Free re­pairs in bike-shop desert get Ana­cos­tia cy­clists back on their wheels

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - THE DISTRICT BY RACHEL SIEGEL rachel.siegel@wash­post.com

Novon Britt, 10, stood in front of the me­chanic with his sil­ver Mon­goose and its de­flated tires and asked a sim­ple ques­tion: “Ex­cuse me, sir, can you fix my bike?”

Bay­ley Van­der­poel knelt down so he was eye level with Novon and pointed to the line of oth­ers who had come to the Ana­cos­tia Neigh­bor­hood Li­brary seek­ing sim­i­lar help.

Yes, Novon would get his bike fixed, but he’d have to wait his turn.

Van­der­poel is one of more than a dozen vol­un­teers who work at the makeshift re­pair shop held there for five Satur­days from June to Au­gust. For many res­i­dents of Ward 8, it’s the only place to go to get a bike fixed.

Ward 8 doesn’t have a sin­gle re­pair shop; res­i­dents must in­stead travel to co-ops in North­east Wash­ing­ton or Alexan­dria. And al­though bik­ing has grown in pop­u­lar­ity as a form of trans­porta­tion in the city — with about 4 per­cent of res­i­dents com­mut­ing to work by bike and more than 100 miles of trails and bike lanes — Ward 8 has less than two miles of ded­i­cated bike lanes. Of the 255 Cap­i­tal Bike­share sta­tions in the District, only 23 lie east of the Ana­cos­tia River.

As a re­sult, the area’s bike cul­ture is lim­ited, de­spite the fact that cycling is one of the cheap­est modes of trans­porta­tion and could ben­e­fit many res­i­dents.

That’s why vol­un­teers with var­i­ous non­profit groups and bike co-ops de­cided to set up shop at the li­brary. Res­i­dents show up with their bro­ken bikes and are matched with a me­chanic on a first-come, first-served ba­sis. The re­pairs are made free.

This is the fourth sum­mer the li­brary has hosted the clin­ics, which are sup­ported col­lab­o­ra­tively by the D.C. Pub­lic Li­brary and the D.C. Pub­lic Li­brary Foun­da­tion, along with non­prof­its and bike co-ops, in­clud­ing the Bike House, Gearin’ Up Bi­cy­cles, VéloCity Bi­cy­cle Co­op­er­a­tive, Chrome In­dus­tries, Phoenix Bikes and the Wash­ing­ton Area Bi­cy­clist As­so­ci­a­tion.

“The best thing about this pro­gram is that it’s lo­cated right here, be­cause a lot of times, Ward 8 con­stituents can’t af­ford to get on the Metro” to go down­town, said Micah Pow­ell, a li­brary as­so­ciate and one of the fa­cil­i­ta­tors of the bike clin­ics. “But that’s where all the hospi­tals are; there’s a lot of con­tract­ing jobs, a lot of con­struc­tion and a lot of things that they need to ac­cess in the city by rid­ing their bikes.”

Pow­ell, 27, has lived in Ana­cos­tia most of his life. Though not an avid cy­clist him­self, he re­mem­bers the first time his child­hood bike broke — and the sink­ing feel­ing he had when he re­al­ized he had nowhere to go for re­pairs. He scoured the En­cy­clopae­dia Bri­tan­nica set his par­ents had in­vested in to learn the in­tri­cate de­tails of how bikes are built.

Now he hopes the clin­ics will strengthen the com­mu­nity through ed­u­ca­tion, health pro­mo­tion and em­pow­er­ment, as well as by en­cour­ag­ing bik­ing, a healthy habit.

The me­chan­ics give ver­bal in­struc­tions as they make re­pairs so own­ers can learn the skills them­selves. They also hand own­ers maps of nearby bike trails, as well as pam­phlets on top­ics such as how to prop­erly lock up a bike or what to do af­ter a crash.

The three clin­ics so far this sum­mer have each drawn 45 to 65 peo­ple. Vis­i­tors are asked to fill out a sur­vey so li­brary staff can track clients’ de­mo­graph­ics and other in­for­ma­tion, such as what they are us­ing their bikes for and what re­pair op­tions they have be­sides the clin­ics.

“The over­whelm­ing re­sponse from peo­ple was that they had nowhere else to go,” Pow­ell said.

Kevin Ellerbe, 56, brought in his green Mon­goose to have the gear shift fixed. He’s had the bike for 10 years and came by the clinic for the first time last year be­cause of prob­lems with the brakes. A na­tive Wash­ing­to­nian, he said the clinic holds a spe­cial im­por­tance for Ana­cos­tia be­cause “this is the com­mu­nity that’s for­got­ten.”

“When I was a kid, I’d ride in Rock Creek Park, and that’s how I found out about the rest of the world,” Ellerbe said. “I learned a whole lot just by hav­ing a bike. I’m glad to see the lit­tle broth­ers and big broth­ers with bro­ken bikes in their arms run­ning over here, so now they have some­thing else to do be­sides hang­ing in the neigh­bor­hood, where a bunch of wrong stuff might be go­ing on.”

Just be­fore 10-year-old Novon ar­rived with his bike, Van­der­poel coached Robin DeBruce, 54, on how to prop­erly pump her tires and ad­just her han­dle­bars and seat. Van­der­poel, whose day job is as an IT spe­cial­ist at the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, has vol­un­teered at VéloCity Bi­cy­cle Co­op­er­a­tive in Alexan­dria for four years and has sup­ported the Ana­cos­tia clin­ics for two sum­mers.

“The ba­sic idea is you want peo­ple to be more self-suf­fi­cient with their bi­cy­cles,” Van­der­poel said. “Have you ever heard the term ‘MAMIL?’ ‘Mid­dle-aged man in Ly­cra.’ We want bik­ing to be less of that and more of a com­mon thing.”

It was DeBruce’s third visit to the clinic in two years, and she said it was “like Christ­mas all over for me” the first time she got her five-year-old red Mon­goose bike fixed. DeBruce said that she has strug­gled with her men­tal health since fight­ing in Op­er­a­tion Desert Storm and that she is calmest when rid­ing her bike.

“It does so much for me, for my men­tal state,” she said, hold­ing back tears. “And when some­one does some­thing for me, I can­not keep it to my­self. I spread it among other peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hood. It goes on and on.”

Keith Jackson, 49, of Gearin’ Up Bi­cy­cles in North­east, was help­ing Macey Robert­son, 37, ad­just his brakes. Of­fer­ing ver­bal cues, Jackson handed Robert­son a 5-mil­lime­ter Allen wrench to ad­just var­i­ous ca­bles and help take some slack out of the brakes.

Robert­son’s black-and-red Iron­horse bike had been bro­ken for about six months. Now he’d learned enough that he could help his three daugh­ters if they ran into prob­lems with their brakes.

“That’s like a $300 job right there,” he said.

Mickey Love, 25, ar­rived at the clinic too late to have his bike fixed this ses­sion, but he hung around to watch what was go­ing on.

“Peo­ple are just grab­bing bikes that have been in storage for years,” he said. “It’s like it’s be­ing re­ju­ve­nated.” The re­main­ing clin­ics will take place noon to 2:30 p.m. July 22 and Aug. 5.

RACHEL SIEGEL/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Bay­ley Van­der­poel teaches Ana­cos­tia res­i­dent Robin DeBruce how to fix her bike at a Satur­day re­pair clinic in the neigh­bor­hood.

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