MANCHESTER, NH – It’s been two years since the QC Bike Collective set up shop at 373 Union St. Although I’ve helped promote their “open shop” sessions and other community outreaches through Manchester Ink Link, this weekend I got a first-hand opportunity to see what community service looks like, from the inside out.
My husband, Jim, an avid bicycle commuter, is usually able to use pedal power to get back and forth to work, weather permitting. What he lacks in proper bike-fixing tools and know-how he has made up for with determination and improvisation, whenever one of his bikes fails him.
Over the years, that also means that he will put aside a good bike and pick up a new-to-him used bike from Craigslist or a yard sale, just to keep him rolling.
The plan is always to get back to fixing the better bike when time allows.
On July 10 I noticed QC Bike Collective posted Sunday shop hours on Facebook, and so I casually mentioned it to Jim. It’s not the first time I suggested he take a bike to the collective for an assessment, but the hours haven’t always fit his schedule – and I guess there’s something about that old Yankee do-it-yourself spirit that’s hard to get past, when it comes to seeking help.
Plus, the number of bikes on his disabled list is mounting.
For whatever reason, he was interested this time, so we loaded the pieces of one of his favorite disabled rides, a candy-apple red Felt Superlite, into the trunk of our car and headed over to the shop.
We were greeted by shop manager Tyler Glodt and volunteer du jour, Wes Wiggins, a bike pro from the Boston area who came up to lend a hand during open shop.
They perched the body of the bike onto a bike stand and quickly diagnosed several problems, from the crankset to the spokes.
In the spirit of the collective, the idea is to help bike owners help themselves, so it didn’t take long before Jim had some tools in his hands and was doing his part to help disassemble the chain ring and pedals.
Meanwhile, I chatted with Sara Whiting, also a bike enthusiast and volunteer, who was testing inner tubes and talking about how she first found the bike collective early on, through a friend at the city health department.
“My mom and I both ride a lot. I have a car, but my mom only rides her bike, so the first time we came it was because she had a flat,” says Whiting. “They were registering bikes, and it was a lot smaller back then. I thought it was a great thing, and so I started helping by promoting the open shop on Facebook. Now I come regularly.”
Abby Easterly, one of the bike collective organizers, says being able to hire former volunteer Tyler Glodt as bike shop manager earlier this year had made a world of difference. It has allowed the initiative to expand its reach with more open shop hours. He was hired thanks to a grant from New England Grassroots Environment Fund.
“We can be open more now that we have manager, and we’ll be able to keep him,” says Easterly. She mentions other funding streams, including the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the city’s Community Improvement Program, which will help bring a “Build-a-Bike” program to fruition. “The grants really help. It kind of amazes me that we got through last year without them.”
Grants aside, the Bike Collective runs primarily on volunteer work hours and donations, both cash and bicycles, administrated through fiscal agent, Neighborworks Southern New Hampshire. Bikes that still have life left in them are repaired and sold at affordable prices. The others are broken down for parts, and the metal, scrapped.
Nothing goes to waste, says Whiting, who is cutting spent inner tubes into small rubber bands used to bind together repaired inner tubes that are resold for $2 each.
“We also like to make sure anyone who buys a kids’ bike goes home with a helmet, a lock and lights. And, we’re also getting people to register their bikes with Manchester Police Department. It only costs $1, and if a registered bike is stolen, they can often get it back,” says Whiting. “Unfortunately, we hear about a lot of stolen bikes.”
The collective also works with those who can’t afford to purchase a bike in one lump by taking incremental payments, although most bikes are affordably priced, and part of the outreach includes helping homeless people fix bikes so they have a means of transportation.
Most of the donated bikes come in from people clearing out the garage, or who’ve upgraded, says Whiting, although they’ve even had bikes come in that have been fished out of a body of water.
“Last year someone donated an expensive bike, not something we’d normally sell here, so we put it on Craigslist and used the profits to buy some things we needed, like stands. We’re pretty lucky in the support we get from the community, and local businesses like Bike Barn in Manchester and S&W Sports in Concord.”
Someone from the neighborhood pops her head in to ask if she can borrow a Phillips-head screwdriver, and a gentleman on an electric bike pulls up to ask someone to take a look at his ride. After two years, the bike collective has become a staple in the neighborhood. Expanding shop hours and inventory proves that the program fills a real need while promoting bicycle use within the city.
Repurposing, reusing and recycling are at the heart of the bike collective, and extends to cans and bottles, says Whiting, as well as plants Easterly brings in from her garden. Some are adoptable, like two healthy tomato plants sitting on the front stoop, while other flower and edibles are available for cheap sale.
Within about an hour, Jim’s bike wheels were re-calibrated with bearings and grease, spokes were adjusted, rims were straightened, and he was told where to find a replacement part that should render his bike roadworthy again. He also purchased some used tires, a crankshaft and rim strips, for a total of $25, including labor.
QC Bike Collective, 373 Union St., holds regular open shop hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5-8 p.m., with other hours announced regularly via Facebook. Volunteers and donations are always welcome.
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