We struggle to explain to the majority of people on our way that what we do is not for profit. Despite our soon-to-be legal structure we are not working like a standard company.
When the bikes are being given away we prepare them so they are safe to use. Our target audience are children aged 7-15yo and despite their lack of understanding of safety they do receive bicycles that are built, serviced and maintained to a standard considered as high even at the high street bike stores.
We were contacted by so many people recently- we still cannot believe how many good words were said about what we do. We met people from miles away driving to donate an unwanted bicycle to us (thank you Tom), we had people donating 3 bikes at a time (thank you David)… We attracted some attention and we are simply gob-smacked by the amount of good vibes sent our way. We realised that there must be something right about what we do as we get busier now. Day in day out we have local kids coming down with stuff to fix, tubes to patch up, wheels to pump up, bikes to mend and more. We get the same faces on a regular basis but they also bring friends; and they bring friends. And their friends.
The Bikes College got as busy as never before and people know who we are and what we do. We also increased our turnover whilst still working as a voluntarily project- we do not get paid for what we do. We would like to be able to create few work spaces soon and we are working towards it but at this time we are still relying only on donations and handful of sales. We do sell approximately 15% of our bikes not for profit but to keep what we do as a free service to all. We repair punctures for free, that would normally cost you at least £5; we replace brake shoes for free, that would normally cost you £3 per set; we replace the old and rusty cables and outers, that would normally cost you £1 per cable. You see all that has to come from somewhere and without your kind donations and few sales these costs would have to be covered by you guys. We also swap bikes- you bring us yours we will give you ours- more suitable, better, bigger, etc. Next time you think we are are not doing enough go to the bike shop and try to buy an inner tube, get it fitted, pumped up, your tyre and rim checked up- for a smile and a handshake.
You see we do it for about that much. And sometimes not even that; for sometimes it is too much to ask for.
We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.
It was a normal day at The Bikes College– sunny day, a few kids around with typical bike problems: few punctures, few dropped chains… One of the kids C. who has not been for a few days visited to get his hubs serviced and brakes set up. We worked with him for a couple of hours and we got his hubs much better than they have been for at least a couple of weeks. C. finished his hubs and set up his brakes and as he was getting ready to go J. came with a flat back tyre. We asked J. to wait up while getting a drink for all of us. C. mentioned he can help out if he can. We told J. that C. knows how to do the punctures now. What happened next was beyond our expectations…
C. jumped onto J.’s bike immediately. They had the back wheel off within seconds. We came out with the drinks and realised that we simply do not need to intervene- what was happening right in front of our very eyes was something we are trying to achieve with everyone who visits TBC- they worked together to resolve an issue with one of the bikes. C. and J. are the same age (12yo), they go to the same school, they live at the same estate however they never met before. They were working side by side and C. was teaching J. what to do, how to do it, what to use, what to avoid and so on.
We just sat back and watched them thriving in a new environment- and boy were they enjoying themselves…
It takes a lot of bonding to create a possessive relationship known as ownership. The tears, the sweat, the tiredness and the workmanship are required to achieve the end product.
Repairing or building a bike is a great example. It is a process which takes time, commitment and then some more time and commitment. Through these two we learn that love/hate relationship with our own bicycle. We love it as it is like a child of our own- we grew it, we moulded it, we made it what it is. We hate is as it gave us headaches and sleepless nights, it made us bankrupt on numerous occasions and it also jeopardised the future of our relationships with friends, partners, family and the rest of the world… That demanding love/hate relationship creates something that no money can buy; it is something that is possible to create using only time and attachment.
It is a difficult task to create that kind of attachment amongst the youngsters these days. The process starts when you give them something that can care for; give the man a fish saying springs into our minds again. We give them a bike- refurbished and recycled mean of transport which they need to look after and cherish like their own. It never cost them anything but that is the reason why they appreciate it so much- it is a gift, not a purchase. They learn how to look after it, how to repair it, how it works and how to know when it fails.
The journey starts when a kid gets a bicycle from us. They come over and work with us to make it safe and ready to go. They set the brakes up, they set the gears up, they repair a puncture. That gives them time to appreciate what they initially received and to look after it. This is the beginning of a journey. Within few hours one can tell if the bike someone is working on will be appreciated…
They study; they learn; they build; they appreciate; they love.
It is never too early to involve kids in giving back. And the more hands-on the experiences are, the better.
Soleil Moon Frye
That is what we are trying to do at TBC as much as we can. We support the hands-on experience as much as possible.
Take E., in her early teens, who got a bike from us recently for a fraction of its real price. 2 days in a row she had punctures. On the first day we repaired it for her while talking her through the basics of puncture repairs- we taught the theory so she understood it before showing her more. She was back the very next day with exactly the same problem. You would not guess what’s happened then…
She understood the basics of punctures: the causes, the reasons, the tools needed, where to start, what to check for and what to expect. She is checking the tyre for stuck thorns and the potential damage to the tyre above.
She was capable of using the tools and equipment herself to help out actively. Her hands-on attitude was astonishing. She knew how use a pump and what pressures to inflate the tyre to.
She was keen to listen and follow instructions, willing to do the majority of the work herself. She has even remembered to release the vbrake noodle before taking the wheel off.
We helped with as few tasks as possible, majority of which were too big or too complicated for her- we loosened the wheelnuts and re-tightened them for her.
It took us approximately 20 minutes to resolve the issue entirely. Here she is putting the noodle back into its place once we were done. When we spoke about the experience we made E. aware that it is something she can do herself next time- with no supervision and with hardly any help. She even got a complimentary puncture repair kit.
We believe that no other ways would deliver the same result- we got E. involved, we supported her and watched her thriving when the trouble occurred.
This the way we do it here- this is The Bikes College’s way!