Cleveland has always been a city of makers. From the refugee farmers who founded the city, on through names like Case, Brush, Rockefeller and Severance, this is a city ready to make its own path through creativity and hard work.
Skidmark Garage may well turn out to be a part of that legacy. Started four years ago, the maker’s space has a unique but rapidly catching on premise: a collaborative garage.
Puzzled? You wouldn’t be the first. But simply put, it’s a member-run D.I.Y. community motorcycle shop. Have a moped, mini-bike, Harley or something else with two (sometimes three) wheels that you’d like to do your own repairs on? For a monthly membership fee, you can work whenever you want and have access to a world of tools you could never fit in your own garage. Most importantly, you’ll work with other members to share ideas, expertise and advice.
“There’s no ‘mechanic’ on duty,” says co-founder Brian Schaffran. “So your project is your project. But there’s so much collaboration and secret learning with the other members, that people of any and all skill levels are able to come in, get their hands dirty and get their bikes up and running. We’ve had members doing everything from total overhauls on a Harley to just getting a moped up and running so they can use it to get to work.”
The large open space is part of the Hamilton Collaborative in the historic Osborn factory. With neighboring businesses like Ingenuity Cleveland, Rust Belt Riders, SoulCraft and Rebuilders Exchange, the vibe is creative, collaborative and fun. The Skidmark Lounge, which features a salvaged 1920s bar, old pool table and collection of furniture, has hosted comedy shows, film festivals and even dog training classes.
But over the last few years, Schaffran, along with his fellow co-founder and fiancée Molly Vaughan, noticed a trend with their members. Most of the older members have some tool and basic mechanical knowledge after growing up helping their fathers or grandfathers fix the lawnmower, and many had shop class in high school. The younger members often don’t have the same exposure.
“By the time I was in school, shop class had already started to disappear,” says Vaughan. “What’s crazy is that there is still a huge need for these skills and yet, we’ve taken them away from our educational system. Just look at the number of manufacturers in this neighborhood, like Horsburgh Scott, that seem to always have a help wanted sign out.”
The couple, who met when they both worked at Saint Martin de Porres High School in Cleveland, are passionate about education. They slowly began to formulate a plan to address what they saw as a critical need. So, in mid-2018 ,the pair, already busy with the garage, launched a nonprofit called Motogo.
Bringing a shop class on wheels to schools, recreation centers and community programs, Motogo is rooted in a makers-based approach to hands-on learning. The program meets students where they are, builds confidence and introduces basic hand-tool skills through motorcycle building and engine maintenance.
An initial proof of concept class at Magnificat High School in Rocky River proved the idea is viable. Now, they are working with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, including Design Lab Early College High School, and contacting more organizations.
“The best part has been the ability to work in not only an education in using tools and fixing a bike, but in bringing in math, science and other concepts, too, in a way that makes it fun and shows a direct impact in a project,” Vaughan says.
Motogo is a Cleveland Leadership Center LAP (Leadership Action Project) for the 2019 class of Bridge Builders. On Feb. 9, they will host a fundraiser in the Skidmark Garage, with food, live music, raffles and a chance to use a virtual reality welding education system courtesy of Cleveland’s Lincoln Electric.
With the fundraiser looming, and riders working on their bikes during the winter months, things have never been busier at Skidmark, which is exactly how Vaughan and Schaffran like it. While some might see a scattered industrial space, complete with Grendel (the shop’s dog) roaming round, they see collaboration, education and the chance to inspire Cleveland’s next generation of makers.