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Bicycle Co-ops

January 13, 2010

Back Alley Bikes in Detroit

Most of my knowledge about how to fix things (bikes, cars, toilets, computers, clothing, etc.) was born of necessity.  I’ve rarely been able to afford fancy new things, and when my 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) hand possessions have failed it’s been my responsibility to fix them or do without.  With bicycles in particular, entropy and poverty have taught me well.

Bicycles are simple enough that they can be made functional with little more than a mechanical mind, some basic tools, and a lot of patience.  That being said, bicycles that are put into regular service in “functional” condition usually don’t remain functional for long.  This was my first lesson in bicycle repair.

My second lesson was that my bicycle would not cross the threshold from “good enough” to “good” without a lot of special tools and knowledge that I didn’t yet have.  Fortunately, I learned this second lesson while living in a town that was home to a thriving bicycle repair co-op, The ReCYCLEry.

When I first arrived at The ReCYCLEry, I felt like I had stumbled upon the Garden of Eden.  Spare parts and tools were literally everywhere, like fruits growing freely on a tree.  While there were materials in abundance, and a horde of folks like me seeking answers, there was a scarcity of volunteers.  After a couple of hours spent hacking away at my bike, I realized that my rudimentary knowledge of bicycle repair, how to fix flats and what not to hit with a hammer, was of use to someone else, and I began to straddle the line between recipient and provider.  This is the magical formula of a co-op, folks helping each other.  It’s obvious to anyone with a dictionary that this is the root of the co-op model, but literal definitions are pale shadows of experience.  The camaraderie kept me returning to The ReCYCLEry long after my bike was fully repaired.

By building community and making bikes more accessible, bike co-ops have played a pivotal role in today’s bicycle boom.  This role is sure to have a more far-reaching and long-lasting influence on Americans’ cycling habits than the occasional television coverage that bicycle racing receives.  In the last decade alone, scores of bicycle co-ops have sprung up all over the nation, and the co-ops that were in their infancy 10 years ago are now respected institutions.

Check out some of the classics, near and far:

The ReCYCLEry, of course.

The Durham Bike Co-op

Back Alley Bikes/The Hub of Detroit, of course.

Bikes Not Bombs (Boston)

Recycle-A-Bicycle (NYC)

The Bike Church (Philly)

Plan B (New Orleans)

B.I.C.A.S. (Tucson)

The Bicycle Kitchen (L.A.)

The Bike Kitchen (S.F.)

and

The Entire City of Portland, Oregon

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