Reuse and recycle your bike
There’s more than one way to bring new life to old bikes, Damian Antonio and Bart Sbeghen look at two innovative projects bringing joy to riders old and new.
In a gritty corner of a government-housing car park in Waterloo, in Sydney’s inner west, from behind a well-tagged roller door, a bike workshop comes to life two times a week. Boxes of cranks, ball bearings and cone pieces; filing cabinets of chains, brake levers and cassettes; and racks of wheels and frames, fill every corner. A couple of wheel-truing stands, spoke keys and other tools are scattered throughout the room.
The volunteers arrive early. They tinker with the latest donated bikes, assessing whether they are fit to offload in their current condition, for which a donation may be sought, or whether they would be better put to use broken down into their raw components.
Slowly, a people begin to arrive, ready for the mechanical challenge ahead. They are all ages and ethnicities—reflecting the local area and bike-lovers in general—and bring with them a mish-mash of bicycles. Most are worn and rusted and wouldn’t look out of place on the kerb on council clean-up day. But the people here know that with a bit of work and the right parts, there is still some life in them yet.
Before long the area is covered in bicycle frames, wheels and tubes. People zig-zag through the maze while making trips from their project to the tool trolley or the workshop shed. This shed may be small in size, but using a balanced combination of chaos and order, seemingly contains enough spare parts to service every bicycle in Sydney.
At home in the clutter, like a boy poring over his Lego hoard, is Charles, 41. A software developer by trade, Charles first visited Cycle Re-Cycle about a year ago. He has since built five bikes almost exclusively from the repository of parts available at the workshop. Most of them he has given to family and friends.
Charles is now preparing to create his sixth two-wheeled “Frankenstein”. He is in no rush and will build as parts become available. He gives the impression that the process is just as important as the final product, as without the process—his own two hands intimately linking each component—the bikes would not exist at all.
“The thing I don’t like is that it’s like bicycles these days are a throw-away commodity. You find some old stuff and it’s actually quite nice,” he explains. “The bike I normally ride was made in 1978 and it would be a shame to see it thrown away. I mean, it’s old and it’s rusty and anyone else would’ve just tossed it. But me, I put it together and I love it.”
There are over a billion bicycles on the planet with 130 million more being produced every year. Have you ever wondered where they all go to die? Some are melted down and reincarnated as car panels and park benches. Some become exhibits in the museums of our lives—our garages. And a few end up at this workshop, Cycle Re-Cycle.
Originating in 2005, Cycle Re-Cycle is a community-run bike workshop that acts as a repository of tools, spare parts and knowledge. Making sense of it all are the regular volunteers, of whom the head honcho is Hugh Ellens. An adult educator by day, Hugh first attended the Cycle Re-Cycle in 2007 while in search of an elusive part for his centre-pull brakes. He has been an integral member of the community ever since.
“I appreciated what they were doing,” he says. “So I came back for another visit. I made some friends while I was there; it was just too good an opportunity to pass up.”
Ellens says that the primary objective of Cycle Re-Cycle is to keep bicycles on the road. And with an estimated 2,000 visitors per year, servicing or building up to 700 bikes, it seems to be working. But as the workshop evenings unfold, it is clear that Cycle Re-Cycle’s achievements run far deeper than bicycle maintenance. Ellens hints at the altruism driving the work here while describing the thing he finds most satisfying about being a volunteer: “passing on knowledge to people so they can be self-sufficient. One of the inherent aspects of human nature is the desire to pass on knowledge—what you’ve learned and what your experiences have taught you. Otherwise, you might think, ‘What is the purpose of my life?’”
Ellens emphasises that Cycle Re-Cycle is not only for those who can’t afford to have their bike fixed professionally; it is for anyone who would like to strengthen their community ties, gain new knowledge and skills, or simply borrow a bike pump.
Throughout the workshop, Ellens drifts from person to person looking to impart his vast knowledge of bicycle maintenance wherever it is required. If it is a spare part that someone needs, he rummages through the shed with the efficiency of a librarian sifting through the archives.
Not everyone visits Cycle Re-Cycle for something as tangible as a second-hand sprocket or kickstand, however. For some, it is knowledge and independence that they desire. Like Miryam, 34, an electrical engineer and PhD student, who was working with regular volunteer Andrew to replace the worn cables on the dilapidated mountain bike that was given to her by friends. They are the same friends that she is sick of asking for help whenever something goes wrong. “I’m fixing the gear and brake cables. I don’t know how to do that, so I came here to learn”.
While patiently walking Miryam through the process of greasing and feeding the cables through the housing, Andrew explains what first attracted him to Cycle Re-Cycle, attributing it in part to the conditions in which he was raised.
“I am a born recycler. I suppose I got that from my parents, as after the war in Poland there was nothing…so people were big on recycling or turning one thing into another. Cycle Re-Cycle makes sense to me. Instead of throwing things in a landfill, it makes sense to use it. It is something to contrast the disposable society”.
Andrew is certainly not alone. The strengthening of community ties; knowledge and skills transference; and waste minimisation are all common themes at Cycle Re-Cycle. In fact, while getting more bicycles on the road may be the workshop’s primary objective, one gets the impression that it is simply a wonderful side effect.
For details of how to donate bikes, volunteer or build up your own bike, visit the Cycle Re-cycle website.
Bart Sbeghen reports on a school-based bike donation program in Melbourne.
Flemington Primary School in Melbourne’s inner north has been an active participant in the Ride2School program (which I am involved in) but something was not quite right. Over a half of students regularly rode, walked or scooted to school. But about one in six students never had the chance. These children were from families who had recently made Melbourne home (new migrants) and they didn’t have access to a bike or scooter.
