Interview: David Boone of Boonation Custom Cycles

David Boone has opened up the most local of bike shops out of his garage in Oakland’s Longfellow neighborhood. On the bike route, he offers personal service for bikes that need a tune-up, and he builds custom set-ups for people who know they want something better than a cheap bike from Craigslist. You can find him on facebook or by email:

Ben Hanna: So how long that you have been working on bikes out of this shop?

David Boone: A little over two years. The only reason I have a consistent record is because of when I started my Facebook page. It was August, so it’s been a couple of years. I was doing it as kind of a side gig before I started doing it full time.

Ben Hanna: What did you do before you started doing this?

David Boone: I was working as an outside trader for Urban Ore, driving the truck around with another guy.

Ben Hanna: Have you always been working on bikes or has it been a hobby?

David Boone: I have always been mechanically inclined but working on bikes using these tools isn’t something I had a mind to do. It hasn’t always been something that I have been crazy about.

Ben Hanna: It wasn’t always something that was going to be your business.

David Boone: Yeah.

Ben Hanna: Do you like it more now that you are doing it more and have gotten into it?

David Boone: Yeah, it took me while when I first started it up and started offering services to get the hang of it. There are lots of problems that can exist within a bike and lot of it just takes experience to know how to solve them. I’m pretty intuitive with my mechanical mind, but some of the things just need experience. The bike is not shifting right! The bike is not shifting right can mean a lot of different things.

Ben Hanna: How do you people find about you? Just walking by or biking by?

David Boone: Living on the bike road has been the best thing for this business. Once I put up my sign, it actually is enough for them to see as they ride by.

David Boone: So what I want to do from there is just take it from here and have a sign here, have a sign down at 55th and Genoa, and then have a sign right here at the intersection of Market and 57th and Adeline. A lot of bikers come through that area, especially coming up and down Adeline. So then, just direct the traffic in this vicinity to this location, and really… I think that’ll…

Ben Hanna: Build a little local traffic. People are coming by anyway.

David Boone: Yeah, I think that’ll be enough. I don’t think I need to go too far out there. There’s plenty of bike shops, and I don’t claim to be the best, or anything. I just…

Ben Hanna: Like to be here doing it?

David Boone: Yeah. [laughs]

Ben Hanna: Which really is all that really matters, in a lot of the cases.

David Boone: Yeah. It’s a service.

Ben Hanna: People like to shake hands with the person who’s going to be working on their bike.

Ben Hanna: Two years ago you opened, when did you go full time?

David Boone: I went full time in July because I did this program – you know the Landmark forums?

Ben Hanna: Yeah, I know that one.

David Boone: Yeah. So what I got out of that was an understanding that I was confusing myself in terms of where I was with my work. I just wanted to stop working at Urban Ore driving the truck around. I have been doing it for eight years and I just felt like I was hitting a serious block. I was mentally and emotionally drained and it just wasn’t feeding my soul.

So I quit. I didn’t really have anything planned. I said, “I haven’t really given this a chance and I had always told myself there’s no way this could work. I’ll have to invest a lot of money, I’ll have to do advertising. I don’t have enough clients to make enough money month to month to pay my rent and bills etcetera etcetera.” And I just gave all that up. You never know unless you try, so let’s give it a shot. And uh, it has been working out.

Ben Hanna: How quickly were you able to realize “Okay this is something I can do full time that will keep me going.”

David Boone: I still don’t even know if it’s something that I can do full time. I wake up every day just thinking “aw crap.” I gotta make x amount of money in the next 5 minutes. That’s what it feels like. I just have to be…

Ben Hanna: Always on it?

David Boone: Yeah because it’s not as if I can just go out there, or out to the garage and put in the amount of hours and come home with a paycheck. I have to really plan out my work, and be creative, be frugal, and sometimes I’m just waking up hoping someone stops by.

Ben Hanna: Yeah

David Boone: And if they don’t then I need to just be okay with that and work on what I can work on. And just work with what is there.

