Michigan may be known as the home of the Motor City, but there are more than a few folks here who enjoy traveling by bicycle. In Ann Arbor, Common Cycle is a community organization that encourages bicycling as an empowering transportation option by providing access to tools, workspace, and knowledge about bike repair and maintenance. Common Cycle doesn’t have a permanent shop space like many bike collectives do. Instead, we have a Mobile Repair Stand that we set up weekly at community events, where our friendly volunteers support people in their choice to ride bikes by sharing bike repair skills.
Recently, we were also able to get Ann Arbor library system to offer flat tire repair kits at all five library locations, the University of Michigan now has a Fix It Stand on campus, and we are spreading neigbhorhood-run bike labs across the city for kids to learn how to fix and safely ride their bikes at convenient local spots. While many bike kitchens opt for renting one fixed space, we’re experimenting with a more decentralized strategy for knowledge and tool sharing and it’s definitely helped us reach different kinds of folks in more parts of the city. This strategy helps keep our overhead costs down in a high cost rental market by efficiently using existing spaces, resources and talent in each neighborhood.
As an intern with Shareable, I have been working with Common Cycle to get ready for the Spring rush by partnering with the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, to reach campus and increase bike skillsharing among students. Last Fall, Arielle Fleisher, a public health and urban planning student, coordinated the installation of a Fix-it stand with two outdoor bicycle pumps on campus, as well as a week of campus activities to celebrate bicycling and publicize these new resources. These steps paved the way for organizing a formal student group this semester, called Bike Ambassadors, which works to promote a more bike friendly campus and facilitate bike maintenance skillsharing. Fleisher describes the Bike Ambassadors as “already a small but mighty group working to promote bikes at the University of Michigan.” We want to train students to help other students learn to fix their bikes, promote bike culture through events, and create a website with resources like information on how to bike in winter weather.
Commoncycle has been teaching Ambassadors bike repair so students can confidently share their skills. We wanted to offer a multi-session bicycle maintenance class at the Fix-it stand this spring, but we learned that student organizing can take longer than planned. In April, we offered a scaled back version and partnered with the university’s Center for Campus Involvement to present a bike maintenance workshop at the Fix-it stand. Students learned the basics, like how to fix a flat tire, and got their bikes back in shape on the spot.
Working around the academic calendar, forming sustainable partnerships through authentic collaborative decision-making, and organizing logistics all took much longer than we anticipated to do it right and make it a long-term, viable project. However, we set the foundation to offer a multi-week bicycle maintenance class in the fall, along with many educational and outreach events. The Bike Ambassadors have also been connecting bike enthusiasts on campus to bicycle initiatives and programs happening in the larger community.
Common Cycle formed a partnership with the University Townhouse Cooperative and the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society to pilot a new bicycle workshop called the B3 Bike Lab, where youth can learn about bike repair, riding bikes safely, and transforming their community and environment. Jonny Lennon, a community leader and founder of the program, was inspired to fix up abandoned bikes in the neighborhood. Jonny says he “wanted to help people build a sense of ownership of their lives. What better way than to get a little greasy while fixing a bike? …transportation broadens one’s living space, opens doors to new places that in some sense were previously closed.” Last year, he organized the B3 Bike Rally, for youth and families in the neighborhood. This year’s event in May was aimed at getting youth hyped about the B3 Bike Lab, kicking off June 1st. The Bike Ambassadors are excited to have recruited students from the UM School of Social Work and the School of Education to volunteer as mentors in the program.
May is Bike Month so Commoncycle jumped on board to help with its activities and celebrations. We hosted Dinner and Bikes – a traveling road show that includes a vegan dinner and night of bicycle celebrations in cities it visits. The amazing chef, authors, and journalists stopped in Ann Arbor and shared their stories about how the people of Portland were able to make their city one of the most bike friendly cities in the nation.
Attendee and documentary filmmaker Joe Biel explained, “In virtually every example we’ve seen there is also a vocal group of citizen activists who are taking a more extreme position than advocates…We see this in everything from organized monthly bike rides to sit ins at city hall. In The Netherlands they went as far as creating the group ‘Stop the Child Murders’ to demand better bikeways.” It was inspiring, and a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our bicycle community with new friends, old friends, students, community members, and bicycle enthusiasts alike.
Through all these different projects, we’ve created some great partnerships with the campus community, including the UM Women in Science and Engineering Program, which we will be working with to offer workshops for their summer camp for middle school girls. We’ve also connected with some great service-learning programs, including the Michigan Community Scholars Program, the Office of Public Health Practice, and more.
Though it takes time and commitment, fostering these organizational partnerships has greatly expanded our reach for promoting cycling through resource and skillsharing. Breaking down barriers to cycling is a core piece of the work that we are doing to create a supportive community that is here to help you hop on your bike and ride your way to a healthier, more sustainable life.