stress, and.
Lori: Maintenance, insurance, and
Niki: and you hardly ever get to really feel the freedom that it is to actually drive around in a car. Like, maybe out in the country on a fun ride with the windows down and the music blaring and really enjoying yourself like you would, on maybe a car trip in the 90s, you know? [laughs]
Lori: I, now, since I rarely drive a car, when I do, it’s often fun!
Lori: Because it’s fast!
Niki: [laughs] like Whoa!
Lori: I remember when I was like, back in South Dakota when I was 15, and learning to drive. Like “Oh my God, this is cool!” That’s how I am in a car now, because it doesn’t happen that often.
Niki: Yeah! Sure. And I think that’s one of those familiarity kind of things, you know. When you have to do something, it takes a lot of the fun out of it.
Lori: Yeah, that’s true. So can you tell me about one of your favorite memories from this space?
Niki: Whoa, it just happened, actually, isn’t that great? I have a lot of them but the most recent, and one of the highlights, I think, it was the most impactful.
We just recently. Ok, I’ll start with this. The messenger world has a couple of really huge events every year. One is the NACCC, which is the North American Cycle Courier Championships. And it happens somewhere in North America. The cities bid for it every year. So you’re at the NACCC for, say 2011, and you say “Hey, I want 2012. My city, we can do this, we can do this, we can do this.” You convince everybody in the group to vote for you, then you end up being the one who gets the chance to throw the NACCC two years from now.
So, some buddies of mine put in the bid, in 2011, so we managed to score the NACCC for 2013. And the only messenger event bigger than that, in the world, is Worlds. Which actually just happened this year, and a local guy, Craig Etheridge, was the first North American to win Worlds, #1. But he did it two years in a row now: once in Guatemala and this year he won in Chicago.
Niki: So now we’re also hosting the NACCC in 2013, which is really exciting.
Lori: I hadn’t heard that.
Niki: Yeah, so it’s coming up. But in order to get ready for that we’re throwing fundraisers all the time. And one of the ways I’m supporting the guys who are throwing it is was to do a fundraiser here. And my good friend Sydney Stolfus is a member of The Redwood Plan. They’re an amazing band locally here, I really think that eventually they’re going to get picked up nationally and make a big splash. They’re already making kind of a big smash in Seattle.
And she was like, hey, let’s throw this thing together. Because we messengered together for years, and she’s still a dispatcher as a messenger. She’s like let’s throw this party, with our friend Fred, this fundraiser for the NACCC, and Redwood Plan’s going to play, and Fred’s band will also play, kind of a mild punk band, and we’re like, “Well, Matt Fey just moved in. He’s got all this equipment to set up for bands and stuff, so we’re pretty set. You guys bring whatever he doesn’t have.” Kind of thing.
So over here, in the main space where I work, I cleaned off my bench. We just pushed the case, there, all the way back to the bench. Set up the band right behind the backdrop for the photography and had the audience just out here. And we had a nice race. Kind of a simple, fun race, a couple hours long. Nothing too crazy, because I’m known for throwing some of the hardest messenger races in town. [Lori giggles, Niki laughs.] I’m mean, I guess. I don’t mean to be. I’m just trying to emulate my messenger years, and they were hard. [laughs] And people get to find that out, so they get to be a messenger for a day.
So we threw this party and Redwood Plan. The first band is Junk Drawer Vibrator, that was Fred’s band. And they were great. And they got the crowd all riled up. And we all know each other, so that was cool. And Redwood Plan is this kind of, like, big deal in Seattle, so they start playing and their front woman is the most amazing front person to a band I have ever seen! She had all the energy, all the charisma, all the faces, and was just, like, singing her heart out. And like, everywhere, all over the place. She was just flailing around everywhere. And they got the crowd so crazy that the floor was just bouncing. [Lori laughs]
The only other time I’ve experienced that was the first time I saw Gogol Bordello, in Portland
Niki: On a wooden floor, and so the whole place was just crazy going all over the place. And here, our floor, we had about 40 people, maybe. We never try to throw anything too huge. And it was just, like, the same kind of feeling. The whole floor bouncing. And Fred, who threw the race and kind of helped get everything together was kind of, like, he was just the guy of the night, besides Mobius hosting. And people started crowd surfing him. And, I mean, you know, I’m in the middle of my work space, and there’s glass everywhere, and I’m like “This is great! My best friends—who I can totally trust—are crowd surfing through my space!” [Lori laughs] And it was fine. We just had a fantastic time.