Ben Hanna: What is your backlog right now and your average workload? How frequently do you have a line of bikes waiting for you to work on?

David Boone: Right now I’m actually pretty caught up on my work. I just got rid of a couple of bikes. I did 3 pretty solid repairs last week. I’m still waiting for a girl to come pick up that bike.

Ben Hanna: This purple one here on the wall?

David Boone: Yeah yeah, she got her front wheel stolen, and so I actually had a pretty similar wheel and the exact same tire which worked out really great. Then I gave her a quick tune up. So it looks like stock, like nothing ever happened to it, which is pretty sweet.

Then I had a build that I had put together for one of the guys over at Landmark, this guy Justin. He paid for the deposit on one of my courses by putting a down payment on a bike! Then he just kinda left it, but yeah, I finally got the bike together and he came and picked it up yesterday.

It’s kinda funny because he said “here’s some money, build me a bike.”

He said I want it kinda like this and that , but it came out really nice. I’ve got some pictures of it.

Ben Hanna: What are the different services you offer people?

David Boone: A full tune up is $75 bucks, but I’m going to be changing that to $100 next year after I register the business because I’m going to start paying taxes.

Quick tune is $35 bucks. The difference between a full tune and a quick tune is basically: a full tune I take the bike completely apart and put it back together and then I can get into the axles and bottom bracket. Making sure everything shifts and brakes turn the wheels on the stand. A quick tune is just adjusting the shifting and braking. A lot of people drive by and say, “I don’t know what’s happening with this thing.” Okay, well let me look at it – and I will work on the barrel adjuster, brakes, things like that.

Ben Hanna: What are you doing on this one? [There is a sweet black single speed on the stand]

David Boone: This one actually is for a client down the street. She is getting a bike for her boyfriend. She commissioned me to build it up into a single speed, so its going to be pretty sweet. But, I like to take it all apart and put it back together just to make sure its super clean.

I had some issues before where I’d build up a bike, ride it and it rides fine. Then a week later the people will come back and say, “Hey, this doesn’t really feel right.” After a while its just a little off if I haven’t looked at everything.

Ben Hanna: How much for a custom bike?

David Boone: $200 for a single speed, starting at $200 and you could go up to $300, $350 with supplying parts on there. But really the bike market is kind of soft. People don’t really understand that if they want a single speed, brand new, ya know, on-line from China – pressed steel for $200 bucks. They’re thinking “man that thing looks cool”, but its not gonna last them the same.

If I put together a bike for them they’re gonna be able to ride it for a long time, not to mention I have a system I work on myself. Part of the photos that I take and I put on my facebook page — I take those photos with my phone my business phone and then adding their name, photo and contacts into my phone so that if they call I can say “Oh – hey man how’s it going — how’s that bike treating you?”

I can take notes within a contact and I wanna make sure that he has this bike tuned up and running for next month.

Ben Hanna: Where do you get most of your inventory?

David Boone: Bike parts are everywhere. I had a pretty good initial stock from Urban Ore that I collected over time. There’s actually a couple guys in the neighborhood that deal with bikes all the time, so sometimes I’ll just do some trading with them. A lot of people have bikes in their yards that they don’t use, and I’ve had several bikes donated.

There have been a few times when I have to actually go seek out parts and usually I go to Craigslist for that. Most recently I bought a wheel off of Craigslist for this guy trying to get his beach cruiser back up to speed. But, I try to, again, be frugal with the money when going in, but sometimes I’m just more dedicated to getting the bike running, and beautiful, and working with the clients budget than I am to making money off of it. Sometimes those two don’t get along. Mostly, I’m just learning about letting go of whatever idea of what money has to be and how it’s going to work for me. You know?

Ben Hanna: Yeah.

David Boone: If I’m able to just kind of keep doing this and pay the bills, and . . .

Ben Hanna: Work on your own time frame a little bit.

David Boone: Yeah.

Ben Hanna: Has that been the biggest change?

