Joe Haskins, Tampa champion of working class bicycle riders, has died at age 79

He’ll be remembered with a memorial ride to his wake on Sunday.

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Joe Haskins, Tampa champion of working class bicycle riders, has died at age 79
Kelly Benjamin

In a notorious car culture town like Tampa where for at least the last three quarters of a century, the entire urban landscape has been designed and built for the automobile, riding a bicycle around town can be a pretty dangerous pursuit. And when you consider that we rank near the top of the list each year in bicyclist fatalities and a legacy of predatory policing policies targeting bicyclists (Biking While Black), the simple joyous act of riding a bike can be down right deadly.

That’s why up until fairly recently, bicycling through Tampa’s mean streets anywhere other than Bayshore Boulevard or the cul-de-sacs of the suburbs was seen as a little bit of renegade activity. When you’re a rider and you see other sweat-drenched maniacs pedaling through traffic risking their lives to get to work on time mere centimeters from the bumpers of oblivious drivers whizzing by staring at their phones, you can’t help but feel a certain kinship. If you’ve been there, you give an obligatory head nod because biking the streets here is a death-defying, life-affirming activity—and for many of us a daily commute that demands solidarity.

Photos from last weekend’s All Love ride to honor late Tampa bike man Joe Haskins

If there’s been one constant pillar of Tampa’s working class non-spandex wearing bicycling community for the past 65 years, it’s Joe Haskins. The soft spoken bike mechanic with a quick wit and big heart has been an institution in central Tampa since he purchased Tampa Cycle from his aging uncle in 1958 at the age of 17, later renaming it Joe Haskins Bike Shop. Prior to that, the shop had been around in one form or another since at least 1916, making it a contender for one of the oldest continuously operated businesses in the City of Tampa.

After 65 years of serving the community, Joe Haskins passed away on Saturday, March 20 at the age of 79. 

All Love Bike Ride to honor Joe Haskins
Sunday, March 28, 3 p.m. (ride leaves at 3:30 p.m.)
Al Barnes Park, 2902 N 32nd St., Tampa
More info on Facebook

“He really was the real deal,” his wife Michelle Calonge-Haskins told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. She met Joe when she lived just a couple blocks from the shop in Tampa Heights with her small child and only a bicycle as transportation. After first being a customer, she eventually took a job at the shop and has now been there nearly 40 years. “He knew folks depended on him, trusted him, and he was truly devoted to helping them out,” she said. “It was a genuine labor of love and he made it his life’s work. He practically lived out of that little shop.”

News of Joe’s passing was met with an outpouring of love on social media from generations of customers who recalled cramming into the tiny showroom to pick out a bike or get a repair. Everyone seems to have a story about Joe’s no nonsense, honest, and to the point style as well as his kindness. “There won’t be another like him,” said Devon Brady, a long time customer and Tampa bicyclist. “Joe understood the power of the bicycle as an instrument of joy. You couldn't find a better example of a neighborhood business that was responsive, receptive, and respective of everyone in the community.”

Joe’s famous “Free Air” hose is a small example of that. Left on outside the bike shop on Florida Avenue for customers to fill their tires 24-7, the hose has been a lifeline for countless cyclists trying to keep air in their tires through the years. According to legend, the free air so infuriated a neighboring business that charged customers 50-cents to use their air pump machine that the business owner snuck out and cut Joe’s hose in the middle of the night only for Joe to repair it the next day and offer it back to the community. After this scenario repeated a few more times, the other guy eventually gave up. That business is long gone but the free air remains outside Joe’s shop on Florida Avenue to this day.

Usually clad in a T-shirt and jeans and occasionally overalls, Joe and his shop were a throwback to an era when utility and getting folks back rolling on their bikes was far more important than any modern aesthetic. Opening the door to his shop is a time warp into another era. No computer, just paper tickets, and so crammed full of bikes you can barely turn around without bumping into something. The tools, parts and grease everywhere is part of the charm. Former Tampa Bay Times reporter and bicycling advocate Alan Snel remarked that “every mayor has their downtown pet projects, but the essence of a city is the neighborhoods and small businesses like Joe’s that help everyday residents with everyday issues.” Joe’s Shop is an essential piece of the central Tampa community. He will be remembered for that.

While battling illness for the last few years, Joe’s family has stepped in to help run the bike shop. Brittany Calonge, Joe’s goddaughter, has been working at the shop for nearly half her life and running it for the last three years of Joe’s illness.

“Joe wouldn’t even take vacations because he was worried about the people that needed their bikes fixed to get back on the road and make a living,” Calonge, 34 said. “He instilled that spirit in me and I feel I have a duty to keep this going, not only for him but for our customers.” 

“At some point when Joe was sick, the idea of selling the building came up,” said Mrs. Haskins, but after brief consideration Joe told the family that he didn’t want it on the market. “He didn’t want the building to be turned into anything but a bike shop. We intend to honor that wish.”

Tampa’s All Love Bike Crew will honor Joe Haskins with a two-mile memorial bike ride to his wake at Myrtle Hill Memorial Park on Sunday, March 28. Riders will meet up at Jackson Heights’ Al Barnes Park at 2902 N 32nd St. at 3 p.m. The ride will leave at 3:30 p.m.

UPDATED 03/25/21 2:30 p.m. Updated with additional comment from family members.

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About The Author

Kelly Benjamin

Kelly Benjamin is a a community activist and longtime Creative Loafing Tampa Bay contributor who first appeared in the paper in 1999. He also ran for Tampa City Council in 2011...
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