bike repair coops
A bike repair coop is a nonprofit shop and a group that recycles unused/abused bikes, offers the tools and space and advice of the shop to its members, and often runs group rides, or a yellow bike system, or something else on as well. Has anyone else been involved with one? They're a great idea. You get to pool resources to create a large, well stocked shop, that everyone can use. People who don't have repair skills (or even what a wrench is!) can learn how to do complete repairs on a bike, how to switch and modify noncompatible parts, how to restore old bikes, how to build bikes up from a frame, how to safety a bike, and how to make sick freak bikes. I've been involved with three and they've all been quite different. The first is only two days a week, is run out of a church basement, and is low use. They sell the recycled bikes at a very low cost, to cover expenses. At this shop everything that can be is resused. People repair pedals, cables are reused, tubes are patched. At the second coop I was involved with, it runs 3 days a week. This shop is a big bigger, has actually work stands (not just hooks from ceiling), does absolutely complete repairs (with a good checklist) and sells the bikes for a little bit more, but still to cover costs. The skill levels are higher at this shop, as is the quality of the work. The shop is in a basement room of a light industrial building. The third shop I've been involved with is on a university campus. This shop is run monday to friday. This is a fairly well known shop because the members run events and outdoor free tuneups to advertise. This shop is heavily used, and there's usually a line up for the three workstands. This shop doesn't have the time to be as meticulous as the first and if a pedal doesn't work, you just rumage through the pedal bin and put on some different ones. Tubes are replaced, as are cables. This shop gets a mix of the really broke student and the I RACE crowd. Sometimes there's problems with snobbery. But, everyone gets in there and learns a lot and builds. People start with no knowledge to being able to do everything but major work like rewelding a frame.
A bike repair coop can be started by a group of people who pool their tools and old parts and scour the neighbourhoods for bikes on garbage day. It can be really small, or have open membership. At these coops membership is $5(can) a year, and in the third shop entitles the member to free use of the shop, to the others in a reduced cost for use of the shop. The other two have a thing where you can save up shop hours with volunteer work hours, at a 1-1 ratio. The biggest problem is always rent. The third shop gets the space for free, so money has not been a problem. In Canada, Babac, a wholesale parts company, will let you order through them at cost, if you can get another coop or reputable shop to give your coop a reference. This reduces costs considerably. Members can order parts through this catalogue, if it's not abused. They can't just walk in and start ordering parts, they need to be an active member. High end part ordering is also discouraged. The third shop sells new tires, tubes, locks, lights, bells, fenders, etc at cost to its members.
Here's a short list of some coops:
http://www.msu.mcmaster.ca/macycle/ -this is the one I'm currently involved with
http://www.xaccess.org/index.html -this ones a little different
This is a great idea, not just for the tangible benefits but also the spirit of sharing and community that it engenders. Who does the initial legwork to set these up? Are they vintage bike enthusiasts, college students or well-intentioned volunteers trying to help the needy?
Unfortunately, the closest to a bike co-op that I can find in central NJ is a housing project where many of the bikes stolen from our development end up. The thieves leave them unattended in a truly socialist style. I was able to steal back my kid's bike the day after it was stolen from our house
It depends on who's starting it. The one I'm with now is at a university, started by university students. I'm not a student, and find that 'scene' a little much, so sometimes that's a little frustrating, but we get tons of eager students in there, very much interested in learning. The first one I was involved with was the well-intentioned volunteer type. I was involved in setting that one up. This one has a problem with under exposure and as volunteers move, do something else, the shop can become a little under used. It's been going for... about 8 years. The third shop is something in btween, started mostly by some professors and mechanics. The main volunteers at this shop are highly skilled and have a very high standard. This shop can get very busy some days, but could be more used. This is less of a learn to fix bikes than a "I need a cheap but good bike" situation. The student run shop is much more seat of the pants, full tilt freeskool. Sometimes the work is less than stellar because there's less oversight, and more work is being done without the supervision of the technicians. But people are learning at a very high rate. The shop is what you make it. If you do complete repairs and sell finished bikes than the quality of the work will be better, but less knowledge will be imparted, and the shop will be less used. If you sell as-is bikes (to cover costs) and guide people through the repair of those bikes than the work won't be as good, but people will learn a helluva lot.
Try not to think of this as a charity. There are earn-a-bike elements for youth who want to learn bike repair and do volunteering to earn a bike. There are a set number of bikes set aside for donation on a need basis. But these are cost recovering operations, running off of membership dues, bike sales and sometimes paid training sessions in shop or at some other organization or business (like the prof/mechanic run shop). Some classes on bike safety and basic maintenance have been run for corporations or gov't agencies trying to encourage cycling (cheaper than parking spots!).
Anyway, it's whatever you make it, but the general idea is a non profit repair shop open to the use of the membership, which recycles trashed/donated bikes. Within that framework is a whole lot of room for variation.
I would love to find one in Chicago, but so far, no luck.
I love google search: chicago+bike+coop
Working Bikes Cooperative
This coop seems a little different, focussed on shipping completed bikes overseas. They do sell bikes as-is and completed bikes (a bit expensive for the labour). I'm sure volunteers get to use the shop for their own bikes too. I guess you can talk to them and find out!
oh yeah, here's the site for the repair co-op in Ottawa, the one with the high standards: http://www.flora.org/re-cycles/
Originally Posted by Balance
Been there, done that, moved on.
They are a totally closed off group of folks. I went there several times, asked if they could use a spare hand, and got totally ignored on one occasion. On the other occasions, they ignored and insulted my friend (he's only a pre-teen, but knows more about bikes than most people I know that work in bike shops) and my girlfriend, and the other time, they just totally told us they didn't need us. After the fourth time, we never came back. I thought Urban Bikes was similar, but they're not... and they mainly take in kids who want to learn how to fix bikes, not adults. Working Bikes was a waste of time, which was a shame. And it's nowhere near a coop. I couldn't take my bike in and use their tools to do repairs. They'd probably kick me out.
But I'll keep looking. Sooner or later, there will be a place I can go.
Koffee, I checked their website and find them weird, to say the least. They say flat out in their Sales page that you are not allowed to bring your own bike in for repairs, so your intuition is correct. And as far as their mission is concerned, I don't buy into it for one second. I grew up in a third world country where millions of people use bicycles for transportation. There is a huge market for inexpensive local bikes that can be bought used for a few dollars and repaired for pennies. There is no way you could import enough vintage Schwinns and give them away to make an iota of difference. And when the vintage bike breaks down, who ships it back to Working Bikes for repairs? You can't find parts for foreign bikes readily in poor countries.
I hadn't thought of that. Maybe they're just using it as a front to support their critical mass-ness (not starting up a CM thread here!). Every person I saw had on a CM shirt, and it looked like they were really pushing that agenda there. Kinda spooked me too.
That really sucks. I'm sorry that was your experience. I can't stand a$$holes. But it seems like you understand that not all non profit shops are like that. Most are actually coops. Maybe you could make a call out and find other people that wish there was a real coop, and discuss starting one. It can be a lot of work getting started, but if you have enough people working on, many hands make light work. Once you have the shop and have fundraised the tools and some spare tubes, etc it's not too hard to keep it going. The biggest issue is rent. In a city that size I couldn't see there being any problem finding enough members to keep it more than viable. The coop at the university here as already covered costs for the year, and it's barely october (one month!). It's the third year running and we had to prove to the school that it was economically viable. The coop doesn't pay rent, but if it did it still wouldn't really be a problem. The busiest time is spring, follow by the fall, so we haven't even hit peak use yet. You just save up from the fall for the winter. You don't even need to start big. Do you have any tools? Do any of your friends have any tools? Have a wrenching party in someone's garage, living room, whatever and see what skills you know as a group and share them. Fix your own bikes together. If you enjoy doing this you could discuss making a permanent coop. Don't feel shy about emailing any of those coops to ask for advice if you do want to start one. Here's a site that has a pretty good list, though some of the links are dead. Mostly the yellow bike ones. they don't tend to last. http://www.ibike.org/encouragement/freebike.htm
Now, as a word of warning, every coop needs to find a balance between the whole inside crowd thing and keeping it effectively running. There's usually a board of directors, and according to nonprofit laws, technically has to be a director, treasurer, etc. These can be in name only, everything decided as a group. It sounds like that work bikes thing went way too far towards the inside crowd thing. Elitists. Losers. From my perspective you need to have a solid and regular group of people that bring accountability and stability to the group, and keep the quality of work high, while not allowing themselves to be over other people. Most shops have designated shifts for the core volunteers, and other volunteers drop in. Members who come to only work on their bikes obviously just drop in as well. Sometimes the drop in volunteers come in more than the designated shift 'core' volunteers. But the shop hours need to be kept to, so stability is valuable. If there were enough drop by volunteers it wouldn't be a problem, but then the shop isn't properly handed over during shift changes, and people won't be aware if any major events have occured. For ordering parts/tools you obviously want only one person doing that, but every regular volunteer should know how that works, just so it's not all mysterious. Anyway, I think I'm going into too much detail, but if anyone is interested, just ask.
I'm one step ahead of you, Balance. Actually, I was thinking about starting one up this morning when I was on my way to work. And you're right- I totally think the coop thing would work, but just not in that case. I would love to see one, but we'll see if that ever happens in Chicago. That insider crap won't work with me. I hate that elitist attitude, I'm-on-the-inside crap, but mainly because I'm NOT on the inside.
I know about starting a not-for-profit, 501 (c)3, which was actually what I was thinking I would need to do. Finding a place to rent would also pose a problem, since I would want it to be accessible to as many people as possible. Maybe the near west side of Chicago, which is slowly being gentrified.
I also belong to a library that gives me access to just about every grant program under the sun. I will probably need to go spend a day in there and see what funding program would give me the money to get this thing off the ground. Then volunteers... I suppose I would start with bikeforums and putting the call out there for Chicago folks to volunteer, then network through that. Unfortunately, my friends don't bike, and most of them don't understand my obsession, so I couldn't go through them.
But I will definitely keep that in mind. Maybe if I can get it started up, I can get other ones opened under the same funding program in other cities and states. You never know.
You've already done the first two steps -realized there's a problem and that you are powerful enough to change it
Yeah, gentrification. You need to be careful with this one. A bike coop CAN be a gentrifying force. In Toronto in the parkdale area there's a bike coop with a library bike system (yearly membership to use locked yellow bikes). They charge for membership more than what their bike cost for most of the people in the area. This area is being gentrified (the artists moved in for cheap studio/storefront space, then poor(er) students, then the 'intellectual' yuppies. You know how it goes. This bike coop supports these gentrifying forces. The way any organization is begun will heavily influence what it becomes and continues towards. Word of mouth can be tricky if it's among the 'activist' crowd. I used to be in that world (went to university, dropped out, dodging debt) I have a pretty good idea how power is held among those who are apparently fighting against that. It's so very hard to see. Not laying blame, just trying to move beyond. Have you considered putting up posters in the area you'd like to have the coop, at grocery stores, on poles, etc? Starting a repair coop in a poorer area will be different than in an affluent one. In areas with a lot of poverty would find a lot of people that go around on garbage day to get bikes (this is common to the richer areas too, I know), but then go and sell them unfixed, or even fixed. This is a way to make small easy cash. Now, if you have a free to use bike coop, sometimes even with free used parts, this could be, depending on how you look at it, abused. Some coops have no fee for shop hours and the parts are free to use. The idea is that if you have extra parts laying around you donate them and take what you need. Assumes an abundance. Part hoarding can be a problem, though I've encountered this problem at the campus based coop here as well. It all depends on local context, but some trends can be seen. I plan on starting a bike repair and trailer manufacturing coop in the east end of Hamilton (Ontario, Canada), which is a very poor and violence ridden area. This is where I grew up, but while I was in Ottawa crack has taken over the area. It's really sad. I'm going to BC to learn welding and machining and CAD from an alternative bike frame builder, and then coming back to begin the groundwork on the coop. I'm very interested in visiting Bikes Not Bombs (http://www.bikesnotbombs.org/) in Boston because they seem to have a well developed youth program. There's a lot (!!!) of gang activity in this part of Hamilton and I'd like to give kids another option. Fix bikes, learn to weld, build low riders, choppers, etc. I'd like to have the repair coop being a sliding scale or pay-what-you-can membership, have free shop hours and a parts library (fer free) and have a cheap bike and cargo trailer library (loaners), but I'm worried that it might be overused (time and part hoarding) by people who genuinely need it because they're broke, but monopolize the shop, taking it aware from others. It's a hard call, eh? One idea I had was that the bike you work on has to be for yourself or a friend, and not for resale, and if you get caught, then you can't use the shop for a few months or so. But then again, what's wrong with building bikes for sale? The shop will be doing this to cover costs. Maybe the parts won't be free, I dunno. What do you think?
Sounds good. We should maybe take this to the PM system and pool some ideas together.
Drop me a PM and I'll do the same.