Moto Guild Is San Francisco's Co-Op Mechanical Oasis

Live in the City but lack a garage? Moto Guild has you covered.

Moto Guild partners Aleks and Wilder
From their catbird seats, Moto Guild partners Aleks and Wilder will sell you parts, refreshments, gear, and knowledge. Free hugs with any $500 purchase.Rebecca Hinden

The golden age of urban moto life is now. You awake. Nearby sounds of traffic and bustle greet you. Coffee. Shower. Food. Lock the door behind you. Walk out front, undo the disc lock, and mount your moto. Sprint to work, dodging slovenly cars as you glide through traffic. Your commute ends with a wide, knowing grin. On the weekend, pull on boots, riding jeans, and gear. Meet your buddies for coffee at the roadhouse. Twisty roads. Good friends. Stop for lunch. You’re home that afternoon with an enduring smile. You’re Steve McQueen cool. You’re David Lee Roth on two wheels. On a motorcycle in the city you roll like royalty. The only trick is keeping your noble steed serviced.

Motorcycle maintenance in the city is a battle. Shops are expensive. In San Francisco, they average $100 an hour. And few wrenches treat your bike as their own. Prefer to DIY? I hope your $2,000-a-month studio apartment has a garage. Otherwise, you’re dribbling oil and juggling clutch plates out on the sidewalk.

overhead-cam 750cc
Living the air-cooled, overhead-cam 750cc life—the Guild is totally down with vintage stuff.Rebecca Hinden

Enter Moto Guild: a San Francisco Bay Area motorcycle-empowerment center. It's an urban mechanical oasis. The shop offers hourly rental bays stocked with lifts, tools, and good vibes. It's a positive, friendly environment overflowing with tribal knowledge. A bay with a lift and loaded toolbox is $20 an hour or $125 a month for unlimited use. Check out specialized tools like alternator pullers or chain breakers. After training, use their tire changer. Take classes to learn carburetor tuning and valve adjustment. Order replacement parts at Moto Guild's front counter. Dispose of old oil and tires on site.

“We have 1,000 regular customers,” co-owner Aleks Grippo explains. “Locals mostly, as well as touring riders traversing North America. A membership isn’t required, but it gets you discounts on lift rental and parts.”

Moto Guild was founded by Aleks and her husband, Wilder. They started five years back in a South San Francisco industrial area. Aleks was an art director. She still teaches design at the SF Academy of Art. Wilder gave up his full-time aerospace engineering gig designing composite satellite structures. Now, they are the Guild's greasy gurus.

Moto Guild
It’s just another Thursday afternoon at Moto Guild as bolts twist, fluids drain, and tires mount up. Working in a fully outfitted stall sure beats lying on your back underneath your bike in the street next to your local rummy’s favorite toilet curb, doesn’t it?Rebecca Hinden

The shop eventually landed in Potrero Hill before moving on. The current location is spectacular. Get this: They have their own island—Treasure Island, a decommissioned Navy facility and seemingly no man’s land in the San Francisco Bay that sits between Oakland and San Francisco. The wooden structure’s high ceilings and vast 12,000-square-foot floor plan provide ample room to swing a mallet. “This was an old spy-training facility,” Aleks says. The neighborhood is sparsely populated, like other gritty bike shops down near Skid Row. But this one is in plain view of billions in real estate and the spectacular Bay Bridge. It’s otherworldly.

We’ve turned the business model around,” Aleks relates. “We’re a full-service shop, but we’ve eliminated the most expensive part: the mechanic. ‘Learn. Fix. Ride.’ is our motto.”

Aleks and Wilder’s latest improvements are a small on-site machine shop, a welder, finishing shop, and powdercoating setup. “Our business is based on demand,” Aleks says. “Our customers lead us forward. We also do gear consignment. If someone rides in repeatedly with bare hands, I walk them over to find good, slightly used gloves.”

While cruising the racks, I spotted a $250 set of Sidi boots with toes still intact for $40. Not my size though. Damn.

San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay Area moto mounts await service.Rebecca Hinden

Women’s events happen regularly. Aleks leads the women’s group rides and tech sessions, along with local pro wrench Lucy Carrera. Day one of the engine-rebuild class sees students tear apart a Ninja 250. On day two, they reassemble and then fire it up on a dedicated test stand. “They’re such simple motors,” Aleks says. “It’s a great platform to learn engine mechanics.”

Moto Guild’s brand is expanding. Current locations include San Jose, Philadelphia, and Chicago with more coming. Aleks explains: “We operate on a modified franchise model. The shops are all independently owned, and they all have their own vibe.” The Guild just sponsored old-school, mostly legal TT races through the streets of Treasure Island, with 125cc and moped classes. They also supported a trackday at nearby Thunderhill Raceway, offering attendees free mechanical help and tool use.

Ninja 250 motor
A Ninja 250 motor lives on a bench at Moto Guild, where it can be run and manipulated to teach students basic engine mechanics.Rebecca Hinden

As I strolled through the Guild on a random Thursday afternoon, half a dozen grease-gloved customers bustled about. One rider was lapping the valves on his Triumph Speed Triple cylinder head. Another muscled a fresh front tire on his BMW. Weekends resemble an active racing paddock, as lifts regularly rise and plummet. Maintenance happens, using a lift, the proper tools, and the guidance of skilled mechanics, if needed.

Maybe it’s time to stop swapping tires on the front walkway and singing your neighbors 5,000-rpm sonatas while you sync your carbs. Sounds attractive, right? Maybe it’s time to embrace the Guilded life.