Ann Arbor bike co-op gets dirty
Michael Lee THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Ben Schultz (left), 23, Common Cycle volunteer, works with Sarms Jabra, 23, attaching the cables to the derailers they just replaced.
A bicycle rider approaches the white tent erected outside Kerrytown’s Sunday Artisan Market in Ann Arbor. Bikes sit parked around the tent. A bike stand holds a bike missing the front wheel stationed on the table being spun by a short haired bearded man. A look of skeptical curiosity is on the rider’s face.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Bike repair,” Justin Williams, 29, a UM grad student, replied. He is the bearded bike mechanic working in the tent who then stops and approaches the rider.
“And then you charge?” the rider continued.
“No. We are volunteers and accept donations,” Williams responded.
“Right,” the rider said.
“It’s true, and we can show you how to fix your bike yourself too,” Williams said.
The woman’s lip curls with a final glance toward the tent before she rides away on her bike without looking back.
“This is a lot of what goes on,” Williams said. “People asking us what we are doing here.”
Nothing in life comes free.
Well … Common Cycle is a non-profit bike co-op based in Ann Arbor on a mission to “educate and provide tools to public to fix their own bikes.”
And while not everyone takes up the offer for free education and help maintaining their bike, many folks walk away thinking differently.
“The only catch is you have to get your hands dirty,” Pieter Kleymeer, 29, a founder of Common Cycle, said. “We won’t repair your bike for you, but we’ll show you how to do it.”
Starting a mobile bike repair co-op was a “twinkle in Piet’s eye” for a few months, according to Molly Kleinman, Kleymeer’s wife, and one of a few women involved with the club.
Late winter meetings in early 2010 with a fellow bike enthusiast and mechanic Jimmy Ragget lead to garnering support from others, forming a board and making trailers to get out to the market.
With this year’s increase in volunteers and new tools, trailers and bike stands acquired with $5,600 from last year’s successful KickStarter fundraiser, Common Cycle is better equipped to meet its mission.
“We see ourselves as doers,” Kleymeer said. “Our goal is to get as many bikes on the road as possible and break the current infrastructure.”
Roadways have changed, and new signs have been posted along streets allowing for bike paths.
“Share the road” signs reminding motorists that they are not alone are common sights in Ann Arbor these days.
Biking is becoming a way of life.
The tent on Sunday is surrounded with bicycles sitting atop stands undergoing a number of maintenance needs. One bike was a red Peugeot.
“This is a new bike I got yesterday and it needs some love,” Sarms Jabra of Ann Arbor said. He is a 23-year-old entrepreneur. Hearing about Common Cycle the year before while discussing common space ideas for local businesses, he brought the bike down to the market for new derailleurs and shifters.
“It was educational,” he said before taking off on his bike with plans to return with brake parts in the next couple weeks
While consistently at the Sunday market, Common Cycle reaches out to the community with helping hands. Participating in the upcoming “Bike to Work Day” on May 20 during national Bike Month, planning to visit neighborhoods around Ann Arbor and participating in a number of community education workshops, Common Cycle continues to go to where the people are.
“Bike co-ops can be like clubhouses where a bunch of dudes hang out and are unapproachable,” Williams said. “The folks building Common Cycle have been aware of this from the get-go and have made themselves approachable.”
Kleinman first came down to the repair stands to greet people and talk with them. She loves riding bikes and knew very little about maintenance.
“Learning didn’t change what I love about riding,” Kleinman said. “It changed the way I look at my bike and others’ bikes. I see them for the parts.”
Access to fix-it-yourself education has been limited due to barriers for people of all walks of life, according to Kleymeer. Bridging the gap and finding common ground for people to interact and share ideas makes sense to him, and he sees more and more people embracing the efficiency of the bicycle.
“Hence the name ‘Common Cycle,’” he said.