If you build it, they will ride
To a random observer, last weekend’s activities at a vacant auto repair shop and storefront church on 39th and East Broad Streets probably wouldn’t look noteworthy. But for the eleven volunteers who turned out for the first work party of the Savannah Bike Co-op, Saturday was a turning point in realizing their vision of a community-based bicycle center.
In nearly three hours, the team made a supply run, sorted donated bike parts, and completed construction on two workbenches. After months of biweekly planning meetings, being in their own space and having tangible results from this small beginning put everyone in an excited mood.
Up until Saturday, the bike co-op has existed only as an idea, borne out of the real-life experiences of Patrick McLaughlin, Melissa Bzdak, and Matt Cole, relatively new Savannahians who’ve worked with similar set ups in places like Cincinnati, Denver, and Memphis.
In idealized cooperative fashion, no one admits to being the leader of the Savannah effort, but Christy Brozowski, McLaughlin’s wife, referred to the project as “Patrick’s baby. Now that it’s started it’s really taking on a life of its own,” she said.
As group members describe it, a bicycle co-op is a community based bike repair and construction workshop. Using donated tools, homemade workbenches, and second hand bicycle parts, volunteers teach new and experienced bike riders how to repair their own bikes, providing space for the effort.
People needing bikes can learn how to build their own, using frames, forks and sprockets rescued from household garages and diverted from bike shop trash bins. Nominal fees may be charged for tool rental, perhaps on a sliding scale. No one will fix your flat tire for you, but instruction and assistance will be offered, possibly free of charge.
McLaughlin recalls the first time he set foot in Denver’s bike co-op. “I never thought anything like that could exist in the world,” he says.
More than a repair shop, he sees the co-op as a community gathering place, a way to encourage more people to get on bicycles and to expand bicycling as a way of life, for people “ages 0 to 90. Everyone loves riding bikes. It’s multigenerational.”
The Savannah Bike Co-op holds their planning meetings at the Sentient Bean. At Saturday’s work party, Bean owner Kristin Russell stopped by to offer support and the loan of two sawhorses. Within minutes she was carrying away a piece of chip board for cutting at a nearby woodworking shop, a task that exceeded the capacity of the tools available on site.
The East Broad Street space is owned by Bob Isaacson, a newcomer to bicycling. “I just bought my first bike, I’m riding it all over the place.”
Isaacson and a business partner have purchased several vacant lots and abandoned commercial buildings, with plans to develop it into “an inclusive and cool place” with artists’ studio space, a produce market, restaurants, and a park. “We thought the bike co-op fit in well with what we want to do there. It’s an inclusive sort of thing. It’s good for the environment and brought in the type of people and values that we want to associate with.” So far, Isaacson is offering the space rent free.
SoPo Bike Co-op in Atlanta donated a cache of parts to the Savannah enterprise. In November, Savannah co-op members spent a day at SoPo, to give inexperienced group members the chance to work in a co-op setting and a feel for how their dream might come to fruition in the months to come.
Right now the Savannah Bike Co-op is looking for a volunteer accountant and assistance with non-profit status. Plans for the new year include fundraisers, more meetings, and more work sessions, with January 19 as their target for opening day.
“We’re looking for bikes, money, tools. People interested in volunteering. Especially if they have experience in Frankensteining bikes” said McLaughlin.
“This is what we were supposed to do today, get started,” said Cole.
“I’m not going to lie about this,” said volunteer Jeff Walter, drilling the final screw into a completed workstation. “I’m pretty proud of this bench.”
Savannah Bike Co-op’s next workday is December 29, but check the website to confirm and for the 2008 schedule of weekly meetings and workdays.
Email Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org.