The old proverb says “Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day; teach someone to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.”
What about a bicycle? At QC Bike Collective in Manchester, NH, they’ve taken the proverb to heart, but their fish are bikes: If you give someone a bike, they have a ride. If you teach them to fix that bike, they have a ride for life. Abby Easterly of Manchester, lead organizer of the new organization, says she “saw a need and I wanted to do something.” With 14.7% of Manchester residents living at or below the poverty line, bikes provide affordable transportation for communtiy members who need to work, grocery shop, and get home without a vehicle.
Easterly had also seen bicycles play a role in “helping someone figure out a good next step.“My son started collecting and messing around with bikes in high school. It served him well and he is now a successful welder at U of Arizona. He left behind a bunch of old bike frames and parts and a legacy of how this kind of work can help,” she says. When Robert Tourigny, Executive Director of Neighbor Works Southern NH, came back from a conference in Vermont, “all excited about a community bike shop in Burlington, he told Jennifer Vadney, also of Neighbor Works, about it. And she said ‘That’s what Abby keeps talking about’. He told us to use the space at 373 Union and give it a try,” Easterly says.
And the seed of QC Bike Collective was planted on a corner in downtown Manchester. It started with a couple of bike-fixing clinics last spring. It was a very modest beginning. And then Easterly got a call from Tyler Glodt, who was in town as an AmeriCorps VISTA working in affordable housing, but looking for a bike collective. “I’d been in Anchorage, Alaska, and worked in a collective called Off the Chain. They do a really good job and that's how I got interested and involved in this idea,” says Glodt, adding that he was disappointed when he got to Manchester and there was no bike collective. “QC really wasn't a thing yet, it wasn't going the way it is now,” he says, but he spotted a flyer and Easterly’s number. The flyer was advertising the second of QC’s initial bike clinics, last spring. “I got working with Abby and we got QC off the ground and I'm really excited to see, in such a short time, how far it's come,” Glodt says. “It’s been great to see how much support we've gotten from people in the community and people in the neighborhood.”
That support included a Seed grant for startup expenses and a Grow grant from the Grassroots Fund to help QC establish regular hours and partially fund having Glodt available to fix bikes, train others to fix bikes, and help to plan the program’s future. “QC is a classic example of grassroots action,” says Fund Executive Director Julia Dundorf. “Someone saw a need, conceived an idea, and took steps to create a solution that expands the ability of other community members to help themselves in an expanding circle that, in this case, brings reliable transportation, education and training together to build community.”
“Mainly our focus has been to be open on Tuesday for the purpose of having open shop to repair bikes that come through the door. But that doesn't give us time to repair donated bikes for sale,” Goldt explains, noting that QC has been hurrying to get children’s bikes ready to sell to people looking for Christmas gifts. “We really need more closed shop time just to have volunteers come in and repair bikes and that’s sort of difficult because when we’re here, people tend to knock on the door to see if they can get service,” he says, admitting he’s going to let them in because “I prefer to help the people who need to get their bike fixed rather than fixing bikes nobody owns yet.”
So a priority in planning for the winter months (“We still have plenty of people who count on bikes even when the weather gets colder, but it’s quieter,” Glodt says.) is to have times when there is a “closed shop” and volunteers can come and learn bicycle maintenance by fixing bikes that QC will sell to help support itself. Bikes range in cost an average of about $45 and can run up to $85 or $100 “in that range are the nicer things,” Glodt says, noting QC sells “fewer of those because that's not the market we are in.”
The long-term goal, Glodt says, is a revolving source of people and expertise where people who come in to buy a bike or get a bike fixed stay to get trained and then return to train others. That will take more time in the shop with the door closed, both to offer training and to perform repairs on donated bikes. One avenue Glodt and Easterly are exploring is an “Earn-a-Bike” program.
“We’re applying to the City of Manchester to do that program, which requires a closed, group setting for an 8- to 12-week course in which we systematically take apart the bike and put it back together and the student gets to keep the bike,” Glodt explains. “The students are working on their own bikes, completely overhauling them, and when they’re done, the bike is theirs.” The program ends with a course on bike safety, Glodt says, and participants “graduate” with a certificate, a bike, a helmet, a light, and a lock.
“They'll have the expertise to maintain their bike and we hope that they’ve had a good enough time and enjoy it enough and like us enough that they'll come back as moderately well-trained bike mechanics and help us out,” Glodt says, noting that the biggest value in that exchange “would be especially true with youth; if we have closed youth hours where young people are coming in and we can have trained youth to train more young people, that would be ideal,” he notes.
Not surprisingly, young people constitute QC’s biggest customer cohort. “The thing we see most is flat tires with the kids and we see a lot of kids, especially in the summertime.” The shop has a number of volunteers, with a half dozen who are regular; every one of those people has enough experience with things like flat tires “that they can pretty much help anyone,” Glodt says, adding that he believes “everyone we see should definitely know how to take a tire off and put a new tube in and put the tire back on and get the wheel back on the bike securely. That's really fundamental and really important.
“My ideal, anyway, is that anyone who comes in with an issue with their bike, we could help them. We would prefer,” he explains “that the person who has the problem would use our tools to solve the problem themselves. We put a lot of focus on understanding what the issue is in the learning process. But sometimes” he says, “the shop is so busy that for everyone to have that level of experience is a little difficult. But we definitely try to get everyone satisfied with their experience.” As the temperatures drop, and there is less bike traffic, Glodt says, “it will be a good time to focus on more closed shop time for the volunteers to come in and we will get ahead on fixing the bikes in stock.
“We plan to try to have more open shop time in the spring—open more than just a one day a week and doing something on the weekend, having a more flexible schedule would be good. And something we’re really trying to push for by next spring,” he adds “is having a shop time for youth with someone to work directly with youth. Having a closed shop will be great for that.”
QC also hopes to spend more time recycling components from donated bikes that are not repairable. “A lot of the parts are still useable, and then we recycle the metal for scrap,” Glodt says. But that’s another area that takes dedicated closed-shop time, he adds, and more people. Ultimately, he says, he and Easterly want to “open the shop more and have more people, more times, that's really what were looking to do.” Because that means more bikes, more people, more mobile people, and more people who can fix more bikes.