With the Whole World Stopped, Bike Wheels Keep Spinning
Being a regular Bike House volunteer has always been a source of fulfillment, both from helping people learn to fix their bikes, and from meeting people in our local community. During the era of covid, the lack of Saturday Bike House clinics has left a hole in my life-- and left me wondering what else I could do to help bikers in our neighborhood.
To get my hands dirty while avoiding large gatherings of people, I decided to host a free bike repair in front of my house. I advertised on our neighborhood listserv, letting people know that I would be out front to help them with tune ups and minor repairs, and that I would be wearing a mask.
On the day of, I set up a little ahead of time. I am lucky enough to have my own repair stand and a small assortment of tools, which I set out on a table. My wife also made me a large sign advertising “Free Bike Repair”, which drew attention from people driving by. No one showed up at first, which gave me some time to relax on a chair I brought out with me and read a book. I wondered if maybe bike repairs weren’t a neighborhood need after all. But in just 10 minutes, my next door neighbor wheeled out two old mountain bikes from his garage. And so it began!
I asked people to stand back six feet from the bike, but tried to still talk them through everything I was doing in terms of bike maintenance and repairs. At a normal Bike House clinic, I try to have the customer do all of the work, but due to covid I treated it as more of a bike shop with some additional instruction. People seemed interested to learn and grateful for the help.
Highlights: Raising a little girl’s seat and airing up her tires, then seeing her zip around the neighborhood. She loved having her bike more comfortable and moving faster! I also fixed eight bikes over the span of three hours, from pumping up tires and lubing chains to straightening a derailleur hanger.
Problems I couldn’t fix: One loose bottom bracket and a rear wheel with four broken spokes! I’m normally all for figuring things out with duck tape and string, but for some reason my customers were content waiting until they could get to a full service shop.
Supplies I used: Bike stand, multi-tool, pump, chain lube, adjustable wrench.
Overall, I found this to be a rewarding experience. While it didn’t involve the bigger projects we see at the Annie’s Saturday clinic, or the camaraderie of grabbing lunch together after the Bloomingdale Sunday clinic, I was able to get my hands dirty, help some people out, and get to know my neighbors better. I’ve had a few people in the neighborhood email me with bike questions since then, and have been promised a few bbq invites once covid ends. Although I didn’t ask that people wear masks, I think letting them know that I would be wearing a mask was enough. Everyone wore a mask and respected a six foot separation. I will say that I was lucky, as I’m not sure how I would have handled a visitor who was not wearing a mask or was getting too close.
If you are thinking of doing something similar, I recommend it. However, please be aware of risks due to covid and bike safety. Even outside with a mask, there is still a risk of either getting covid from a customer or passing it to them, so consider your own health and the health of your customers. Also, be aware of bike safety. Always do a full safety check (brakes, bearings, frame cracks, and minimum insertion lines on seat post and stem) before attempting any repair. Do not attempt to fix anything you are not confident in, and do not attempt any repairs without the consent of your customer.
I should also mention money. Most customers offered to pay or give me a tip, but we have a policy of not accepting tips at bike house. I encouraged anyone who wanted to give money to donate it to a worthy cause, whether that be bike house or an organization in need right now.
If you have any questions, or if you have done this and would like to share some pictures, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!