by Natasha von Kaenel
On April 30, The Crucible opened its back gate for our highly anticipated Bike Fix-A-Thon, where twelve volunteers working with Crucible staff repaired and replaced parts on forty different bikes for free.
The last few Fix-A-Thons had to be cancelled due to rainy weather, and some staff were worried people wouldn’t show up. “But as soon as people saw I was outside filling out tickets, the line got big,” Tyler Fletcher, our Bike Shop Department Head explained, adding that the excitement was understandable. “I don’t know of anywhere else in the East Bay that does a completely free community outreach, with free repair and free parts.”
John Bell, local resident of West Oakland, has been bringing his bike to The Crucible’s Bike Fix-A-Thons for years, and says that although bicycle theft has been a constant problem for him, events like the Bike Fix-A-Thon help keep bike ownership affordable.
John brought his bike in at two o’clock and within the hour, volunteers had replaced his back brakes and ball bearings with all new parts – at no cost. Gesturing over to his bike resting against the fence, John explains, “This bike was a piece of crap. But now, that’s a good bike.”
The effort was appreciated. “There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you guys,” John says. “If you told me to sweep the yard right now, I’d do it for you. That’s how I feel about y’all.”
When The Crucible held our first Bike Fix-A-Thon, there were no local bike shops offering repair work. Thirteen years later, there is one. Despite improved access, “going to a bike shop and getting your bike repaired by a mechanic really isn’t an affordable option for a lot of people,” explains Ismael Plasencia, our Youth Programs Associate. So during the Bike Fix-A-Thon, volunteers and staff worked to fix as many bikes as possible, getting people back on the road, with safe, functioning bikes.
As the Bike Fix-A-Thon was coming to a close, four girls from the neighborhood rode in on bikes in disrepair, with no functioning brakes. The girls had been using their feet to stop, and the wear and tear on their flip-flops was obvious.
Ismael sees this a lot, “We definitely see kids with no rubber on their wheels, no brakes, no pedals, but making it work. It shows how creative a lot of kids in the community are.” Then Ismael pauses, and adds with a laugh, “But it’s like, your life could be so much easier if you just had some rubber on those tires, or you had two pedals.”
The Bike Shop had some working bikes left over from our Earn-A-Bike Program, and traded the girls four of our working bikes for theirs. The parts from their bikes will be re-used in our Bike Shop to repair other bikes or used in the Art Bike course.
“That’s why the kids are working in the Earn-A-Bike Program – to repair bicycles and get them in the hands of people who really needed them,” Ismael explains. “The girls needed them.”