David Boone: I love it. I mean, I went for a bike ride this morning. When I was driving that truck I would see people up in the Berkeley Hills, going over the peak or whatever. Out in the middle of the lake on a beautiful day like this, riding their nice road bikes without a care in the world.You’re thinking, who are these people? What are they doing with their lives that they just can be out at 10:00 in the morning on a Monday cruising around. I hope this is their weekend schedule, that they work at a restaurant or something.

Ben Hanna: But, now that’s your schedule!

David Boone: Yeah, I know. I get up in the morning and make my breakfast, I get to mess around on my computer, catch up on emails, kind of search around for deals, work on other ideas that I have outside of working on bikes because I like to tinker with a lot of different things. It’s nice. I get on my own schedule, then I try to be up here at least 1:00 to 5:00 every day. Then set appointments with clients and work outside of those hours, but I just work until the work is done.

Ben Hanna: Do you do any, or have you given any thought to doing clinics? Teaching people how to fix bikes?

David Boone: There is a lot of peripheral activity around bikes that people are always asking me. “Do you do, or do you work on scooters or electric bikes? Do you build trailers, do you build frames?”  There is a lot out there that can be done — I try not to focus on those sort of things. I try to just focus on getting the job that I am doing. I am more or less dedicated to keeping people rolling on their bikes — especially if they are using them for commuting from A to B.

So, I don’t do that really. I have done that with one guy who’s touring in Spain. He bought a folding bike and he said his issue was that every time he packed up his folding bike TSA or someone else goes through the casing. Unpacks it messes it up and gets the wheels out of true.

He would just like a quick maintenance class so if he is going to be doing this tour at least he will know how to change a flat. Truing the wheels — he can can sort of get around by just doing it when he is in town and can find a bike shop. He just wanted some maintenance classes so he came over a couple of times and I just spent a few hours with him hanging out answering his questions mostly.

So he was really happy, and I am still friends with Stuart. He is a great guy. He’ll ride by and stop and say what’s up. He’s done a couple of tours now and I feel very pleased to have been a part of that in a small way so… Ya I don’t try to do the clinics and I don’t have a lot of space to get it done. But I do some one on one teaching.

Ben Hanna: Basically if people just request it or show up and say — here is my bike can you teach me while you work on it. Or something.

David Boone: Ya, Ya Exactly.  I am not shy about passing out my knowledge. But..

Ben Hanna: It’s not your focus right now it’s takes you away It would take your focus away from other things that you are doing.

David Boone: Ya, and I think that’s a service that a lot of other bike shops offer you can do a little research online and find a clinic that will happen maybe once a month or twice a month, and get some good information a lot of times for free. I am not sure how many people are in the market for coming and learning from me one on one and paying for that service.

Ben Hanna: Right, So other than being on the bike route here what do you think kind of makes your shop a go to place for people to come?

David Boone: Me. I can’t really answer it any other way than that. People definitely like to patronize small businesses. But there is also just something about the fact that I’ve had a lot of people say I really like this space. I just really like the energy of it or I just I feel comfortable here.  So people come over and they are just able to hang out. And  I think people like that. They appreciate it. Not to mention that there’s just people riding by asking whats happening here!

Ben Hanna: That happens pretty frequently?

David Boone: Ya, people bike by and I just say Hi.

Ben Hanna: I looked at your Facebook page last week and you post photos of customers who come through with bikes that you’ve had built for them. How’s that going?

David Boone: Yeah, bikes that I’ve worked on or bikes that I’ve built. They’re just a bunch of different people, smiling faces with their bikes.

Ben Hanna: Have you been doing anything to actively to try to grow? Or are you, at this point, waiting to see how it goes?

David Boone: I am letting things develop organically. Living right on the bike route, I haven’t had to force the issue too much yet, which has been really nice. I definitely have thought about doing some advertising. Mainly, I just wanted to get my business registered and everything. I just got my zoning clearance recently through the city of Oakland and I got it registered.

