It was news to me that the do-it-yourself service shop phenomenon has roots going back at least to World War II. I had never heard of the niche before my son-in-law was in flight training for the Air Force several years back. The then young Lieutenant Lander told me that he had done a brake job on his car at the base’s DIY service facility. The Air Force Auto Hobby Program has lifts, specialty tools, manuals and even military mechanics on duty to give advice or assist on projects.
It turns out that every base on which Lander has served since flight training has had a variation on that same DIY shop theme, each of which is run by the military’s Morale, Welfare and Readiness (MWR) organization. He says that you often see a mix of officers, enlisted and retired military personnel working on their motorcycles and cars in the bays of the shops. Lander, now a major, still wrenches in the DIY service facility, which he says brings him a sense of personal accomplishment and provides a form of decompression from the stresses of military life.
As of late, the civilian motorcycling community is catching on to the logic and appeal of DIY service facilities. Drop-in, membership and cooperative style shops are popping up nationwide. Facilities from New York to Seattle are amassing loyal customers who appreciate the independence, satisfaction, education and therapy they garner as they wrench in the service bays.
Seeking to get an inside look at the draw of these customer-centric repair shops, I made a visit to the membership-based Cerberus Moto shop in San Diego. Owner Dave Hargreaves and his partner in business and in life, Jennifer Gardner, caught the community shop wave early.
Hargreaves is a master mechanic with a wealth of experience in the industry, a gregarious personality and the gift of gab. Gardner is a visionary who is passionate about expanding and growing the sport of motorcycling among women and promoting the moto-culture in San Diego and beyond.
Cerberus Moto sprouted organically out of necessity for the pair of motorcycle enthusiasts. After earning his mechanical chops in Harley dealerships in Arizona, Hargreaves moved to Louisiana to join the crew building high-end customs at Confederate Motorcycles. However, an act of nature changed the direction of his career.
“After Hurricane Katrina hit and literally tore down the back wall of the Confederate Motorcycles facility, I moved back to San Diego and needed to get back to work,” said Hargreaves. “On Jennifer’s suggestion, I put up a Craigslist ad, and that was all it took. I had guys bringing in their bikes every day and into the night. But they were drinking my beer and relaxing, and I was doing all the work. That was when I had the idea, ‘Why not educate these guys so they can work on their own bikes?’” That seed idea has grown and blossomed for more than a decade since the couple set up shop in their own home.
“We are the longest running community garage in the nation,” said Garner. “Others started earlier, but we have been continuously running a co-op shop since 2006. We started in our own garage and have had several locations over the years. We even worked out of historic Egyptian Garage in City Heights.”
The new shop location on El Cajon Boulevard is a fantastic workspace with a very cool moto-vibe. There is a side of the shop dedicated to retail and to the custom builds that both Hargreaves and Gardner are working on. The other side is for the members of the co-op. There will ultimately be 10 full work stations on the customer side.
“Every workstation has its own table, its own tools, and even its own PC,” said Hargreaves. “Everything that’s needed is pretty much right there within reach.” When a member is in need of the owner’s expertise, Hargreaves is a master of what educators call “chunking.”
“When I am working with a customer, I will cut the task into little nuggets,” Hargreaves said. “If they are starting a valve adjustment, I will tell them to take the tank and seat off, and then call me back over. After that I will start them on the next phase.”
Clearly that great shop setup combined with the welcoming, cooperative spirit is working. As I was chatting with Gardner about her personal custom bike project, a man pulled up on his 1938 BMW and sidecar. That man was Dave Bunch, whose membership at Cerberus Moto dates back more than two years.
It turns out regulars like Bunch share the infectious enthusiasm of the owners. He is one of the nearly 20 full-time Cerberus members. “You can call and ask my wife how much time I spend here,” Bunch said with a smile. “I’d say I’m here 6 to 8 hours a week.”
Bunch credits the shop with his burgeoning moto-knowledge and his passion for restoration. “I didn’t know a thing about working on bikes until I started my BMW project here. Now I can’t wait to start my next project, which is a 1968 Honda SL350.”
Hargreaves calls Bunch an “Ambassador Member” who often leaves his own project when another member needs a hand on a task. That is the community shop philosophy in a nutshell—a communal effort in both the micro and macro scope of the lifestyle.
Gardner said that Cerberus has a full and dynamic events calendar. The shop has women-only nights, movie-themed nights and a variety of specialty classes. It has even hosted a Q&A session with CHP officers so riders could get their questions answered on such hot topics as lane sharing. These events as well as total shop and tool use are included in the full membership price of $250 per month. There are also hourly pricing options.
After getting a nice view of the sense of community offered up at the co-op shop, I ended my visit on the front steps of Cerberus Moto discussing the San Diego Old Globe Theater’s production of “Hamlet” with both of the Daves and Jennifer. I’m quite sure that it was not the first discussion at the shop to stray away from torque wrenches and chain lube—and that’s part of the charm of the DIY shop community.
Cerberus Moto is located at 7082 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115. For more info, visit cerberusmoto.com.