This month's featured Volunteer is John Garrish, who has been a regular visitor during the pandemic to pick up homework bikes, help with QA and lend his cargo bike expertise. John has a long, interesting history with bikes and has been an invaluable SVBE evangelist at the company he works for.
Enjoy our spotlight on John in the interview below.
Who is John Garrish?
I currently live in Belmont, but grew up in the Washington DC area. I currently work at Guidewire Software as a Product Manager and in my spare time am an avid "underbiker." I enjoy riding just about anywhere, trails, street, bike paths on pretty much whatever bike I have!
How did you get involved with SVBE?
I worked at bike shops all through high school and college and really enjoy the challenge of wrenching on bikes. I randomly saw a story online about SVBE and "homework bikes" sometime last summer, after Covid really had hit us hard and we were locked down. Since I now work from home and have more time on the weekends, I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to put my old skills to work! As an added bonus, my employer Guidewire Software is super supportive of volunteer work so I've been using my "volunteer days" with SVBE.
What keeps you coming back?
SVBE is a treasure. I really identify with the mission, and the people were great—basically instant friends. It is an amazing group of people, very dedicated and supportive. I've learned a bunch of things as well! It's great to have a community of experts so close at hand.
You’ve worked on a number of different bikes. Which bike stands out as the most memorable, or your favorite?
My favorite so far was a gravel/klunker conversion of an old Scott MTB from maybe the early 90s? Looked cool when it was done, but also it was a dream to ride. Bikes have gotten so complicated—the MTBs from the late 80s / early 90s were really magical machines. Solid, balanced, high quality, and completely fixable.
You've recruited at last count four other volunteers for SVBE, three from your company. How did you go about doing that, and what advice do you have for fellow volunteers to spread the joy of SVBE volunteering?
I work at Guidewire which is headquartered here in the Bay Area. Once I started volunteering at SVBE last year I did a little digging at work to see if we had any community programs, and it turns out that we do via Guidewire Gives Back. So a lot of my "internal promotion" at work has been around this. I created an internal page where we post volunteer opportunities and immediately got a lot of questions since there is a whole team that runs the program and sends out internal emails. In addition, I did a few other hacky kinds of things.
For example, when I volunteered for a full day—Guidewire gives us three days a year to do community volunteering—I would post a long blurb on my out-of-office email response... talking about SVBE, what I was doing, how to get involved, with links. For example, our CTO read this and made a donation—super cool! I got a lot of comments and questions from that. The other thing I did was join the Slack channel for "cyclists" at our headquarters. Since we're in the Bay Area we have a ton of cyclists and they are naturally curious about SVBE. I post pictures of my homework bikes there, as well as snaps of the many curiosities that happen to land at the shop, like cargo bikes.
Your employer, Guidewire, gives you paid volunteering time, something SVBE is grateful for. In what ways do employers benefit from offering employees this option?
Guidewire believes very strongly in being an active part of the community. At our core, we believe there is a basic corporate responsibility to be a good neighbor, something I think all of us in tech should be taking very seriously right now. But from a very tactical business perspective, there are other benefits as well. Paid volunteerism and recognition are great for recruiting because it is a reason to choose Guidewire in a competitive hiring market. It is a tangible way to demonstrate our core values.
What’s your favorite bike tool?
These days? Steel wool.
What is your background in cycling? And on wrenching on bikes?
Big Wheel Bikes in Washington, D.C was my first bike shop job. They are still in business! And then Square Wheel Bikes in Berkeley, CA. They are not in business, which is too bad. That shop had character, it was like a sitcom. One summer in college I was also a bicycle messenger in downtown DC which was extremely exciting and extremely hot. I rode my first mountain bike, a Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo with street tires and cut down flat bars. I thought I was about as cool as they come!
What can you share about your personal or family bike collection?
Nothing fancy for me. A Pake Cmute with klunker bars. I love it. I recently bought my wife a 70s Raleigh from SVBE... a classic!
What have you learned since volunteering with SVBE?
SVBE has really rekindled an old passion for me and what I wish I had found sooner was the opportunity to do give back while doing something I love. I also learned how to use a crown-race puller, so that too.
Or most interesting problem to deal with?
An 80s Univega mountain bike that had cantilever posts with the spring holes on the outside not the inside. Grr.
What’s your favorite bike ride (local or not)?
Waterdog Park in Belmont.
You have a long history with cargo bikes, including having a website that featured them. Most recently you helped us refurbish a cargo bike donated to SVBE. How did the affinity for cargo bikes come about?
Ah, the old Xtracycle Gallery. If you want to see 500 iterations of Xtracycles go check it out. It's still alive, but barely! I've started moving it over to Facebook Xtracycle Gallery recently but it's a slow process. Don't @ me! I got really into this about 10 years ago, when my kids were younger. I wanted to find a way to ride them around on a bike and Xtracycles were just getting off the ground. I happened upon the story of Ross Evans and Xtracycle and I thought that it was very clever. I had an old steel MTB and did the conversion. It was super fun, and my boys loved it until they got too big. I'd use it for grocery shopping sometimes. It carries a lot of groceries, even watermelons. The site was inspired by Fixed Gear Gallery if anyone remembers that.
You've been working on some sweet "restomod" bikes we've been casually calling "gravlkruzrs." What is the inspiration behind creating this style of bike?
Secretly, I want to be an Instagram influencer. Just kidding, but I do spend too much time watching bike trends and one of the things I've noticed is that there is a huge move to keep 90s/00s mountain bikes on the road. I think this is a spectacular sentiment. Bikes have gotten so complicated and expensive. I love the idea that great bikes are seeing new lives and can unlock riding for people who just like riding. Around here, that riding probably includes city streets and maybe a fire road or trail so the sturdy, gravel-ish bike is the perfect bike. Do you really need a $5000 e-bike for this?? Or, then again maybe I'm just a nostalgic crank!
Thanks for all your hard work wrenching and recruiting volunteers John!