When it comes to bicycles, many of us are weekend warriors. The thought of riding a bike to work is intimidating – especially given the chance it might break down. Now, some cycling advocates are helping ordinary people become amateur bike mechanics. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly visited a community-run repair shop and has this report:
When it comes to bicycles, many of us are weekend warriors. The thought of riding a
bike to work is intimidating – especially given the chance it might break down. Now,
some cycling advocates are helping ordinary people become amateur bike mechanics.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly visited a community-run repair
shop and has this report:
(ambient sound in shop)
It’s the perfect day to work on your bike.
Rainy and cold. But the forecast says warmer weather is ahead.
And that’s why people and bikes are packed into a so-called
bicycle cooperative based in Ottawa, Canada. It’s called Recycles.
And it’s a bike repair shop that’s open to everyone.
Its walls are lined with cookie tins filled with greasy bicycle
parts. Fenders and inner tubes hang from the ceiling.
For just a few bucks an hour, you can get a bike stand, access to
tools and advice from mechanics.
The shop is run by ten volunteers who keep it open two nights a
week and on Sundays.
Mark Rehder is the coop’s director. He’s a firm believer that anyone can fix a bike.
“If they’re a complete novice, we’ll start. We’ll sort of,
‘here.’ We’ll do it or show them and hand them the screwdriver or
the wrench and say ‘you keep doing that and when you get that part
off, let me know.’ And then so the head mechanic will move on to
someone else and the person, ‘okay, I’ve got the thingamajig off’
and we’re ‘okay, now you have to clean that out’ and just step by
step…guide them through the thing.”
The coop was started seven years ago by a group of dedicated
cyclists. Lloyd Deane is one of the coop’s founders. He says their
mission is simple – to get people out of their cars.
“There is an alternative out there and it’s quiet, it’s
healthy, it’s cheap, it’s uncomplicated and you can actually fix
it yourself and we’re a living testament that people with no
mechanical skills whatsoever can come in here and fix their own
Volunteer mechanic Rob Galdins focuses intently on the bicycle
wheel spinning in front of him. He works on one side of the bike
as a client tightens nuts on the other.
“We’re putting on some new brake pads and we’re just sort of
centering the brakes so that they hit the rim squarely…
And yeah, tighten that nut. There’s already a nut there. Okay….”
Nearby, volunteer Jennifer Niece is making the wheel true on her
own bike. She says this experience has changed the way she uses
“I do a lot of touring and I wasn’t really able to do that by
myself until I started volunteering here because if I got a flat
tire or if my brakes busted or something out on the road, I
wouldn’t have been able to fix it. So it’s really valuable for me
to learn that.”
When the volunteers aren’t helping other people, they’re refurbishing
used bikes. They sell them to keep the operation going. But the
group also receives some outside support.
Most of their tools and parts are supplied by the Mountain
Equipment Co-op, a Canadian nonprofit that sells outdoor gear.
Mark Vancoy is the social and environmental coordinator at the
Ottawa store. He says they support Recycles because it fills a void in the
“If you were to go to a bike shop, a lot of times … the
shop rate is, for most people, sort of out of range for them. So this
really empowers people to be able to one, afford to have a bike
and two, to keep them up in working order.”
The bicycle co-op is probably one of the smallest volunteer
organizations in Ottawa. It has a tiny budget, no rules, and virtually no
hierarchy. But the leader of this band of volunteers, Mark Rehder, is
convinced it’s an ideal way to change society.
“It’s great to go up on parliament hill and wave the signs,
‘down with Bush’ or whatever, but at a local level is where change
is most effective. It’s just little groups like us, doing little
things and connecting with the other little groups and maybe every
now and then sort of pulling out a pillar that was propping up
something society didn’t need anyways.”
(sound of bike shop)
Rehder says sometimes they’ll talk about politics. Mostly, they’re focused on
flat tires and broken chains. But many of them share the same dream –
they look forward to a day when cyclists will have the roads to themselves.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.