Lori: Is this area over here a store?
Niki: It’s not really a store. It’s a place to go and [A guy walks in and asks her a question.]
Lori: I’m interviewing her, by the way.
The guy: Oh, I’m sorry.
Lori: No, no, the more the merrier. But I’m recording this.
Guy: Ok. [They have a brief discussion and he leaves.]
Niki: Because I want to build something. People don’t come in here just to buy bits. They come in usually because they want to build something or repair something. That’s a difference between this and a lot of other bike shops.
Niki: Because, you know, the only reason I don’t give away the parts for free is that I have to pay for them. [Lori belly laughs, Niki starts to laugh too.]
Niki: I practically give my labor away so that people will buy better objects to put on their bikes, so that I have less work to do later. You know, the reason I take the photos is that people take off with their bikes and don’t come back for three years. Because nothing goes wrong. They’re made from scratch with durable stuff, so.
Lori: You sound like you’re the person who should be making pedicabs.
Niki: Whoa. [Niki laughs, I join her.]
Lori: You know, people who just kill their bikes.
Niki: Well, the problem is that there isn’t a good industry making quality parts to support the parts you need on a pedicab. Because you need bigger things. So if you go with the Thailand version of pedicabs everything’s made of steel and you weld it to fix it. Your spokes are basically huge baseball bats and wheels are made of different things. I don’t know, it’s a hard industry to build for here, but it seems like they’re getting better, in Seattle at least. People are buying slightly better cabs because there have been some incidences. But pedicabs are difficult, you know.
Bigger bikes. It’s harder to build a stronger bike that’s larger because if you really look at a bike, from just a head on, dead on perspective, they’re about as wide as a piece of paper. Anything that has any width is the places that you interact with the bike. And so when you take and you spread those out, you can’t use the same things to build it. And so to have somebody manufacture the bits for the bikes would help a lot. That would make a big difference.
I have done pedicab work, though, here for some local folks. But it’s hard, spoke replacement, Thailand, or a machinist maybe, if you’re lucky. The nipple is the hardest part because it’s maybe three or four gage sizes bigger than the normal one: that’s the piece that holds the spoke to the rim, basically, when you build a wheel.
Lori: Thanks for explaining that
Niki: No problem.
Lori: So I didn’t have to ask the question “What is a nipple?” [giggles]
Niki: Yeah, well, that’s kind of what I do here, is show people what are bikes. I like to talk, and tell, whenever anyone’s interested in learning when they have their biked worked on. And that’s actually kind of, I don’t know, the client that I prefer. Someone who is just interested enough that they want to be there for their bike build, they want to talk to me about their bike. And if I build you a wheel set, you sit next to me and you build the next one. I teach you how to do that, and then I do the tension, so that you know you have a solidly built wheel by someone who knows what they’re doing, but you got a chance to see what it takes to build a bike.
Because to me, an inexpensive bike costs too much to create because of what goes into building a bicycle.
Lori: Mmm, hmm. [agreeing]
Niki: And there’s too much waste. And sure we don’t see it here too much in America, but what we’re doing to other countries, and what resources we’re wasting to build, it just, it makes me sad.
Niki: You know. Sometimes I feel every custom bike I make is penance for every bike I sold. [Lori laughs] Just because I’ve passed that point where I can be like “This is ok that we’re throwing this stuff away.”
Niki: And I just don’t feel that way anymore. I want to make something that lasts as long as it can even if it’s the worst business plan in the world. Because that’s why a lot of good companies have gone under, because they’re building quality product and nobody needs a new one.
Lori: That’s basically the same reason I’m doing what I’m doing.
Lori: I mean, not with bikes, but with stories on the Internet.
Lori: Because, it’s like, there was almost nobody on the Internet that I wanted to read. [laughs] It wasn’t long enough. It wasn’t in depth enough. It wasn’t interesting enough. It wasn’t true enough. It wasn’t actual people’s lives.
[to a guy who just walked in, who was planning to use Niki’s space for a future video shoot…] Hey, if you need her, I can stop.
Guy: I’m just going to walk around, take some shots.
Niki: No problem. Yeah, and if you guys [Daniel, me, and this person] want to talk to each other about what shots to take. [giggles]
Lori: Yeah, for us, there will be no video today. We just got back from my family reunion in South Dakota and apparently we killed my little video camera somewhere on the plane trip back. I don’t know if I dropped it or Daniel dropped it or what. But. So.
Niki: Well, let’s go back over and have a seat. As you can see, the idea in here is to be really open and light.
Lori: You’ve kind of already answered this, but
What does this space give you?
Niki: [deep breath in and pause for thought. When she speaks, the first three words are full of emotion.] Hmm. So much. I’ll just say that to start.
Umm, room. I’m going to start there. It gives me space to be fully. I think that [sigh] being surrounded by supportive people who are also working to utilize their passion in their lives, and that being their most important goal, basically, um, has dividends that I can’t even begin to express.
But also I realized that even though I lived in a big city and there were so many people around that there wasn’t a community necessarily, space, to gather. And, you know, a lot of what is presented for people in their 20s and 30s and above is you either go out to a restaurant, you go out to coffee, or you go out to a bar.
And, you know, I used to go out to bars, and party and everything. Who didn’t in their, whatever, age? But I was really, I always wanted to go someplace with a pool table because to me, if I couldn’t have good conversation, if it was too loud, then I needed to be playing some kind of game to entertain myself. So I think that’s where the pool table came in, was that I would go out to only bars that had pool tables so that I could make sure that I had something to engage my mind, you know, all the time I was there if I wasn’t able to have good conversation, which I still managed to do, but it was harder.
And so, I kind of wanted, I always wanted—even in the 90s and 2000s—I always wanted to have a space where folks could gather, and drink if they wanted, not if they didn’t, but actually enjoy quality time. Like board game quality time, you know what I mean?
Niki: The ability to just go into a space and [deep sigh] be. And interact with the other folks, and with themselves engaged, rather than with themselves displaced so that they can engage.
Niki: Which is kind of how I felt about the whole bar scene. It was just like “Well, I’m going to disconnect myself so that I can interact with people. Because I’m nervous, because this is pressure, because there’s all this stuff going on and somebody wants me to consume, and do this, you know. And so, you lose a lot of that ability to just relax. And so one of the things that I get the most here from people, as feedback, is “I can’t remember the last time I was this comfortable in a space.” “I can’t remember the last time I felt like I could just express, whatever.”
“This was my last experience in a bike shop, and it was really hard.” And I’m like “Please, tell your story. It’s ok. I understand.” You’re fragile when you go into a bike shop. You don’t know what you’re doing exactly but maybe you have some idea and you want to make sure that you don’t just get, kind of, the shrug off. And kind of half way. And I just felt like things were too, kind of, literally, half assed. I wanted to really put everything I could into it. And give the person a chance to give everything they could into their bike.
Niki: And the thing about bikes is. If you give somebody a really high-quality bike that actually works properly, and works smoothly, and doesn’t give them problems, then they get to experience their capabilities. Rather than it being curtailed by the object that they’re trying to use in order to do the thing that they need to do, which is either to commute or just ride for pleasure. Or race or whatever. All of those things to me are completely valid as long as the use is there.
Niki: Because to me that’s the most important part.
Lori: One of the things that popped into my head as you said that. So there’s this concept that somebody came up with called “the third place.” So, have you heard of Third Place Books?
Niki: I have. And I go there regularly with my lady friend.
Lori: Yeah, I like that. I don’t know who came up with that concept but.
Niki: I don’t know the concept but I know the bookstore.
Lori: The concept was that your first place is your home and your second place is your job. What’s your third place? So, home, work, relaxation, basically.