Ben Hanna: This garage is zoned commercial?

David Boone: Nope. It is zoned for home business and I’m just registering the business and I’ll be paying my taxes as of next year. Really, that’s all the city of Oakland is concerned about. There’s some gray areas, but essentially, push comes to shove, I have everything in order. If I don’t create some sort of neighborhood disturbance, there’s not going to be any issues. I’m just trying to provide a service.

Ben Hanna: I think it’s a neighborhood benefit, by far.

David Boone: Oh yeah. All the neighbors have been really generous with my business, just coming by and saying how’s it going. I’m pretty much friends with all the neighbors who live right here in this vicinity.

Ben Hanna: It’s kind of like whenever you’re out here working, you also have an eye out on the neighborhood a little bit.

David Boone: Yeah. Apparently, when they were selling the house across the street, they were using my business as an advertising claim.

“And there is a bike shop right across the street. Someone will be basically watching your house all day long!”

Ben Hanna: Registering the business…that’s a big step forward in what you’re doing.

David Boone: It was my foremost concern. After quitting my job and starting this and seeing that it was actually going to sort of workout. If I don’t get to register this business this could all be for naught. A whole bunch of work and effort into kinda creating this space for myself and then, if a cop pulls by with the wrong idea he might just come shut me down or throw a bunch of fines at me at the very least and I was not really prepared for that.

Ben Hanna: What was that process like? Pretty easy? Or was it some details you didn’t know and you needed to figure out?

David Boone: I’m still in that process. But really, I was researching on-line in terms of what it might take and I was a little bit fuzzy about what was happening so I just started looking for help. The guy across the street, Rich, is a really nice guy and he rented out his house before he moved in and I was talking with his son, Nate, and he said “Yeah you should talk to my Dad, I know he had to register the house as a business”.

He’s got a fairly good grasp of  what you need to do and so he pointed me in the right direction. The way I have it zoned right now is just as a home business. It’s the simplest way because it’s a residential neighborhood so technically it’s for arts and crafts and on-line sales where you’re building in your garage.

It has been a little bit of an adventure, and like I said, the next step for me is to register my fictitious business name and pay some money there.

After the 26th of this month I can go pay my business license fee for the next year.

Ben Hanna: Is this your personal bike here in the corner? Do you do a lot of touring?

David Boone: No, but that’s what that’s going to be built up for. I was riding that around as my townie bike as a nine-speed. Then I just decided, you know what, I really like riding a single-speed.

Ben Hanna: Did you change it down?

David Boone: Well, I didn’t change that one, I just built myself a different single-speed. I started riding a single-speed because I remembered that the point in my bicycle riding when I felt the strongest was when I was riding a single-speed and a road bike regularly a couple times a week. I was riding a single-speed to commute, and then a road bike maybe two or three times a week up into the hills. If I didn’t have a lot of time, I would just go straight up Claremont.

Claremont’s such a good climb. I realized the single-speed, the way it makes you work, was really helping my training, so I went back to that and decided to convert this thing to a multi-gear touring bike. Plus, I’ve always wanted to do some touring. I’ve only done it once. I went out to Lake Chabot and I packed all my gear on my bike and a tent, and some peanut butter and jelly.

Ben Hanna: After I got out of college, my roommate and I actually came out here and rode our bikes from San Francisco down to LA on Highway 1. We thought we were ready, but we were ill-prepared for Big Sur. It kicked us all over the place.

David Boone: Yeah. When I moved out here from Michigan, I thought these are some serious hills. I remember the first time that I went up Claremont Ave. I mean – are you kidding me? This thing, this incline is just so savage. My legs had no depth. They just wouldn’t – They wouldn’t get any deeper. I had no power, no depth in my legs. The topped out real quickly. But I went for a pretty good ride today. Didn’t go up Claremont, just went for a nice, twenty-mile ride and came back so I could get to work.


Thanks David!

David’s shop is located at 57th and Genoa. You can find him on facebook or by email: