Grey Matter and Rethinking Used Bikes

No doubt, I inherited my aversion to buying used vehicles from my parents. As Great Depression era kids, they were used to having possessions which were always secondhand, but I think the final straw came when my father returned from Europe and started looking around for a car in post-WWII Chicago. The automakers in Detroit had not yet switched over to producing civilian vehicles, so the only thing Dad could find was an ancient Ford Model A which always needed repair. Family legend has it that when he started dating Mom, and would come to pick her up on cold winter nights, she would snitch the rubber mat from my grandparent’s bathtub and put it over the floorboard of the old Ford to keep the ice and snow from splashing up through the rust holes and soiling their party clothes.

After they were married, and my sister and I came along, they moved west to Arizona and life became better. The car dealerships they dealt with always knew my parents were new car buyers; they had no interest in used cars. My mother summed it up with a statement I heard many times during my childhood: “Son, when you buy a used car you’re just buying somebody else’s problems.”

I drove used cars until I graduated college, and then I began buying an unbroken string of new cars. That string was only broken when my wife and I helped my son and his wife buy a used sedan for their growing family. I’ve always purchased new bicycles, and I guess it’s because in the back of my mind I still hear Mom’s Somebody Else’s Problems admonition; the last thing I want is to have some kind of problem on the road when I’m bike commuting. That may be changing, however.

I saw a story on television about a unique bike shop which has just opened near me. It’s called the Grey Matter Foundation Bicycle Shop, and its backstory is truly inspiring. The shop is the dream of a young man named Kyle Claffey. He worked in bike shops as a high school kid, and pursued a passion for cycling even when he was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 17. And even as he struggled with treatment, he raced in the 2013 Race Across America (RAAM). Kyle’s eight-man Team Barrow finished a respectable fourth place and raised around $110,000 for Barrow Neurological Institute, one of America’s premier neurological research and treatment facilities. In January, 2014, Kyle and his family started the Grey Matter Foundation, a non-profit organization with the purpose of opening a shop to sell affordable used bicycles and parts, and provide bicycle service and repair, to the Phoenix cycling community; a portion of the shop’s proceeds would go to Barrow.

Sadly, Kyle lost his battle with cancer on April 18th, 2014, just a month before the bike shop was scheduled to open. But Kyle’s twin brother, David, and his father Michael completed Kyle’s dream and opened the shop. When a local television station had a segment on the Grey Matter Foundation Bicycle Shop, I had Kyle’s story as an additional motivation for stopping to look at bicycles at a new shop in town.

As I wandered among the bikes in the Grey Matter inventory, a number of things started churning in my own brain. They had some of the same things you’d see in any pile of used bikes: Big Box store refugees, well worn classic cruiser type bikes, classic 3-speed tourers, etc. But they also had a number of decent bikes for great prices.

There was a 2004 Felt F35 road/triathlon which looked to be in excellent shape. When I spoke with Kyle’s brother, David, about it he told me it was a bike he had sold new to a customer when he worked at another bike shop; he knew the bike’s history so he could say with authority that there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. The F35 sold new for around $2,200 USD new, Grey Matter wanted just $700 USD for this one.

I looked over a 2008 Giant XtC 1 hard tail mountain bike they had leaning against the wall, searching for any sign it had ever been off the road. I couldn’t find much of anything. These bikes retailed for between $800 and $900 USD, and this one had a pretty decent set of SPD clipless pedals on it which probably added another $30 to $40 USD. The price tag said “$700.00 OBO”. If you could talk the store down to something south of $600, this bike would be a literal steal.

By far, the most impressive wheels I saw in the store belonged to a pair of Day 6 Dream 24 bikes. The Dream 24 is sort of a super-cruiser-with-semi-recumbent-leanings. It features a step-through frame, a crank forward bottom bracket connected to a 24-speed mountain bike type of drive train, and a recumbent-like type of saddle with a nice, flat seat bottom and supportive seat back. The Dream 24 lists for $969, and these two particular bikes looked like they had just been taken out of the wrappers. The price tag on each was $300.

As a recumbent rider myself, I know the value of the Dream 24, and as I snapped some pictures I found myself wishing I had an extra six hundred bucks to buy both of them. I don’t think my mother’s “somebody else’s problems” scolding would apply to anything in the GMF Bicycle Shop: even if you purchased a bike there and never rode it, you couldn’t help but feel great about yourself for contributing to a good cause and promoting the legacy of a remarkable young man.

BluesCatBluesCat is a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, who originally returned to bicycling in 2002 in order to help his son get the Boy Scout Cycling merit badge. His bikes sat idle until the summer of 2008 when gas prices spiked at over $4.00 per gallon. Since then, he has become active cycling, day-touring, commuting by bike, blogging ( and giving grief to the forum editors in the on-line cycling community.

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