Employees at a little corner bike shop, Front and Center Cyclery, often welcome Arlington’s bike riders with a fist bump to avoid a greasy handshake.
Ellie Hernandez, owner of the shop and business management senior, greets customers with a bubbly smile and asks if they’d like to test drive one of the bikes while they wait. She pumps the tires herself, if needed. Someone may even glimpse a tattoo on her right forearm in the shape of a heart made out of two overlapping bike locks while she’s working.
Upon stepping into the bike shop, the smell of rubber fills the air. Gears and bike seats, or saddles, as the pros call them, hang from different colored walls. White writing on chalkboard displays descriptions and prices of various items.
Shouting happens occasionally to be heard over rumbles coming from the railroad tracks nearby.
If the conversation needs to be taken outside, colorful, old bike wheels hang from a chain-link fence. Bicycles line up in bike racks, and each of them has a name tag. This tag also lists a price, just in case someone wants to take one home.
About a decade ago, Hernandez joined the biking culture when her car broke down. After working on bikes at other places around town, Hernandez decided to open her own colorful bicycle shop in 2012 between Mellow Mushroom and The Grease Monkey in Downtown Arlington.
For people of any age who have never ridden but want to get into the culture, the shop offers riding lessons. Last September, a 24-year-old woman came to the shop to learn how to ride, because she wasn’t taught as a child. Hernandez recounted the tale with a grin from ear to ear.
The woman was terrified at first. Hernandez didn’t listen to any of her excuses and coached her on how to cycle. In 30 minutes, the new rider took off on her own with a look of confidence.
“It’s independence,” Hernandez said about riding, as she worked to change a brake cable. “It’s the feeling that you can, instead of you can’t.”
That woman isn’t the only person Hernandez encouraged to give bike culture a chance.
Hernandez’s mother always said women don’t belong with grease on their hands and never really understood her passion for biking.
When she came to visit last summer, Hernandez gifted her a bike. The first time she came back from riding, she had a tear in her eye and a huge smile on her face. Her mother finally got it. As an activist, she now fights for bike lanes in El Paso.
Front and Center Cyclery isn’t just for new riders. Mechanic Rudy Cardenas said long-time cyclists can take their bikes there for repairs, and they’ll make sure the bicycle is safe and operational at a reasonable price.
The benefits of riding are important, not only to the individual, but also to the community. Biking creates a peaceful lifestyle and prevents dirty emissions from polluting the air, part-time mechanic Donald Watley said.
Hernandez described working on bikes as a very chill lifestyle.
“The world is so different whenever you get on a bicycle,” Hernandez said, while picking a wrench from an orange tool rack and getting back to work.