Lori: And while you were saying that I was thinking, “Oh, you’ve taken the second place and the third place.
Niki: And integrated them.”
Lori: And integrated them.
Niki: Mmm, hmm. Keeping home from being part of [giggling] the equation here.
Lori: A lot of people do that up at Third Place Books. One of the groups that I interviewed in our last book, Different Work, they’re called The Interfaith Amigos. They work, ah, one is a Christian pastor, one is a Muslim imam, and one is a Jewish rabbi.
Niki: Oh wow.
Lori: Although two of the three have “retired.” And they just, they’re best friends, and they write books together, they speak together.
Niki: That’d be amazing conversation.
Lori: And they have amazing conversations! [Niki laughs] And, ah, three of the sweetest men I’ve ever met in my life. And they work out of Third Place Books. And that’s like. That has become their work space and they relax in that space. Yeah. That’s what you seem to have done here! Combined two and three! [laughs]
Niki: I agree. What’s funny though is that, you asked me first off, I think, um. About work and play a little bit, but we didn’t get quite into it. But the first thing I thought of earlier when you said that was that I find myself sometimes forgetting some of the ways that I can play here because I’ve been in the space so long, and I’ve done so much work here.
Niki: Sometimes I forget that I can walk over there and play pool. You know, for months at a time. Oh yeah, there’s a pool table. I should probably use that.
Niki: Or maybe I’ll get into photography and that’s all I’ll be thinking about, is photography. But the thing that I love the most about the space, and that I get the most out of, is the fact that I can do whichever of my interests, in any given day. And I can also attract with my own energy output what kind of business I want to work on each day. Some days, for a while, Thursday was photography night. That would be the night that I would have a bike built and Chris and I—whose my assistant—would set up all the lights and rent light boxes and put everything together. And we’d turn this place into a full-blown photography studio. And the bike shop would be completely closed. We’d have to wait until dark, when all the light went away outside, so I could control it.
It’s like whatever I want to be doing each day, whatever feels right, at the time, is what I get to spend my energy on. And I find it to be so much more efficient than trying to say “Well, I should work on this today because well, I haven’t worked on that in a long while.” Instead I say “I really am excited about photography today.”
Niki: I want to do photography today. I want to shoot a picture of something. And I’ll find just that thing to shoot. Or somebody will walk in with a gorgeous bike that I built a while ago and I’ll be like “Oh my gosh! Can I get a few photos of that one while I have the chance?” You know?
Lori: Yeah. Our very first interview for this web site was with Del Webber who is an artist/furniture repair and restoration guy/vertical garden kit-of-parts maker. And he’s turned his whole house and his property into all these different work spaces. So he’s got garden work spaces, he’s got art—he does stone carving and wood carving and weaving—and he said [paraphrasing] “I can just walk through the space and whatever energy I have at the moment, that’s what I’m doing.”
Lori: I might have no other energy than to pick weeds. [Niki laughs] And that’s what I’m doing. And we talked, we had that, just what you said is just what I said about my work.
Lori: Now, looking back, at the years I spent at Microsoft. The idea of being in a place where there’s 9 to 5, and only 9 to 5,
Niki: Mmm, hmm.
Lori: And not being about to follow your own energy. Not being able to be, “Today I have the energy for this. This evening I have the energy for this.”
Lori: It seems SO inefficient!
Niki: And it reminds me of children getting to go outside to play for recess. And how they’re like “Mmm, I’ve got to get out of here!”
Niki: And it seems so, almost cruel, to put kids in this seat all day long when they’re that young, you know? And they miss the outdoors and whatnot.
Niki: Yeah, that’s exactly it.
Lori: I’ve been in the space now, for 5 years, where I can follow my own energy and do what I want to do and yeah [sigh]. It’s so great.
