Resurrecting donated and discarded bicycles that would otherwise inhabit a landfill, retooling them mechanically, slapping on a coat of yellow paint, and releasing them into the community is just a small part of what Austin's Yellow Bike Project does. In addition to empowering people to own, repair, and ride bikes, Yellow Bike does its part to reconcile the impacts of our country's car-centered culture by getting people on bikes and helping them gain independence from cars for transportation, said Jennifer Schaffer, a veteran Yellow Bike volunteer. "From community isolation problems, to obesity, to air pollution, to war, there are so many problems this country has that can be solved if people would just get out of their cars and ride bikes more" Schaffer said.
Having recently celebrated its eighth birthday, the all-volunteer, consensus-run organization is a bottom-up success story. At its two fully outfitted community bike shops one is near Austin Studios at the old Mueller airport, 2013 E. 51st, and the other is behind Wheatsville Co-op, 3101 Guadalupe anyone can show up with no means, no money, and a few volunteer hours to spare, and leave with a functional bike, plus the knowledge of how to maintain it. Most of the nonprofit's parts and supplies were found or donated. The rest were purchased with proceeds from choicer recycled bikes, many of which served as instructional tools, that Yellow Bike sells for between $25 and $150. Yellow Bike's tool library offers people the opportunity to teach themselves how to work on bikes with as much or as little volunteer assistance as desired.
"People are encouraged to do the work themselves. We're there to guide them through it, pat them on the back, and say, 'You can do it,'" said Yellow Bike's Pete Wall. "In one night, you can completely overhaul a bike and learn the process. We'll walk you through it. You can take this knowledge and use it on your own bike or you can make a bike for someone you don't even know."
On a Thursday night around 9pm, nearly all the workstations at Yellow Bike's main, 51st Street shop were in use. In the sprawling warehouse building, overflowing with meticulously organized bikes and cycle parts, dub music played while a few tattooed twentysomethings worked on their well-used cycles. A 14-year-old boy, fulfilling a community service obligation, rewired a brake lever under the watchful eye of a volunteer. A little girl circled the parking lot on a refurbished, cartoon-themed cycle as her father bargained with a volunteer. He wanted to buy his daughter the bike, along with a smaller one for his younger daughter and a sleek road bike for himself.
That Yellow Bike was recently able to celebrate eight years of existence speaks to the local need for the organization, said Schaffer. "Through volunteer labor, this community bike shop has managed to keep its doors open through thick and thin, and it's growing by leaps and bounds," she said, adding that the number of hours people have volunteered at Yellow Bike has more than doubled over the past year.
Yellow Bike's future entails growing its volunteer base, reaching out to more after-school programs, and eventually opening its shops daily, Schaffer said. This year, volunteers plan to refurbish and release about 75 Yellow Bikes, continue an afterschool program with Pearce Middle School, and donate children's bikes to three local elementary schools. The main shop on 51st, a space originally donated by the city, is under threat, however, by the Mueller redevelopment project. Talks to find Yellow Bike a new, permanent home, perhaps in the Mueller redevelopment itself, are under way.
Yellow Bike's main shop on East 51st is open 6-10pm Monday through Thursday and 7-10pm on Fridays. The smaller shop on Guadalupe is open one alternating night a week and on weekends 3-7pm. Visit www.austinyellowbike.org for more info or call 457-9880 for shop hours.
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