Spoke & Dagger Co., located at 1434 Hertel Ave., Buffalo, is identifiable by its swinging tire sign. <span class='image-credits'>Jessica Brant</span>

Harnessing retail and road culture to help people build the motorcycles of their dreams

When you’re a retail business trying to make it in a foodie town, it can be tough. But wishful thinking, careful planning, and sometimes un-planning, have taught Jodi and Chris Drew that it’s possible.

The married couple own Spoke & Dagger Co. at 1434 Hertel Ave., a hub for creative types who want to blip the throttle, install a pair of ape hangers on their softail, and grease up for a freedom ride. No, they’re not in the business of selling blimps or aircraft. They teach people how to build motorcycles on the cheap.

But the intention was never to own their own storefront. Jodi, an in-house design expert, and Chris, a machinist by day and the store contractor by night, were working in opposite industries when they discussed kickstarting the dream.

“That was when we sat with each other and were like okay, what are we going to do with the future? Does he want to be in the factory the rest of his life? Do I want to be in this corporate ladder situation? And the answer was no,” Jodi said.

After what Jodi calls “lucking out” following a few toxic work experiences, she figured out a way to unite her love for branding and design with Chris’ passion for all things BMX and biker. Spoke & Dagger, they agreed, would be their contribution to a rare subculture of do-it-yourselfers interested in bike mechanics and repair.

Through their platform, the co-owners host hands-on workshops and educational events for locals, out-of-towners, and first-time riders on topics like helmet fitting and safety, how to tune up and tune into the road, and how to find parts on a budget, as well as acting as a community marketplace for people interested in buying or selling a new or used bike.

Jodi also makes sure that there are workshops for a market of women riders, too.

“I didn’t think in a million years I would be where I am with motorcycles. It’s really cool,” she said.

The retail component makes Spoke & Dagger even more unique to the motorcyclist culture in Buffalo. The store is outfitted with Biltwell helmets, denim vests, leather jackets, and their custom Buffalo Panhead Tees, a throwback to the ’60s and ’70s motorcycle culture their crowd seeks out to emulate.

The Drews wanted to provide their customers an alternative to buying expensive products online and hoping for the best. At the store, customers can try on bigger brands of motorcycle gear to make sure it fits properly before purchasing.

The couple jumped on a great location on Hertel Avenue six months before they were truly ready to move in somewhere, a challenge all its own, but nothing the couple couldn’t handle.

With the appropriate financial backing—a $25,000 grant from the IGNITE Buffalo competition organized by 43North this past June—the Drews utilized the mentorship provided to them after the competition to learn about working capital and inventory management.

“We didn’t have the retail experience, and we’ve kind of learned that along the way with our mentors from IGNITE Buffalo,” Jodi said.

Buffalo’s growing restaurant and hospitality industry are bringing more tourists and out-of-towners to places like the Elmwood Village and Hertel Avenue. But so is its niche retail culture, turning Spoke & Dagger into a tourist attraction of its own.

“We get a lot of customers that we would never expect that have a son that rides a motorcycle or their dad that rides a motorcycle,” Jodi said. “So, the advertisement of just simply being on Hertel is, I think, really good for us.

The Hertel name brings out denizens in other neighborhoods, too, and Spoke & Dagger’s motorcyclist hub is made up of both those from within the city and outside of it.

When asked what it takes to start a retail-based business in Buffalo, Jodi advised to remain active in whatever scene you are servicing.

“You have to be community-oriented. You have to have a space to host workshops and host events, because then you don’t have to just sell a T-shirt to make money,” she said.

The couple used part of their IGNITE grant toward purchasing new tools for workshops and renovating their back-of-house demonstration room with a dividing crate wall. The backwoods-befitted, indie-industrial garage space, which serves both function and purpose in design, includes repurposed military canisters and a chandelier with a tire wrapped around its base. The co-owners, both from North Buffalo, wanted to welcome customers to roll up their sleeves and get to building.

According to Chris, there’s nothing better.

“It’s the most freeing feeling,” he said.

Spoke & Dagger has become a flagship for bike nerds—and nerds of whatever creative passions or hobbies they have—who want to make motorcyclist culture less intimidating. To do that, the Drews will integrate more of what they observe as a swelling community of new riders by adding a new lineup of innovative workshops they hope will appeal to potential guest hosts for the upcoming year.

They’ll also be sticking to their business mantra.

“Our biggest thing,” Jodi said, “is community over competition.”

Read more articles by Jessica Brant.

Jessica Brant is a freelance writer and photographer working out of Buffalo, N.Y. She holds a bachelor's degree in communication from the University at Buffalo and enjoys performance dance.
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