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Group provides training, affordable transportation for bicycle enthusiasts

  • FE-BIKES29p-Roy-Lee-Snow

    Roy Lee Snow, of North Toledo cleans between the spokes of a bicycle he is helping to restore during a recent open bike night.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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  • FE-BIKES29p-Alanna-Cromley

    Shop assistant Alanna Cromley replaces a tube while working on restoring an old bike.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
    Buy This Image

FE-BIKES29p-Roy-Lee-Snow

Roy Lee Snow, of North Toledo cleans between the spokes of a bicycle he is helping to restore during a recent open bike night.

The Blade/Katie Rausch
Enlarge | Buy This Image

The scene outside of the bluish-gray building on the corner of 12th and Washington streets near downtown Toledo looked a bit suspicious on a recent Thursday night.

A small crowd of people had gathered in the parking lot of what looks like a vacant building most days, some sitting in cars talking on cell phones, some pacing back and forth, others riding bicycles around the lot.

“Is it time?,” one man asked, poking his head in the door.

“Not yet. Thirty more minutes,” a voice replied back.

At 5 p.m. the 30 minutes had passed, and the heavy steel door, usually locked shut, became a revolving one, swinging open every few minutes, revealing the operations of Toledo Bikes!

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos from a recent Open Bike Night

Low key like the building it’s housed in, Toledo Bikes! is a nonprofit that recycles discarded bicycles, turning them into usable modes of transportation. The bicycles, which are for sale to the public, are all made from recycled and discarded bike parts. Profits help the organization stay afloat, and reasonable prices benefit customers as well as go toward a good cause.

“Our goal is to be able to get people on bikes affordably,” said Erik Thomas, shop manager and program instructor. “Not everyone wants to deal with the added expenses of a car, but for $45 to $130, you can get a refurbished bike and learn the skills to maintain it.”

About Toledo Bikes!

Toledo Bikes! is located at 1114 Washington Street. The shop is open for volunteers, donations, sales and services 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday and 5 to 8 p.m. Monday and Thursday. Information: toledobikes.org or 419-386-6090.

Both Mr. Thomas and shop assistant Shaun Neal are avid cyclists. Mr. Thomas didn’t get a driver’s license until he was 30 years old, because he has always ridden a bike. Mr. Neal became a full-time commuter a year ago, biking through “Snoledo” during one of the coldest winters on record.

“I built my bike here, got some suggestions on layering my clothes, and kept pushing,” said Mr. Neal, 34, of Toledo. “If I were to make a car payment, pay for maintenance, gas, and insurance, I’d be working to pay for a car. It’s not worth it to me.”

The organization was born in 2008 as the Toledo Bike Cooperative and operated in a basement room of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in the Old West End. In 2011, the organization underwent a name change and moved to its current location, where it also promotes bicycling awareness through community outreach, education, and cycling events.

In the shop, through educational and job training programs, students and volunteers can learn the basics of bike repair, and even make their own bicycles from scrap parts. Through a partnership with the Community Integration and Training for Employment (CITE) Program, at-risk youth learn job readiness skills and about sustainability. At the end of the program, the kids earn a bicycle.

FE-BIKES29p-Alanna-Cromley

Shop assistant Alanna Cromley replaces a tube while working on restoring an old bike.

The Blade/Katie Rausch
Enlarge | Buy This Image

The build-a-bike class allows participants to overhaul bikes in need of repair, in some cases, making it like new again.

“I see it as a chance to teach kids about mechanical aptitude; problem-solving skills, and troubleshooting,” said Mr. Thomas, 38 of Toledo. “Other people see the end results: The students earn the bikes; a mode of transportation, independence, and freedom.”

Last year about 80 people, both adults and children, participated in the shop’s training and educational programs. Twenty-five bikes were donated to community organizations and 185 bikes were kept out of area landfills.

People can also volunteer in the shop, doing cleanup, organizing, and repairs. Once they fulfill a certain number of hours, they are given a bicycle of their own to refurbish. Last year, the center racked up over 800 volunteer hours, and about 90 people earned their own wheels.

“If someone volunteered 10 hours and we just gave them a bike, they’d ride off, the bike would break, and we’d fix it and keep fixing if every time it breaks,” Mr. Thomas said. ”When they do the work themselves, they’re able to fix the bike when it breaks. It allows them to continue learning.“

Darrell Stokes earned his first bike about seven years ago. Stokes, 55, of Toledo, had fallen on hard times and was in need of transportation. Today, instead of working for a bike, he barters his time for the cause.

“[Toledo Bikes!] was designed to help the community. I enjoy letting the kids know there‘s an opportunity here for them. You can use those skills to get a job,” Mr. Stokes said. “Whether it’s a first bike or a means of transportation, it teaches the kids that they have to work for what they want.”

Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: rmullen@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.

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