As the days get longer and warmer, summer projects near completion. Proud owners post photos and video of bikes being reassembled with various modifications. As impressive as many of the projects are, I’m often more impressed by the shops in which many of them are done. When I first began looking at some of these photos, I thought the bike owners were taking photos from a commercial shop where they were having the work done. As I’ve spent more time reading about the work done by various owners on some of the boards I belong to, I came to realize that these are private shops owned by hobbyists. I call them hobbyists to distinguish them from retired shop owners, using professional facilities for private projects.
Serious wrenchers will have a lift table. That piece of equipment alone runs from $200 for a very basic model to more than $1,000. You don’t stick a tool like that under an open carport. Usually the shop in which you find a lift table will be enclosed and probably has heat and air. It’s not unusual to see expensive welders, plasma cutters, air compressors and other expensive equipment in the background of these photos. Those items aren’t really unexpected in the shop of a serious wrencher. But often you also see refrigerators, televisions and computers in these work spaces. You are also likely to see a sink dedicated to refreshments, and comfortable chairs. Many of these places also have an enclosed bathroom.
I don’t believe any of the owners of these garages are extremely wealthy. These are not railroad barons, or oil tycoons. These are average folks with mostly middle- to upper-middle class incomes. So these work, or play, areas represent a substantial financial investment. That, in turn, says something about how the owners view these spaces. These are not areas where dad will spend a few hours per month during the summer to fix the lawn mower. These structures are both status symbols and social centers. Wrenching sessions become an opportunity to display not only technical prowess, but to show off a well-appointed and comfortable garage.
So far, these environs are inhabited mostly by men, and are referred to as “man caves” by many on the boards. But as I pointed out in a recent blog, women are not unknown here. In some circles, these areas are replacing living rooms as the primary location to entertain guests.
Just imagine Rob and Laura Petrie from the 1960s Dick Van Dyke show having neighbors Jerry and Millie Helper over. But instead of handing their guests a martini and cigarette in the living room, it’s a beer and a wrench in the garage.
－ Guy Wheatley