Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Getting people on wheels

Bike Dump volunteers help riders with repairs

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At first glance, the Bike Dump appears to be the most accurately named operation in town.The courtyard behind its small Main Street location is littered with bicycle frames, twisted wheels and various other bike parts. The scene is similar to the setting on Sanford & Son, the 1970s sitcom that starred the late comedian Redd Foxx as a junkyard dealer.

A line snakes out the back door as a greeter takes names to monitor the traffic inside. Maybe the Bike Dump is a new dance club?

But once inside, you see what the place is all about -- fixing bicycles for primarily inner-city residents and often giving away rebuilt bikes to underprivileged kids, all for free.

"We try to get people on wheels who otherwise can't get on wheels for social or economic reasons," said a veteran bike mechanic, a man known to everybody simply as "Cowboy."

Unlike other cycling shops in town, the repair stations are front and centre so the Bike Dump's volunteers can teach their customers how to get their two-wheeler back on the road. Kids without a bike to call their own can pick out a partial version either hanging from the ceiling or leaning up against a wall -- provided they come in with an adult -- and have it built up with spare parts until it's ride-worthy.

Essentially, the Bike Dump's 18 regular volunteers and 20 part-timers are modern-day Dr. Frankensteins who spend their days creating unique road monsters. (Massive jolts of electricity not required.)

"We encourage the kids to take part in the repair so they're getting an education in bike repair and maintenance. Hopefully, the sweat equity will encourage them to keep a better eye on their bikes, not leave them lying around, not abuse them and (make sure to) lock them up," Cowboy said.

"We prefer they work on it a bit so they say, 'this is my bike' and they'll treat it like a possession."

The Bike Dump was started four years ago by eight bicycle enthusiasts who believed everybody deserves the right to feel the wind in their hair on the open road or winding trail, no matter their economic situation. Anywhere from four to eight bikes can be worked on at a time -- there are only four bike hoists but turning a bike upside down works, too -- and repairs include changing pedals, repacking bearings, changing brakes, adjusting derailers, aligning wheels and patching flat tires. But because it's volunteer-run, it has limited hours -- three hours at a time on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

Thirteen-year-old Thomas Habte waited in line for nearly an hour before he was able to wheel his broken-down mountain bike -- complete with a flat tire, a disconnected brake cable and a broken chain -- through the door. He listened intently as Tyler Markowsky, a computer consultant by day, described the type of pedal that needed to be found in the parts area and then bounded off into the next room. Nearby, another young customer sat at a table and diligently scrubbed a chain with a toothbrush and degreaser until he could almost see his reflection.

Returning with a piece he hoped would fit, the General Wolfe School student offered a simple opinion of the Bike Dump.

"It's cool," said the boy, who moved here with his family a year ago from their native Sudan. "This is the best place to get bikes fixed."

Markowsky, who developed his skills by repairing bikes around the neighbourhood, said he started volunteering a month ago because he felt it was the right thing to do.

The Bike Dump survives on donations, sales of rebuilt bikes and volunteerism.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 6, 2009 A9

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