Niki: And it makes such a difference on every level. It kind of goes along with my whole like, kind of like my operating system I guess. I don’t know how else to compare it. But I have a tendency to have at least 10 or so goals, big things, that I’m working toward. But I don’t put any pressure on any one of them. I just allow them all to be. And then if the universe itself presents something that furthers one of those goals, or works toward it, or I feel like working on it that day, then that’s the one I pick up and say “Oh, you’re pretty. I haven’t thought about you in a while.” All of a sudden I’ve got the lumber for the darkroom and I’ve got the person who wants to help me build it who works with lumber. And I say “Well ok.”
And then Joe, my friend who is a camera geek like me, comes in and is like “Well, if we set it up like this, we might get this.” And then all of a sudden we’re planning and building and it’s done! A week later. And then it’s like “Whoa! Where’d that come from?! I thought you’d been planning that for years and years.” and I’m like “Well, I didn’t put any pressure on it that it needed to be done at this time.” I just said this is something I know I want.
And at the opportunity of seeing a revolving darkroom door, which I’ve always wanted, on Craigslist, I purchased it.
Niki: But it just sits around for a few years, whatever. And it’s like “Ok, it’s time to have the darkroom. And I’m so into black and white photography. And I’m buying film hand over fist. And it’s time. It’s time to be in the darkroom. Or whatever, it’s time to build that bike that we’ve been waiting on for 6 months, the person’s been saving up the money.
Everybody needs to do what they need to do when they need to do it. And if we give them the space to do that, SO much more gets done. And such, more quality work is done.
Lori: It’s funny to hear you talk about the darkroom in that way because that’s how Daniel was. This guy in a portrait studio downtown decided darkrooms are dead, was selling all his stuff off, and Daniel was like “Fifteen foot sink?!”
Niki: That’s my enlarger. [We belly laugh together.] It’s been sitting there for a while.
Daniel: That’s what happened with my 8 x 10 camera too.
Niki: Wow. Beautiful.
Lori: He’s got a beautiful old 8 x 10 camera. Yeah. A lot of old school stuff happens in our basement. Platinum palladium printing.
Daniel: Cyanotype now.
Niki: Cool! Oh yeah, I want to get into carbon printing, so I understand.
Daniel: Once I realized that actually film was probably going to—except for that real fine nitch market—was going to die in my lifetime, I’m like “I’m going to learn how to coat my own paper and build my own stuff,” because if those people all die off.
Niki: You leave me a business card, because I collect people like you. [We all belly laugh.] I have now, “I know this guy who coats his own paper!” And some day I will need to find him because I need to make some paper, because it’s all gone. So leave me a card please. [We giggle.] I’ll put you in the Rolodex. [Niki keeps giggling.]
Niki: [to Daniel, who has been taking photos of her] I know your timer too well. Sorry, if I’m getting awkward. [laughs]
Daniel: No, actually, I’m almost dialed in where I can actually now start to.
Niki: Ok, cool.
Lori: So how about. We imagine, we don’t know, that people hitting our web site, some people may be hating their jobs, thinking about leaving, thinking about creating their own work spaces.
Do you have tips for people who are creating their own work spaces?
Niki: [Niki laughs] I do, actually. And it comes back to the first year I told you about, when I was thinking about going to San Fransisco to make a bike shop. I wanted sunny weather at the time. I’d just visited and was really high from the idea of just all the energy of that much sun could create within me, being a summer baby and the kind of person who likes to be in the sunshine. But what I was missing was the fact that I had so many resources here that I’d be saying goodbye to. Because I’d been working in this town for years. I knew tons of people who were interested in my bike repair, had heard about me repairing bikes.
In fact, the first time we made a logo for Mobius I had a friend of mine print some business cards. He liked it so much, he blew a couple of them up, and put them at different messenger’s houses. So this was years before I became a messenger, messengers knew my logo. It was just this accidental free advertising, subliminal, weird, free advertising. There was no name or anything, just the logo. People liked it so much, had already heard of it, and I’m like “Whoa, what am I doing leaving?” I’ve got this gorgeous space. This space is so beautiful how could I ever leave this building? It almost like, tricked me, into staying. [Lori laughs.]
