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November 7, 2017 > A whole new approach to bike repair

A whole new approach to bike repair

By Alfred Hu

Do you have a bike that needs to be repaired but wonder about the cost? Do you have an old bike that needs to be refurbished and donated? Are you busy and have young kids who need a friendly staff to teach them safe bike riding? Then, here comes Bay Area BikeMobile to the rescue.

Bay Area BikeMobile is a free hands-on repair program that gets people back on their bikes and enables them to be confident and empowered riders. It hosts bike repair clinics at schools, libraries, recreational centers and community events throughout the Bay Area counties of Solano, Marin, Sonoma, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Contra Costa. Its sister program, BikeMobile, services Alameda County residents.

Bay Area BikeMobile also promotes safe riding, teaches beginners how to ride bikes without training wheels, engages customers in hands-on repair so they can be confident in making future repairs on their own, and helps give away refurbished bikes. Staffed by founder Tommy Bensko and staff mechanics Steven Morris, Andria Lessler, and David Boone, the program offers repairs such as fixing flat tires, adjusting brakes and gears, replacing broken or worn out parts like brake pads, chains, seats, grips, brake calipers, brake levers and tires. Repairs can be up to three or four hours, but no house call repairs are done. The repair crew can also fix up to 20 bikes per event if needed. So far, more than 9,550 bikes have been repaired.

Bensko became interested in bike repair very early on. When I was 10 years old, my bike got a flat tire and nobody was there to fix it, he said. It just sat in the garage till it turned into a rust bucket, and then somebody finally stole it.

Later, during his college years in Knoxville, Tennessee, Bensko started a project of his own called the Knoxville Bike Library which functioned as a free/low cost bike lending program. He solicited bike donations from individuals and bike shops, maintained them, and loaned them out to anyone that needed a bike. Since then he has become involved in bike repair education. Bensko helped start the BikeMobile pilot program in 2011 with grant funding from the Alameda County Transportation Commission and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). He went on the road to schools and community centers, primarily in low-income neighborhoods, fixing kids bikes for free and giving them a hands-on education about bike repair.

In addition, Bensko has been in cooperation with Safe Routes to Schools for seven years and is also the founder of Bay Area BikeMobileÕs parent organization, Local Motion. BenskoÕs message to the riding public is, Learning to ride and repair your own bicycle is incredibly empowering! We recommend beginner bike riders stay on quiet streets, ride with friends, and always wear a helmet. For those that want to learn more about bike repair, we recommend volunteering or taking classes at a local community bike shop, watching you tube videos, and coming to a BikeMobile event near you.Ó

As for kids learning to fix bikes he added, One of my favorite things is igniting that spark in them ... to sort of demystify the bike mechanics. Its really about empowering people to sort of take things into their own hands and start making their own bike repairs.Ó

Staff mechanic Steven Morris said, ÒI like to treat the kids like they are pro-level athletes, and I want their bikes to be solid and ready for the abuse. A lot of them just need a little air in their tire and a little oil on their chain, but then some of them need some real help and it's nice to be there for them.Ó

As a testament to Bay Area BikeMobileÕs great service, one customer commented, ÒI don't have time and I have five kids, so this is a great opportunity to bring the bikes and it's free. It was a blessing.Ó Another customer in Richmond noted, ÒItÕs really nice for the whole city of Richmond. Lots of people arenÕt riding their bikes because they are broken or the tires need air or something, so itÕs nice that these guys are helping out and letting us bring our bikes and fixing them for us.Ó As an example of being empowered, one boy in San Francisco said after having a flat tire fixed by one of the repair crew, ÒI've learned first-hand how to fix my bike. I feel amazing! It's been the best feeling I've had in a long time. Now, I get to get back on it and have more adventures.Ó

In addition to repairing bicycles, Bay Area BikeMobileÕs main goals are to encourage more bike riding to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions as well as to ensure that kids ride to school safely. Thus, they are partnering with Safe Routes to Schools and are funded by the Spare the Air Youth, a part of MTCÕs Climate Initiative Program, and by the Solano Transport Authority.

The Alameda County BikeMobile program also hosts free bike repair events and safety education, and is funded by the Alameda County Transportation Commission and MTC, and partners with the Alameda County Safe Routes to School program. BikeMobileÕs primary customer focus is on families from low income neighborhoods.

To schedule a bike repair and learn the requirements for hosting a bike repair event, call Bay Area BikeMobile at (510) 470-4480 or visit www.bayareabikemobile.org. For Alameda County, call BikeMobile at (510) 277-7362 or visit http://alamedacountysr2s.org/plan-an-event/bikemobile-program/.

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