Tune Up

Pilot program at Olneyville’s Recycle-a-Bike trains cyclists in maintenance – and safe riding

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Suppose you took a class in bicycle maintenance. You learn how to fix – and even soup up – your gears, brakes, and derailleur. You receive a $200 voucher toward your next bike purchase. You get a technical handbook, a helmet, a formidable U-lock, and safety lights. You also gain access to a separate course, Your Right to the Road, where you learn about signaling, right of way, and how to safely navigate traffic.

The price: free.

That’s the idea behind Wrench It Forward, a brand-new scholarship created by Recycle-a-Bike. Over the course of a year, the Olneyville-based nonprofit will train 48 individuals in the art of bike mechanics, thanks to a grant by the Lorber Family Foundation. The safety course is hosted by Recycle-a-Bike’s partner, the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, which maintains the nearby Greenway bike trail.

But the most important part of Wrench It Forward is its intended students: low-income individuals, recent immigrants to the US, and folks transitioning from incarceration. For residents who can’t afford cars and struggle with public transit, a bicycle can be a game-changer.

“I can’t promise anything,” says Gregory Guertin, director of Recycle-a-Bike. “But by having a bicycle, to have the education, to know that this place is a resource to them, I hope that it makes their lives easier.”

Recycle-a-Bike started up about 20 years ago as a loose federation of mechanics who wanted to resuscitate used bikes. Ten years later, Recycle-a-Bike became an official nonprofit organization. The headquarters serve as a store, workshop, and training ground. Gregory expects 500 bikes to pass through the facility before the end of the year.

“The organization is very at-home here in Olneyville,” says Gregory. Set in the middle of a largely Spanish-speaking neighborhood, Recycle-a-Bike just hired a bilingual instructor to help clients repair their own rides. To help sustain their grassroots effort, Recycle-a-Bike also accepts donations year-round – including money through their website and used bikes, gear, and spare parts at the store.

“The vast majority of people who come in here to fix their bikes are using them for basic transportation,” says Chelsea DeSantis, head mechanic and instructor at Recycle-a-Bike. “They’re commuting to work and trying to get around the neighborhood. We don’t know what everyone who earns a bike here is going to do with it, but with the scholarship, we’re just taking any financial barrier away.”