Founder of Don Kuson Community Bike Shop
Tell us about yourself.
Ok, so I’m originally from Omaha, Nebraska. I went to a community college there and got a degree in commercial photography. I didn’t use it though. Instead I spent years hitchhiking around North America, Western Europe, and Japan. After that got old I enlisted in the US Navy. That took me to Seattle, where I got introduced to community bike shop culture. I built my first bike at the Bikery in 2009.
What brought you to Thailand?
I first came to Thailand in 2012 via Port Laem Chabang aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. While all the sailors were being bussed down to Pattaya, a friend and I paid way too much for a taxi and got dropped off in front of the State Tower. We spent most of that day walking around Bang Rak and I fell in love with the city then. I was already shopping around for schools to enroll in when my contract came up with the Navy, and I ended up back in Bangkok the following August to study Entrepreneurship at Bangkok University International. I graduated in May of last year.
What exactly is the Don Kuson Community Bike Shop?
It’s basically an all-volunteer run hole in the wall with tools, and some guys there to show you how to use them to fix your bike. It’s somewhere in between a DIY and a full service shop. We work with people if they need us and we let you do your own thing if you feel you know what you’re doing. We don’t charge to use the space but we do ask for donations for parts and refurbished bikes. But we don’t turn anyone away who can’t pay. You’ll find a good mix of expats, local kids, and people that are undertaking epic bike trips. When I first moved to Bangkok I tried to find a bike shop like I was used to back home, but there wasn’t one. So I created my own. I got access to some affordable storefront space on Soi Don Kuson, then crowdfunded and got 1,500 dollars—and that was enough to get some basic tools and workbenches.
Would you say Bangkok is a good or bad place for bike riders?
Personally I love riding in the city. Maybe it’s not as ideal as riding in Amsterdam, but it’s heaps better than riding in the American Midwest. Bangkok is flat, and drivers are used to slow moving vehicles (or parked ones) on the left hand side. So I definitely don’t feel the fear I do cycling in many other cities. I enjoy riding in the street with cars and grabbing onto a tuk tuk for a little boost in speed. However, the bike trails here aren’t practical ways to move throughout the city, they’re purely recreational. That needs to change.
Agreed. Is that why commuter cyclists seem to still be relatively rare?
It’s not as common of a sight as in other cities, but there’s actually a group of embassy workers that bike every morning from Chaengwattana to Wireless Road. They call themselves “The Chaeng Gang”. And I used to bike 12 km to university every day.
What’s the ideal bike for riding in this city?
The ideal bike is the one you feel the most comfortable on. The one that motivates you to ride. If it’s a folding bike you can bring on the train, that’s awesome. If you need a fast road bike, cool. I’m happy to roll around the hood on a big cargo bike. I have a two-speed road bike that’s a lot of fun to ride, but I find myself riding a hardtail touring bike with a cargo rack most of the time. That said, I spent my first couple of years here riding a fixed gear.
Where are some places in Bangkok where you like to cycle?
I love going out to check on the path in Bang Mod, I really like the BMX park in Wareepirom Park, and of course Bang Krachao is always great. But my favourite place to take people who are visiting is through the small sois in Bang Kho Laem. In this city so many small streets are dead ends, but Bang Kho Laem has so many through sois you can wind around for hours. I like to organize a group ride through the area a few times a year.
With all the recent bad air warnings, what should a cyclist do?
It’s hard to avoid. Best thing to do is wear a mask I guess, avoid rush hour, and take side streets when possible.
What does the future hold?
We’re working on getting funding to set up as a non-profit so we can work with other organizations to make a greater impact. Right now we’re operating as an informal community project. But even if we stay just a community project our goal is getting more bikes on the road, and providing access to tools and knowledge to empower cyclists. And with the help of other community organizers, we plan to expand our reach to the greater Bangkok communities.
Interview by Bruce Scott