But what it really tricked me into doing was the smart thing, which was using the resources available to me, and helping other people that I knew further their resources. A kind of trade circle. That’s what the Mobius really is, is some kind of trade circle where even if I’m not involved in an industry, and I know somebody, like yourself, who makes paper. And I happen to know another photographer who wants to make paper, I’ll be like “Oh, I know this person over here. Let’s talk to them. Let me give you their name and info.”
So my, kind of. Over the years a nickname developed, and it was Niki Mobius, because everybody. I use my cell phone as my work phone. So everybody would program me into their phones as Niki and Mobius so they’d remember who it was. And then after a while I was like “That kind of makes sense.” Because it’s me, that’s the mobius. My idea of what the mobius is is that I connect different people and just work as a go-between, or a conduit, for different ideas. And that’s where I draw joy out of my day. Saying “Oh hey, Crispy’s here, thinking about directing, and you guys are here, we got to mentioning the Redwood Plan, and he walked in at that moment.” And that’s kind of the way things roll.
Niki: Everything kind of just happens the way it really should.
Lori: My friend June Holley would call you a Network Weaver. You’re a network weaver.
Niki: Nice! I love that. That’s fantastic. [laughs]
Lori: That’s what she is too. [We laugh.] So your tip was to use the resources you have available and
Niki: And to help other people increase their resources, yeah, if you can. Just connections, if nothing else. And to relax. Take a deep breath and realize that sometimes getting fired or leaving a job is the absolute best thing that could ever have happened to you. But you won’t know that until later.
Niki: So you have to get through that initial hiccup of feeling really. And the other thing, there’s one other thing that I have to say. And I should give credit where credit is due on this. It’s a book, I think his last name is Wilson. No, it’s Dr. Wilson’s Cabinet, I think. And it’s that. It’s something to the effect of trust in last-minute providence: that what you need will come to you with the ability to take a deep breath and to actually just look for the resource. Just to forget the stress and be able to recognize the thing you need when it comes to you. And rather than reacting to the stress, the difficulty, of worrying about it happening, just letting it go, really helps so much.
Because it’s a totally different way to live when you don’t have a regular paycheck coming in. You learn, at least for me, I’ve learned over the years that when I do have some money, that’s when I have to invest in one of those really important things that continue me [being] able to do what I need to do to bring in more money. Maybe another business person who was in the business world would not have spent most of their bike shop profits on photography for no good gosh-darn reason. Except that to me, the only way to get people to come in and build bikes is to show them what I’ve built. If all I say is “well, look at these parts, and these blank frames, and oh yeah, there’s some bikes on the rack.” But they’re usually a little broken or need some work.
But people are missing it. The better the photography gets, the better people understand what it is I do. And sometimes they misunderstand. Sometimes they just think I make pretty bikes but don’t do anything. Usually that’s because they don’t have enough knowledge to realize what comprised the bike, what went into it. And that’s, to me, the key to having people be interested in being there for the build process. Because then they get how much energy and expertise it takes to make a bicycle correctly.
Niki: Like, for example, Keirin racers, in Japan, their bikes are inspected for an entire day by a staff of people before they’re allowed to race them. Because the Keirin racers have so much strength that they can easily break a bike and injure four people and ruin the betting that goes along with it, for whoever bet on the race. So their bikes are taken to that ridiculously exacting degree.
And I kind of have a little of that in me, too. I want to build the absolute best thing I can because otherwise the effort was possibly wasted.
Niki: You know, in my mind. It’s like I’d rather just do the best I can. And if I can think of a way to make it better, then that’s the basis for what I’m going to do later.
Lori: Two last questions.
Do you consider yourself part of a culture or an emerging culture? And if so, what do you call it?
Niki: [long pause] Well, I know that I’m part of the bike culture, by most general definitions. Umm, I think I like the idea of [pause], I don’t know, I guess one of the most apt phrases I’ve ever thought of for this space is a think tank. And not like, you know, an industrial think tank or just an intellectual think tank, but a collection of individuals who are able to find their own particular genius. Because to me, genius has nothing to do with books, it has nothing to do with memorization, it has nothing to do with any of those. Everyone has a part of them that is genius. And to me it’s all about trying to, literally, coddle and protect that idea, and to bring it out, to extract it, and to allow it to breathe, to see the light of day.
