The exterior of Bike Oven, a volunteer-run bicycle repair collective in Northeast Los Angeles. Photo credit:Mike Wally
In the Bay Area, when discussing the role of the bicycle in daily life it is easy to get fixated on the environmental and health benefits this humble machine brings to the urban environment. However, as the bicycle cooperative ColectíVelo shows us in the Fruitvale neighborhood of East Oakland, there are other facets and benefits of bicycling which are perhaps too often overlooked. ColectíVelo, like many other bicycle cooperatives, offers an environment where one can repair bicycles, get guidance in bike repair, and even build a bicycle for free or in exchange for volunteering.
However, there are a few things that set ColectíVelo apart from your typical bike-coop. As mentioned in an East Bay Express profile of ColectíVelo:
The idea for the shop was conceived five years ago, when a public health nurse and her social worker colleagues saw a need for affordable, efficient transportation among the day laborers they served in Fruitvale. [The founders] dreamed of a bike shop for them, and for the other low-income residents of the neighborhood.
These days when the image of a cyclist as someone who is hip, well-off and perhaps even a little smug is circulating, it may worth noting that many people cycle out of necessity. Bicycle cooperatives don’t just serve the hobbyist, they can be valuable resources to people with little money or who have no other means of transportation, as emphasized by ColectíVelo’s main organizer, Morgan Kanninen in the East Bay Express’ recent coverage:
The shop’s eschewing of money is very purposeful: She [Kanninen] pointed out that even sliding-scale systems can contribute to a feeling of inequality among participants. For some, asking to pay at the lower end of a sliding scale can create a “sense of alienation or shame that just does not need to be involved in this bike shop,” she said. “I think it would only hurt the growth of community here, and the real sharing and learning from each other.”
ColectíVelo values the sense of community the collective fosters over monetary profit. It strives to be a welcoming place to people and caters to the local community, being one of few fully bilingual bike cooperatives– the shop provides bike repair training in Spanish and English, and all signage is bilingual. English and Spanish speakers happily work on bikes, side by side and are often able to help each other despite not speaking the same language.
ColectíVelo brings to light the unique opportunity to help build relationships and unify a neighborhood in a safe environment through exchanging knowledge and time, something many other communities could benefit from. Also, as this bike cooperative further illustrates, the bicycle is more than a trendy mode of transportation– it is perhaps the most accessible tool available to all people, of all ages, abilities and incomes – and thanks to ColectíVelo and similar bike repair operations, the bicycle is made that much more accessible.