You could say Gregory Crichlow is an ex-bike racer who decided to open a bike shop because he loves bikes and wants to build custom frames. You could also say he’s a black guy opening a bike shop. In a traditionally black neighborhood.
Chocolate Spokes Bike Studio occupies a small space in Denver’s Five Points, a neighborhood that’s slowly making its way back up from several decades of trouble with drugs and crime. Five Points’ glory days were in the 1920s through 1950s, when it was known as the “Harlem of the West” and jazz musicians from all over the country would play clubs there. The ’50s through the ’90s were the tough years.
Crichlow raced bikes at the University of Colorado, got a master’s in architecture, then left the field and started Chocolate Spokes — a bike shop that sells gourmet chocolate, too. It’s tucked into a corner next to a liquor store on Downing Street at 28th, where clientele often crack their bottles on the way out the door. During the summer, he works on bikes three days a week. He wants to help the neighborhood grow and improve — he lives here with his wife and children, and they don’t own a car.
Many of his customers are day laborers and homeless folks who ride Walmart bikes to get to work — that’s part of the reason he bases his business on service, not sales of $5,000 triathlon bikes. One morning as I picked up a new wheel, a woman walked up to the front door with an aluminum baseball bat strapped to the frame of her mountain bike. Gregory said, “Here comes one of my regulars,” and opened the door for her.
Crichlow’s dream is to build bikes, which he does two days a week during the summer, shutting the doors of the shop and welding beautiful custom steel frames with “Chocolate” on the downtube. In between building and painting the classic custom rides, Crichlow opens the doors of the shop every morning, wheeling customers’ bikes out front to make room on the inside of the shop, cable-locking the bikes together in front of the store. He used to roll his bike out there, too, an original Chocolate Spokes bike with fenders, standing it against the front window behind the hodge-podge of neighborhood bikes. Until someone stole it.
Back in November, Crichlow was standing inside the shop talking to a customer when he noticed his bike was gone. Someone had walked away with it. He was shocked.
“You know what’s sad is I know someone got $30 for that bike, because they just needed some money,” he said. “This is still a crack corner.” He wants to help the neighborhood out of its shady past, he says, that’s why he opened the shop here. That’s why he tunes bikes for everyday folks, for reasonable rates, on a scrappy corner in Five Points. He helps lots of people who have no choice but to commute to work on bikes, people who sleep in different places every night, people who are trying to get back on their feet.
When I found out someone stole Crichlow’s bike, I posted a photo on Instagram and Facebook, asking anyone who saw it to u-lock it and contact me or Gregory. It broke my heart to know his art was sold to someone for 1/20th of its value, gone as quickly as a crack rock burning up in a pipe somewhere. A few folks re-posted the photo, but I never heard anything.
Before I left the shop, Gregory said, “I was angry about it for a little while, but you know, I’m probably one of the only people who can really just build another bike.” Part of me hopes he’s too busy building other people’s bikes this winter to think about what to build for himself.