So for me, it’s all about encouraging folks. I want to build you the best bike I can so that you can feel able. So that you can get out there and really, just be like “Whoa. I had no idea, but I’m fast! I really like riding fast.” Or “I really like riding long distances, I had no idea. Now I’m going to start touring. And I’m just going to live off my bike for three years, because oh, I had no idea this was how I wanted to live.” And so to give people, just that moment, to get out that door.
So, inner-genius culture? I don’t know. I really don’t know how to answer that question because I feel like one of the.
Lori: Well, I asked it because I know I’m part of a culture and I have no idea what to call it.
Lori: So I’m trying to get ideas. [laughs]
Niki: Sure, yeah! But I think it’s a great question because one of the things that really marks our current era is that we have literally disseminated culture, by blending our entire planet through a web of computer identities, computer exposure. You know, it just seems like more and more folks are getting more and more online. Which means they’re understanding the prices all over the world and that’s starting to, like, stabilize to the point where someone in China can sell their stuff for what we would normally make off of it and skip the middle man, kind of idea.
So to me, there’s negative and positive within that. But what I like that I see is that people are getting their money’s worth out of what they do. And I hope that that’s just going to continue. The actual person making the item is going to be the one who gets paid for it. And I also like the idea of taking that global awareness and becoming more locally aware because then you realize it takes way less resources to do the things within what you already have. Like I said before, it’s resource management.
So, to me, I think I’m joining a global culture, and I’m attempting to lead by example, the way that I see best for me to live, which is with my genius doors wide open. And for everyone else to be able to do that as well. To help each person learn how to help each other cultivate their genius.
Lori: Wow, cool, holy crap. [laughs] I need to think about what I’m doing on the planet a little bit more. [pauses] My last question is just.
Niki: I think you’re doing great, because we need exposure. Everyone does, and encouragement.
Lori: You know we’re looking for self-created, soul-satisfying work spaces.
Do you know anybody else that I should talk to when you hear the words self-created, soul-satisfying work space?
Niki: Oh! It’s hard to say.
Lori: You seem to have a lot of them in here.
Niki: Yeah, I think you should interview each person here, and each floor of the building. [We laugh together.] But it’s not just about this building, this is just the hub I know the best. The other thing is, I think you’ve already hit several that I’d recommend, which is Martina, Haulin’ Colin.
Um, I really like what 20/20 [Cycle] has done with the backside of Union, because they have shows and stuff. But what I’m really into is the place next to them, Hollow Earth Radio. I LOVE Hollow Earth Radio. I think that they are so cool.
Lori: I really need to get over there.
Niki: You should check them out.
Lori: You’re recommending my neighbors to me. [Niki belly laughs] I live at 21st and Union.
Niki: They just do so many things.
Lori: Yeah. And I, its, yeah. How I like to work is that, kind of, the idea of believing that what comes to you is what you will need. So I don’t. The first interview for the web site my friend Erik took me to Del’s house to get me something for my birthday, and Del ended up being the first story. And Fisher found me the three of you. [Niki laughs] And so, I could just walk right on down to Hollow Earth Radio, but the fact that you now have recommended them means I can go. [Lori laughs]
Niki: That’s just the thought that came into my mind, because I love that space. I think that it’s so cool, because to me the soul-satisfying part is the difference in the model that they have created there from other models. Because I love that 20/20 has shows in the bike shop and some of the quirks—the less expensive commuter-based traffic in that particular neighborhood, for example. But to me, Hollow Earth Radio is so unique. I feel like there are lots of bike shops that have shows and have community stuff going on. So to me that really stuck out in my mind, plus of course, Martina. And Haulin’ Colin. And you’re already going to go and see the INS building and all the folks who inhabit that cool space.
Lori: Yeah. And Colin, talk about a guy who loves his space. [Niki begins to laugh] Like, whoa! “I LOVE this space!” I’m like, “You’re glowing!” [Niki’s laugh becomes a belly laugh, Lori joins her.]
Niki: I understand that feeling.
