Saturday, July 07, 2007

Volunteers work for a wheely good cause

THERE ARE TIRES and rims with bicycle frames, bicycle frames without handlebars and a mishmash of parts waiting to be attached.

Dozens of bikes are waiting for repairs or pickup in the airy, windowed basement of the Bloomfield Centre in north-end Halifax, where the Bike Again! Community Project, a non-profit repair centre, collects, assembles, refurbishes and repairs bicycles.

The bikes are given to the needy. Other bikes are brought in by people who can make a donation in return for free repairs. One woman brought three pizzas for the repair crew. Others donated rags, WD-40, cookies and volunteer time.

"The bikes we are given and repair are not for resale," says volunteer co-ordinator Scott MacPhee, who works full time managing a residential cleaning company. "We can tell who needs them, usually students, new immigrants. Most people who receive them will then volunteer their time to work in our shop," which is open Wednesday evenings and Sunday.

Carolyn Van Gurp, a teacher at Oxford Street School, rushes in to talk to Scott about 10 bikes she is having refurbished for shipment to Sierra Leone.

"They were donated to Peaceful School International (started by Carolyn’s sister Hetty) through a police auction purchase," she says. "We’re twinning schools in Nova Scotia with those in Sierra Leone and sending them school and medical supplies as well as the bikes."

Scott says many bikes that come to Bike Again! for repairs are privately owned but many are donated and then given to community groups or individuals.

"People bring us bikes they’ve found in basements after the kids are gone, or ones that have been outgrown or when they’ve moved to a better type of bike and want to get rid of the old one."

He is amazed that even people who collect bottles will take bikes out of the garbage and bring them to Bike Again! "They don’t want to see them thrown in the dump. They are recycling conscious," says Scott, who mostly bikes to get to work, and even while at work.

The Sydney native has a master’s degree in environmental studies. Four years ago, he needed to repair his bike but had no idea how to get started.

"I was volunteering at Ecology Action Centre (in Halifax) and this program has been a project of EAC’s transportation issues committee since 2001" when it moved to the Bloomfield Centre after two years at Brunswick Street United Church, where it was run by church volunteers.

Scott has 15 bikes ready to go, and says they could have 50 being repaired at any one time. On this Wednesday night, there are half a dozen guys fixing bikes, finding parts in various boxes and debating how to solve any and every bike problem.

David Bethune, 22, a fourth-year anthropology student at Dalhousie University, says that, being an environmentalist, "this sounded neat to be involved in."

He volunteered to help a few months ago. "It gave me a chance to learn about bike repair and promoting cycling is something I like to do. I’ve learned so much from everyone, who are so willing to help."

David is a cyclist who lived in France for a year in a real bike culture. "I wish we could change that culture here. I’m doing my bit and can only see myself doing more. Being here, I feel I’m doing a good thing. The more people using bikes, the better."

He’s so keen about biking that on the last Friday of each month he’s part of a Critical Mass, a biking event that creates awareness of cyclists on the road.

"We usually get from 25 to 50 people. We ride for an hour at about 6 p.m. and, yes, we get honkers, wavers, even cheerers. Our point is to provide a spot for cyclists on the road."

Scott walks by, looking around the room at bikes hanging from the ceiling, dozens of tires waiting for a bike, and chains, rims, seats, handlebars everywhere.

"We don’t compete for business with the other bicycle shops," he says. "People who come to us are on limited budgets and can’t afford to have repairs done. One of our goals is to show people how to repair their own bikes, to work with them here with our tools, because, if they’re not sure what they’re doing, ours is a much safer environment than a home workshop."

Scott is also a Canadian Bicycling Association safety instructor. "We teach courses on how to ride safely in traffic, like using proper (hand and arm) signals and making lane changes. We’ll run a youth course this summer and then bring the youth here to work on their bikes."

Scott talks again with Carolyn about packing her bikes for shipment, giving her a time frame for the job to be ready.

Carolyn praises Scott and Bike Again! "He and the group have been a tremendous help, offering things I didn’t think about, like sending spare parts and tools with the bikes because they’re just not available there."

Nova Scotia News - TheChronicleHerald.ca