Lakeland native Will Shaffer is building community, one DIY bike at a time.
Eight years ago, Will Shaffer set up a bike shop in the back of Evolution Records. Open to the public and completely DIY, it was, as he puts it, “punk rock-run.” It turned out to be a beta test for the nonprofit he’d open less than a decade later.
But first, he needed to strategize. He asked two friends, Mac Masters and Tyler Fox, to help him run the business side and turn the idea for his new and improved version, Unwholly Bikes, into something legit.
“Despite how passionate I am,” says Shaffer, a lifelong tinkerer and self-taught bike mechanic, “without the two of them, this whole thing collapses.” His new partners were also an excellent case study for the viability of the business. As Shaffer says, before asking them to get involved, neither Masters nor Fox could tell the difference between a wrench and a screwdriver. Now they’re bike mechanics in their own right, which is exactly what Unwholly Bikes is all about.
“Our focus is on those who have a willingness to learn cycling mechanics and a willingness to participate to empower themselves.”
“Our focus is on those who have a willingness to learn cycling mechanics and a willingness to participate to empower themselves,” Shaffer says.
To do that, the bike shop takes unwanted, abandoned, and abused bikes by donation and puts them in the hands of folks who want to know how to fix them.
Ten hours of sweat equity or a $50 donation gets you a year-long membership: a starter bicycle, access to the shop and its tools, one part for your bike per week, and free entry to all of Unwholly Bikes’ events, like its monthly Church of the Unwholly Bike, where volunteers can participate in a community cleanup, take a group ride, then share a meal. Shaffer says getting out into Lakeland proper is a huge part of the business.
“Listen. I have ‘Swan City’ tattooed on my knuckles, okay? They’re gonna spread my ashes in Lake Mirror.”
“Listen,” he says. “I have ‘Swan City’ tattooed on my knuckles, okay? They’re gonna spread my ashes in Lake Mirror.” That is to say, Shaffer loves Lakeland, and saw an opportunity here to make an impact for years to come—and for the next generation. His sons are already reaping the benefits. Ryland, 11, is on his fifth custom bike build and Bryant, 8, just finished his third. The kids are in the shop most weekends, teaching volunteers of all ages.
The dream of Unwholly Bikes is not just to put bicycles in people’s hands, but to be a self-sustaining, volunteer-run organization that builds up the community. And they’re doing it: Last month was the first that the business was able to pay for itself, with no contribution from the founders’ own pockets.
“We wanted to have a reason to hang out, meet new people, give something to the city that was gonna be productive,” Shaffer says. “We’re just the stewards of the parts and the place.”