Lori: Yeah, so do I! So do I.
Lori: We just had a big round 10-person table built for our space so that we can all work together. And I walk downstairs now, and I just [sigh].
Niki: You see our conference table over there, right?
Lori: I didn’t.
Niki: That’s from a buddy of mine who worked in IT who actually helped me build my second or third version of my Web site. And he was like, “Hey”—and this is how I’ve collected almost everything in here. Like some of it looks pretty nice, but it’s almost all been cheap or free. And he was like “Hey, we’ve got this conference table and all these kind of ugly, mauve roll-y chairs. Do you want them?” I was like “Oh my gosh, yes!” [Lori laughs.]
If nothing else, rolling chairs all over the space is fantastic.
Lori: Do you know of UW Surplus?
Lori: My favorite place. I just discovered it recently. I was like [eyes widen, mouth drops open wide] [Niki laughs] “I can get cool, funky 50s-looking chairs for 5 dollars?”
Lori: And they have good back support. And they’re perfect for typing.
Niki: It’s funny because I haven’t actually been there, because the space somehow provides the last-minute providence thing.
Niki: Like, this desk was sitting around in different people’s spaces for years. And then finally I claimed it: “You know, I really need to have a nice office-y desk now. I’m ready for that. Let’s bring it over here.”
Niki: I just try to keep everything that’s around. Recycle it if I can. But I love spaces like that. Just the ability to go in and reuse something, because I’m really into that. All the frames are used.
Lori: It’s fun. I swear to God they should have their own TV show. That’s how much fun it is there. [Niki laughs] There is so much stuff, it’s unbelievable. The day I was there there were, like, a hundred file cabinets.
Niki: You only need one but you get to pick from so many.
Lori: There were two old baby grand pianos.
[We start to talk at the same time—apparently both exuberant at the thought of really high-quality, yet cheap, second-hand stuff.]
Niki: How much was that?!
Lori: Yeah. And there was like all this lab equipment—I didn’t see the price on the pianos [Niki laughs]–and all these chairs and desks, and it was just cool.
Niki: It’s funny, no, go ahead.
Lori: I was just going to say that they’re only open to the public Tuesdays, like 2 to 4, and they advertise ahead of time. And the guy who does the advertisements is really good at it. He writes all these funny advertisements.
Lori: So people get in line early, and then they RACE in the door! Because all you do is rip a tag off the bottom of an item, and it’s yours. So it’s like this mad dash and everybody goes crazy. Yeah.
Niki: Yeah. What I was thinking, it’s funny, we’ve talked a lot about the space, but one of my interests that I didn’t even mention is Tuesday nights we have music night here. And it’s just a few of us, my partner Sarah, and our buddy Matt, who plays the keyboard, and our buddy Tracey who’s learning guitar. I just recently picked up the bass, and I’m getting really into music. And it’s because of proximity to wonderful people here and because of the fact that we all get together and play music on Tuesdays that—I heard it for two years before I picked up a bass, because a buddy decided, “Hey, you want to borrow my bass?” And I’m like “sure, no problem!” and then “Oh my God, this is the instrument I’ve always been missing!”
Niki: So, that’s the other thing, you really get a chance to expose yourself to your interests here. Like Chris is really into Lego stop animation. And so when he and I start collaborating on, you know, the photography stuff, he was also showing me about animation, stop motion. We actually made a little stop motion of a girl on a bike coming into the alley to show people how to find the place because it’s definitely a different way to get into a business.
So, you know, it’s like the longer I stay here the more things I learn how to do and the cooler it all seems.
Niki: And the more stuff there is to occupy my time with. Because I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as boredom. I think that a lot of times people get caught in a loop of feeling like they don’t have other options, other than the standard ideas of what you should spend your time doing. If you give yourself even just a little bit of time to create other ideas, you can change yourself and the world with that.
Niki: That’s all it really takes.
Lori: Yep. [pause] Cool. Well, that’s all of my questions.
Lori: Thank you.
Niki: You’re welcome.
Lori: Fabulous. Wonderful.
[As the audio tape ends, Niki’s laughing.]