This meant these students were missing out on their daily dose of physical activity and maintaining or improving their health by riding to school.
What was the solution? A new program giving these students donated and refurbished bikes called Bicycle Recycle. So, with the support of the school Principal, and two “bike guru” parents, trialled the program in the lead up to this year’s Ride2School Day (in March) with a week-by-week focus of repairing and gifting of bikes from those who weren’t using them to those that needed them. Families with unused kid’s bikes sitting in their garage or shed brought them to school where a group of parents and students repaired and checked them ready for ‘re-cycling’. These bikes were then given to students who needed them. From a slow first week with only four bikes exchanged, the program quickly built momentum so that by the end of term (over five weeks) more than 50 bikes and eight scooters, had been donated, fixed and gifted.
The school program also benefitted from the Red Cross Wheel-Power for Refugees program.
“Bike-guru” and school program mastermind Peter Hormann, volunteers at the Australian Red Cross bike program.
“We set out from the start to try and integrate with the Red Cross program as our needs were complementary,” explains Hormann. “The Red Cross program needs good quality adult bikes but had too many kid’s bikes. The school needed lots of kid’s bikes and also had some adult bikes donated. We gratefully received 18 kid’s bikes from the Red Cross that suited our kids in need, plus some spare parts and use of some of their tools. In return we were able to donate six adult bikes for use by refugees. We hope to continue with the cooperation, as both groups benefit.”
School Principal Lesley McCarthy is also enthusiastic: “The engagement across the whole school community was wonderful particularly the involvement of the dads and the new connections across cultural/social groups. The smiles on the kids who received bikes were just delightful and almost matched by those who donated. To have 50 extra students on bikes through the self-support of the school community is fantastic.”
The pilot program threw up some challenges too. Hormann said the school ran out of spare parts, especially tubes, brake cables, bells and reflectors, and many students receiving bikes did not have a helmet or lock.
“Thankfully the local bike shop helped out with a box of bells and reflectors. We also asked for a small donation from those whose bikes we repaired, which allowed us to purchase some spares and helmets,” he said.
“We also did not have enough larger kid’s bikes, perhaps because those kids are now at high school and no longer in contact with school. We’d be looking for some grant support if we were to continue the program and there is some need for bike skills training too.”
This year’s trial program has been such as success, it’s been adopted permanently throughout the school year. There are also hopes other schools in the area will adopt it.
How it works
Donated bikes are repaired by the school community and given to those who need them.
- Families donate unused bikes at the “bike shed” area and their status is assessed (size, repairs needed etc.).
- Students without bikes record their details on a cardboard swing tag with size of bike noted.
- When a bike is fixed assessed as road worthy, it is assigned to needy student based on size and gender. Monetary contribution encouraged.
- Adult bikes repaired and donated to Red Cross who in return donate appropriate sized child bikes.
- Bikes in need of repair but not being donated are also accommodated in lead up to Ride2School Day. A monetary contribution was encouraged.
- Monetary and in-kind contributions allow sourcing of some spare parts, helmets, locks and light (but not all—needs some additional support for ongoing operation).
- Bike skills training and ongoing school support including a bike shed, training skills like Good2Go training are encouraged.
Other community bike workshops
Bike Love Corral
Takes donated bikes and parts, and restores them for future use. Trade in, sell or borrow secondhand bikes. Get help fixing your own bike or fix a donated bike for you to keep. Also offers workshops on bicycle repair and cycling skills.
When: Monday – Saturday, 9am – 5pm.
Where: Hunter Building, Newcastle University.
How to get involved: Become a Bike Love Corral member or just turn up.
More info: http://bikelovecorral.blogspot.com.au/
Broadmeadows Bicycle Hub
Volunteer-run program to refurbish and distribute donated bikes throughout the community. Get help fixing your bike and buy refurbished bikes cheaply.
When: Saturdays, 11am–3pm.
Where: Banksia Gardens Community Centre, Pearcedale Parade, Broadmeadows.
How to get involved: Just turn up, or contact Leanne, Keith or Jamie on (03) 9309 8531 to volunteer.
The Bikeshed at CERES
Bikeshed members can use the workshop tools and get assistance from volunteer mechanics. Cheap recycled parts and some new parts for sale.
When: Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays, 11am–5pm.
Where: CERES Community Environment Park. Enter via the gate closest to the Blyth St/Atherton Road Bridge in Brunswick East.
How to get involved: Just turn up. Memberships are $10/year for individuals, $5 for concession card holders and $13 for families.
More info: http://www.thebikeshed.org.au/
Adelaide Bike Kitchen
Provides tools, parts and knowledge at their weekly workshops for you to learn bikes, fix bikes, build bikes and talk bikes. Finish each workshop with a shared community dinner.
When: Wednesdays, 5pm–8pm.
Where: 22 Gibson St, Bowden.
How to get involved: Workshops are run on a donation basis; just turn up.
More info: http://www.adelaidebikekitchen.com/workshops
Adelaide Bicycle Workshop
Repairs and recycles donated bicycles. Upgrade, service or repair your bicycle using workshop tools and friendly volunteers. Donations requested for spare parts and second hand bikes.
When: Saturdays, 9am–12pm.
Where: 34 Long St, Plympton.
How to get involved: Just turn up or contact Mike Brisco (email: email@example.com or call: 0435 02 16 81).
Hobart Bike Kitchen
Recycles donated bikes and provides the tools, recycled parts and knowledge to help you fix yours. Also holds annual bike auctions where you can grab a bargain on a refurbished bike.
When: Most Sundays, 1pm–4pm.
Where: 130 Davey St, Hobart.
How to get involved: Get in touch to find out: firstname.lastname@example.org.
More info: http://hobartbikekitchen.org/
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