Tuesday, April 22, 2008

If the bike's fun to ride... it will get ridden.

Yesterday on bikeportland.org there was an article about how a church group teamed up with the Community Cycling Center in NE Portland to hold a free bike tune-up and used bike donation drive.

I thought the idea was awesome-- together they tuned up about 80 bikes and gathered about 60 more as donations to re-use and refurbish.

I like what the CCC is all about and what they do. I'd like to get involved but unfortunately they're too far away to be practical. Here's why-- they're not MY community.

I know you're probably thinking "Jerk!" but read on for just another minute.

See-- I like to think as locally as possible. I live in the suburbs (sort of) and there isn't really any low-cost support for cyclists. The bike shops around here part of a massive national chain, a large-ish local chain or cater to high-end cyclists. Now, I'm not knocking the shops-- I shop in all of them-- but I think that most bike shops in general are intimidating to Joe Q. Public. Joe rides his bike on sunny Sunday afternoons with the family. When he goes to buy his kids a bike he goes to a department store. Unfortunately the bikes are, for all intents and purposes, disposable. They get used but never maintained beyond a generous blast of WD-40 on the squeaking parts.

I see lots of kids riding around on these rusty, squeaking clunkers. They get left outside in the rain and cold and baking sun. After a year or two, the $70 bike has outlived its usefulness-- the brakes barely work and the chain has rusted into a piece of re-bar. Off to Wal-Mart to buy another bike.

The thing that concerns me is that soon the bike deteriorates out of tune. It was likely not even properly assembled in the first place judging from the number of ill-fitting bikes I've seen. Is an ill-fitting, squeaking, malfunctioning bike fun to ride? Is it embarrassing? A hassle to deal with as brake levers flop around? I've seen bikes with brake cables disconnected because the wheel was so badly out of true.

Wait... what was my point? Well let me make a few assumptions:

1.) There are many many department store bikes out there. These bikes serve as the "gateway" to cycling.

2.) These bike little to no maintenance.

3.) They aren't going to see any experienced technical care.

4.) Eventually, when the bikes are so degraded due to prolonged neglect and exposure to the elements, they will cease to be fun to ride.

5.) The riders will fall back to automobiles for transportation.

This is something that occurs to me just about every time I hit the roads around here on my bike. I see so many opportunities missed as bikes sit in a rusting pile in the back yard. No one in the family knows how to take care of them and they aren't going to make it to a bike shop for repair.

What if these folks were offered the opportunity to have their bikes tuned up? Lube the chain, adjust the brakes, true the wheels, and make the bike fit the rider. Just basic stuff that seems so simple to me makes a HUGE difference in the ride-quality of a bike. I mean, bikes don't have to be made race-ready-- they just have to be fixed up to the point where they don't suck to ride.

And this is my hope: That by making their bike not suck, maybe the kids will enjoy riding and, most importantly, KEEP riding.

Did any of that rambling make sense? I don't think it matters where you live-- there are lots of kids and their bikes. I want to see these bikes getting ridden because they're safe to ride and operate properly.

One of these days I'll get the gumption to do something about this. Thing is-- where do I start? How much will it cost me? What sort of supplies should I have on hand?

One day... one day...

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