Monday, March 10, 2008

Excercise, Empowerment and Bikes.

Empowerment, community, and biking all come together at the Sibley Bike Depot. Sibley hosted an open house and their annual board meeting all for the public this week. Attendance was excellent with 40 or more people and a sprinkling of local kids all showing up to see their new storefront and shop. Located on University Avenue in an active and multicultural neighborhood they chose the space so they could separate the storefront, where you can buy a very reasonably priced used bike, from their shop where they offer free tool use, classes, and stripping. That's stripping rusted bikes for usable parts and recycling.

Sibley Bike survives on donations: donated money, donated time, donated bikes. It is interesting in that their main goal is to provide a place to learn about bike repair, maintain your bike with their open-to-the-public tools and shop, and to help you ride more. If it weren't for a lot of passion and tenacity they wouldn't be around today. Sibley's history is sprinkled with failures and false starts, yet their members and all-volunteer board have a vision that is pretty strong. Making bicycles and biking more accessible in the Twin Cities. From a failed start with the yellow bike program to a transition to advocacy and involvment to the current form of a public, open to all, bike shop that is about empowerment and knowledge about bikes. Their journey started in 1989 and is, now, seemingly, on the right track, or trail you could say.

Their volunteers offer a number of services. The have a shop of good used bikes. They offer a free repair shop; they provide the space and tools, you do the work. Included in that is a opportunity for various classes on bike repair. Current classes are full for April and there is a need for teacher/mechanics for the April and May classes.

Sibley Bike has been looking for opportunities to partner with other organizations and groups that benefit both. Cynthia ____________ has been running a "side program" as a volunteer for the past few years. She has facilitiated the exchange of bikes donated but unusable to the Center for Victims of Torture. In return, about 30 people from the CVT have gotten working bikes or bikes with baskets for groceries each year. These people are often struggling for basic services and so this becomes their main transportation and is a source of pride, confidence and self-sufficiency.

The kids in the neighborhood benefit too. With an opportunity to learn bike maintenece in free classes to their earn-a-bike program. Sibley Bike survives by the thin thread of volunteer efforts and public donations. This is where their empowerment theme comes into play. If you're poor but have some time to work at the shop you can put in hours and literally earn yourself a set of wheels. Their goal is that by the time you've earned yourself wheels you'll also know how to take good care of your wheels and so have more independence and some confidence to care for your new wheels. The program isn't just for young kids, it was originally designed for the big kids among us, those in our 20's, 30's, or 80's that want or even need a bike.

Sometimes individuals will donate a used bike but more often the bikes Sibley recieves are from neighborhood clean-ups. These are volunteer intensive days and weeks in the spring and fall. Neighborhoods and cities alike are happy that there is less going directly to the landfill. But a very large percentage of bikes collected from clean-ups are rusted beyond repair or of very poor quality.

And regularily, on Saturdays, help is needed in the shop stripping bikes too far gone for repair and refurbishing. There is a small income stream from parts and materials from the stripped bikes. However, the effort is large in stripping bikes that are rusted beyond relief.

If you want to learn more about Sibley Bike or volunteer you can find them at or at 712 University Avenue in St. Paul.

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