All photos courtesy Kayla Trebotich Photography
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who ride bikes, and those who don’t. To some, bicycles aren’t important. They’ve got a car, vespa, or a U-Pass. They might even brave rush-hour on a segway. To others, bicycles can mean the difference between food and no food, school and no school, job and unemployment. Only a handful of us here in the city understand that. The volunteers at Working Bikes Cooperative get it. Not only do they get it but they’ve created an organization based on the understanding that bicycles give their owners the means to provide for themselves and their families.
Lee Ravenscroft was kind enough to show me around the peddle shop after working hours. Inside the Pilsen shop, the walls are lined with dozens of refurbished two-wheelers up for sale, fixed gear and otherwise. Many of which were under $100, making it an afforable dream come true for college kids looking for a vintage Schwinn. As Lee explained, the sales made only go towards funding the co-op’s actual purpose: providing quality bikes for those who can’t afford one themselves – both around the city and on a national level. Since the aim of the co-op isn’t to make a profit, they can sell hot rides and keep the prices low. The best part? There’s no catch.
According the Working Bikes Website, the organization “works with programs and social workers to locate individuals around Chicago with the most need for working bicycles: about 500 bicycles and wheelchairs in the Chicago area alone to City programs, refugees and day camps.” The good people of Working Bikes offer their time and effort to fix bikes up and give them to the inner-city citizens in need. I’m not talking just the homeless either. They’re getting bikes into the hands of school kids and survivors of torture.
The volunteers at Working Bikes don’t think the giving should end with Chicago. They spread the bike love worldwide by shipping bicycles to countries including Angolia, Cuba, Ghana, Guatamala, Nicaragua, Peru, Tanzania and Zambia. Every month, with the help of enthusiastic volunteers (shipping party, anyone?), an enormous crate is loaded with about 500 bikes and sent out.
The Working Bike volunteers can’t operate until we donate. They’ll take anything: old gears, tires, tubing, frames, reflectors, bells, helmets, or whatever other odds and ends are cluttering up your garage. The co-op is doing for bikes what the Native Americans did for the buffalo: using virtually everything they can. Instead of trashing your unwanted two-wheeler, consider donating it to Woking Bikes (one man’s trash, as they say. . .). A bicycle enthusiast to the core and long-term volunteer, Raul stated a view shared by many: “I hate how many bikes I see abandoned or junked, because every bike to me is like a baby. It kills me how many babies I find lying in dumpsters.” The city of Chicago helps out by handing over confiscated bicycles abandoned at public bike racks. Working Bikes’ second floor housed an estimated 1,000 bicycles that Raul said, much to my amazement, wouldn’t last the co-op past June.
Until the universal shift to electronic filing systems, the co-op had to literally pile hundreds of bikes on top of one another to make enough room to operate. In a stroke of luck, all the filing cabinets once used by airports like O’Hare and Rosemont made their way to the upstairs storage room. Now volunteers can organize donations more efficiently, and roam through rows of fixer-uppers without having to climb Mount Schwinn.
Also upstairs is the volunteer mechanics’ headquarters where upwards of ten bicycle mechanics at a time are making repairs for shipping and sales. When I visited, two guys were at work inside, blasting a Pandora playlist and joking around. To me, this scene wasn’t what came to mind when I thought of volunteer work. Nobody here seemed begrudging or tired. Instead, it felt like they were at home hanging out with friends. Volunteers range from showing up only once and never returning, to regulars showing up weekly. Listening to these dudes trade sibling-like banter, I realized that this was more than a hobby for them, this was more than a donation of labor and time. In persuing a mere enthusiasm for cycling, they had developed a genuine devotion to the co-op’s cause. It bonded them in a way nothing else really could. How can something feel like work when you’re surrounded by people who feel like family? To keep a movement alive, it’s essential to keep the heart in it. From what I’ve seen, heart is something the volunteers at Working Bike Co-op don’t seem to lack at all.
Ready to roll up your sleeves? Working Bikes runs mainly on the elbow grease of people who take the time to volunteer. If you don’t know anything about bikes, you’re in the clear. They’ll even train you!
Volunteer Mechanics Class every Tuesday from 5-9 PM
Other Volunteer times: Wed & Sat from 11 am – 5 PM
They’ll get you ready for assembling and refurbishing donation bikes including:
- fixing flats and repairing inner tubes
- working to promote Working Bikes at festivals around Chicago (including Earth Day April 17th)
- shipping parties
Working Bikes Cooperative
2434 S. Western Ave 60608 (Pink Line to Western)
Wed. 12am- 7pm
Sat. 10am- 5pm