A couple of months ago I heard about a non-profit bike shop in my ‘hood called Good Karma Bikes, which is run by some pretty awesome folks who find a lot of different ways to help the community. The primary focus is on making sure homeless and working poor have transportation. They also provide training and stability for kids coming out of the foster care program, a segment of our population that generally gets tossed to the curb.
Unlike a typical bike shop, Good Karma has about a dozen workstations on its shop floor, to allow them to repair many, many bikes each week during ‘clinics’, when they fix bikes for those who can’t afford service. When clinics aren’t going on, people can drop by and use the workstations and all the tools in the shop for an hourly rate. What a great alternative to buying an expensive tool that you hardly ever use.
It turns out they also have instructor-led classes each summer, teaching people how to take their bikes apart and put them back together. It’s called ParkTool School (ParkTool is the Snap-on of bicycle tools) and it’s a great chance for people like me to learn the right way to do things, gain the confidence to strip things all the way down (“count to make sure you have an even number of ball bearings!”) and to fix up one’s own bike while there’s a safety net. You also get to use all the facilities and tools of Good Karma while you’re at it.
I am now the proud owner of a cheap-ass little certificate that says I’m moderately competent in bike repair. The course was eighteen hours of instructor-led class and lab activities. I also got to meet some fellow bikers who, like me, have reached a stage in their riding that it makes sense to be able to do repairs themselves. It was nice little bunch.
One woman in my class is the sister-in-law of a kid I knew in elementary school. Small world, man.
The instructor, Steve, was really good at explaining things, and combined with my general mechanical knowledge (the kind you get when you own a ’70’s-era Italian car whether you want to or not), I got things pretty quickly. Unfortunately for me, this didn’t prevent Steve from explaining the same point in many different ways. Sometimes that made it hard to concentrate.
The lab time was golden. I like to tinker, and as cars get less and less tinker-friendly, I now have new primary transportation that not just encourages a hands-on attitude, it requires it.
And get this: I can volunteer at Good Karma Bikes and tinker on other people’s bikes as well! I can hone my skills and help those in need at the same time. For free! I was already tempted when (at the sage suggestion of the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings) I checked and discovered that my employer will match each hour of volunteer time I spend there with a cash donation.
There is seriously no downside to this, other than dirty fingernails. I’m pretty stoked.