Phoenix Bike Co-op

Phoenix bike co-op offers parts, labor and a place to find independence

Photo: Earl Morris, a customer at the Rusty Spoke community bicycle collectiveworks on a bike in front of the shop on May 9, 2018, in Phoenix.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

 

Walk into the Rusty Spoke and you'll find organized chaos. Used tires hang from a side wall, tubes pile on the floor and rims dangle from the ceiling, catching light from a half-open garage door. People crowd a work station, tinkering with parts and tools alongside bins filled with brake components.

Bill McComas is a long-time volunteer at the shop and bicycle advocate who leads monthly group rides in Phoenix. He's often at the front of the Rusty Spoke when it opens, explaining the rules of the co-op to new arrivals and helping others around the garage with tools or parts.

"We are a volunteer-run community bike shop, so we don't have any paid employees," McComas said. "We don't charge for teaching people how to work on bikes, we don't charge for using our tools or equipment."

On a busy day, work in the shop builds into a steady rhythm. Visitors are checked into a computer at the front and given work to do around the shop. Regulars greet each other and work on bicycles. All around the garage the sounds of bikes being torn apart and put together mingle with conversations between regulars and newcomers. Hands quickly become covered in grease and dirt.

"We serve the homeless population," McComas said. "Most of our customers (are) people who can't afford to ride the bus."

Photo : Rusty Spoke community bicycle collective volunteer Bill McComas stands in the light from the open garage door at the shop on March 21, 2018, in Phoenix.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

 

Not everyone who comes to the bike shop is homeless. Some are looking for free expertise or tools to fix their bicycle. Others are looking for cheap parts. But for many of the regulars, the Rusty Spoke is a sanctuary.

"We come over here and you know, (we're) treated like gold," said Douglas Sherwin, a regular at the shop.

Sherwin, like many of those in the shop, spends a lot of his time outside the nearby Central Arizona Shelter Services at 12th Avenue and Jackson Street waiting to get inside. He said the Rusty Spoke provides him with an outlet.

"These are a great bunch of guys, and they'll help you with anything," Sherwin said. "You don't have to worry about anything but fixing your bike.”

The Rusty Spokes' origin stories

Ask around the shop and you'll find it's difficult to pin down the origin of the Rusty Spoke.

One volunteer said it used to be on Grand Avenue. A regular remembered it being in a backyard somewhere in Phoenix. Today, the 501(c)(3) non-profit can be found on the northeast corner of 9th Avenue and Grant Street, splitting a warehouse space with GRID Bike Share Phoenix.

McComas said the Rusty Spoke's goal is to teach bicycle riders how to work on their bikes as well as provide people with affordable transportation. All around the shop, volunteers and customers walk through rows of bicycles, handing each other parts, asking each other questions and working on their bikes.

Customers can trade five hours of work in the shop for a donated bicycle worth $50.

Shop volunteers help teach them how to keep their bikes maintained, with many becoming regulars in need of parts or service. Work-trade can be anything from sorting and labeling donated parts, sweeping the shop or even helping other customers work on their bikes, if they have the experience.

Bikes in better shape or collectible bikes worth more are kept aside and sold through word-of-mouth or social media to help the Rusty Spoke make rent, McComas said.

 

Satisfaction from helping

Ask volunteers how they ended up at the Rusty Spoke, and they will give a range of answers.

McComas, whose day job is in local government, said his love for bikes and a restoration project brought him to the collective. Nikki Armstrong, another regular volunteer, said she started coming to the Rusty Spoke just to learn how to work on her own bikes and ended up making it a regular part of her weekly schedule.

 

Photo : Arthur Morrow, a volunteer at the Rusty Spoke community bicycle collective, stands with his bike in front of the Rusty Spoke on May 9, 2018, in Phoenix.Thomas Hawthorne /The Republic

 

For Arthur Morrow, volunteering came after being a customer in need himself. He said he found out about the Rusty Spoke from a flier at the justice center.

"I volunteer because I really like doing this stuff," Morrow said. "It's a lot of satisfaction in helping somebody out, fixing a bike, because once they have it, they don't have to rely on anybody else to have it fixed."

Morrow originally volunteered at the shop to get his own bike. After that one was stolen, he returned and found he was able to contribute his knowledge from a lifetime of tinkering on bicycles. He said he gets recognized on the street now by people who visit the shop. 

"It's a lot of fun," Morrow said. "You don't even notice time. It just goes by."

 

In need of volunteers, materials

Due to limited resources and staffing, the Rusty Spoke is only open two days a week: Sundays, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., and Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Each of the volunteers working at the Rusty Spoke said their biggest need is for more volunteers, as well as donated parts.

Photo : Bicycle rims hang from the ceiling at the Rusty Spoke community bicycle collective on April. 21, 2018, in Phoenix. Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

 

"We're looking for somebody that wants to help the community and is dependable and will show up for their shifts like promised," McComas said. "You'll learn the bike side of it through being here."

You can donate bike parts or monetary funds by showing up at the shop during work hours or through their website at rustyspoke.org. McComas said they will take anything bike-related, whether it's a damaged or broken bike, spare parts, tools or a repair stand. 

"I like to say we're a small sprocket on a big cassette," McComas said. "We make the difference we can."

Maurice Tran, a customer at the Rusty Spoke community bicycle collective, works on a bicycle rim inside the shop on April. 22, 2018, in Phoenix.
Thomas Hawthorne /The Republic

 

Morrow said the Rusty Spoke helped him build the confidence to track down a full-time job. While he can't volunteer as often as he used to, he said he still tries to make it to the shop at least once a week.

"A bike is independence, plain and simple," Morrow said. "A lot of the people around here don't have the finances to own a vehicle. So this gives them the ability to be able to get to appointments, to places they want to go, to just get away from everything."

 

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Source : https://eu.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix-best-reads/2018/05/31/phoenix-rusty-spoke-bike-shop-offers-place-work-homeless/630900002

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