Believe in bikes: Couple helps cultivate cycling culture, community through Bicycle Recycle program
A neighborhood boy who looks to be about 11 walks into the Bicycle Recycle shop at the Pajama Factory, with a dysfunctional bicycle at his side. The bike doesn’t have a seat or brakes, and the boy doesn’t have a shirt.
He asks to get his bike fixed, but the knowledgeable Bicycle Recycle volunteers, after careful inspection, determine that it’s junk. However, shop-owner Louisa Stone gives him an option: “He can get a new (refurbished) bike by spending a few hours (in the shop) working and repairing, and learning how to take care of it.”
He decides against the offer, ultimately, leaving the factory with the broken bike and no desire to learn or work to achieve a new bike.
The point of the shop isn’t to just give bikes away, though.
“One of the things we’re trying to promote, especially among kids, is to kind of think about owning things, taking care of things and having respect for property,” said co-owner David Stone.
Bicycle Recycle (building 10, studio 1.2, part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Center for Creativity) resides on the bottom floor of the Pajama Factory, 1307 Park Ave., through the Courtyard entrance.
On a recent Wednesday evening, the windows in the shop were open to let in the summer air, but after a while it started to rain. The moist air, low light and industrial atmosphere set the tone for a gritty but relaxed ambiance, as the few volunteers in the shop were fixated on tuning up their bicycles.
The all-volunteer cooperative is still coming together, having just made its debut at Pajama Factory’s Mayfest. For now, the shop is only open two days a week (Wednesdays from 6-9 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m.-noon) as they still reel in volunteers and work out schedules. Bikes, of which more than 50 percent are donated, and bike parts are strewn in every corner, to the point that the Stones don’t think they can handle any more donations, at least for the time being.
So, what do they do? Well, their mission statement says:
“We believe bicycles can make our community a better place to live. Bicycle Recycle offers access to the benefits of bicycling through hands-on programs, volunteer projects and a neighborhood bike shop.”
To achieve that mission, Bicycle Recycle will do the following:
Operate a repair facility for members and the general community.
Teach and assist with hands-on repair so participants can fix their own bikes.
Redistribute donated bikes at low cost or in exchange for volunteering.
Recycle and reuse bikes and parts.
Collaborate with other bike projects to support a common vision.
Be open to all members of the community.
So far they’ve offered basic bike maintenance classes, with plans for other classes in the future, as they gain more participants and volunteers.
“Using our parts and tools, a person can build a bike and keep it,” the program boasts.
A CULTURE, A CAUSE
Bicycling isn’t conventionally thought of as a culture or cause … or an idea that people would ever need to go around advocating.
Especially in smaller towns and rural areas where the main mode of transportation are vehicles, a cycling culture is virtually nonexistent, and thus so are biking lanes and bike racks.
“Pennsylvania has to be one of the least bike-friendly states there is,” laughed volunteer and Selinsgrove-native Luke Zechman. He recalled how he often has to be crafty in finding ways to lock up his bike in Williamsport, since not a lot of businesses have bike racks.
“I’ve locked my bike up to piping at Sheetz, chained it to fences …” he said.
But there’s no denying that Williamsport is growing, as it has been continually ranking this year in lists as a great place to live (creditdonkey.com, Area Development Magazine).
With a growing city comes big-city subcultures, like biking. The city now has some bike lanes and more bike racks are being installed.
“The YMCA is putting in a bike rack on Walnut Street. (We’re) hoping that’ll be a model for how to lock bikes up,” David said.
And the Stones continue to champion that growing ubiquity.
In 2008, they started the Tour De Bill, which they called a “discovery ride” – a way for riders of all skill levels to see the city from a new perspective. The annual ride has since been taken over by the Williamsport YMCA.
After they were inspired by one of their biking trips in Arizona and Portland, Oregon, where there is a much bigger bicycle presence and other bicycle recycle programs, they started the Bicycle Recycle shop.
A CITY CONNECTION
The Stones call themselves urban riders rather than cyclists.
“Rather than go on long rides, miles and miles … we like to ride around and stop, have coffee, stop and see interesting places,” Louisa said. “It’s a way of getting an up close and personal view of a city, or any place really, at a pace which is a pace that you can see things, not like seeing it from a car, because that’s too fast, and walking, you’d never do it – it’s too slow. It’s the perfect pace to do that.”
Her husband was reminded of a recent bike trip.
“I just discovered something yesterday. I was at the store buying paint, I took the alley across the street across Fourth Street. And there’s a courtyard back in there and a beautiful garden somebody has. And there’s a patio for a restaurant that I’d never seen before,” he said.
“You kind of connect with the city, where otherwise you’re in a little box, and you end up talking to people and noticing stuff. Bike culture tends to humanize a city,” he said.
And through championing a bicycle culture, they hope to add to the growth and gentrification of Williamsport. Louisa emphasized, particularly, the values of attracting younger people to make Williamsport their home.
“A bikable city means people are out in the community meeting other people. It’s a city where things are going on. It’s what gets young people to come,” she said.
Through the programs they’ve started – first the Tour De Bill, now the Bicycle Recycle program – the Stones have laid a solid groundwork for a growing urban cycling culture in Williamsport.
But, there’s still work to be done.
“What I would like to see in the future in Williamsport is to have it more pedestrian and bike friendly, that tends to attract smaller local stores, so the whole thing creates more of a community,” David said.
He noted, from his perspective, that local infrastructure places emphasis on parking spaces rather than people who bike. Additionally, one of Williamsport’s biggest attractions, the Little League World Series, is not accommodating to cyclists, either.
“Little League is not particularly bike friendly,” the Stones said. They said cyclists are forced to attach bikes to fences, since bikes aren’t allowed to be taken into the facility and there are no designated places to lock up the bikes.
“Part of the problem is that people just don’t think about it. We’re trying to raise awareness (of bike culture),” David said.