Together we can do it better

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Life is all about just being a good person and helping others.

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It never gets quiet here. We are constantly busy. If we are not building a bike we are repairing another; if we are done with mending we get busy with something else. But always to do with bikes; that is the way we do it.

We had an amazing opportunity to be a part of a local community centre’s fun day this weekend. We set up a small stall where we welcomed anyone from a fair amount of visitors to get their bikes checked for free; it is like a drop in Dr Bike station- you bring your patient and we do the magic to heal it in no time…

As a result of this amazing day we met a few people who we simply did not know existed; we spoke to local PCSO’s, local police officers, local councillors and a few others. Most importantly we spoke to a few local residents that simply were not aware of our existence despite living literally a stone’s throw from the famous The Bikes College shed. As a result we have given away plenty of leaflets and flyers, we have fixed a few bikes, we have had a few donations and we discussed and most importantly have commenced an amazing partnership. That partnership will create a space where anyone can come down and repair their bikes and learn how to do it for free; does it sound familiar? That is all we do here at TBC- we fix, mend, repair and teach how to do it too.

Starting from September there will be a bike repair space in Moorside TARA Community Centre, manned by TBC, fixing and teaching how to fix. We have finally secured the space that we were looking for for so long. It came as a surprise and we appreciate everyone involved in the birth of our ideal space.

Thank you Bev and Daniel- you are the ones who simply reached out and spotted an opportunity to support us. The most amazing thanks go to the number of others involved- you know who you are and we salute you!

The Bikes College is growing as ever. Let’s talk bikes.

The apple does not fall far from the tree

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The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.

Barack Obama

It sometimes occurs to us suddenly that we have undertaken the most difficult job around. We are willing to make sure that kids surrounding us feel motivated to learn and to do things that noone has ever told them are possible. When one gets faced by a problem one faces a choice- a puzzling dilemma between the creativity and procrastination. We get surrounded by local kids on a regular basis- kids with simple problems with their bikes; there are punctures, worn tyres, broken brakes; there are boys, girls, children and kids.

There is one special kid, a boy aged 7, who managed to learn to ride his bike properly less than 2 years ago. He went on a long journey from a small bike with stabilisers to a geared mountain bicycle. And a BMX should he fancy a simpler ride. His name is Luka and he constantly stays around. He watches and he learns. He learns to ride every day. But what he learnt without us noticing is to watch and remember. A few days ago a couple of local teens came along; older than Luka and visiting us regularly too; they had a puncture.

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Luka took initiative; he put whatever he has learnt to use immediately; he taught too; he explained and showed the techniques. He knew specific spanner size for the wheel nuts, he knew how to check for punctures and how to repair it. We realise that Luka was watching- he has taken notes and he has put to use all that he has learnt. He is constantly around. And he never stops learning.

My name is David and I am one of the co-founders of The Bikes College. Luka is my son.

‘…I want to ride my bicycle…’

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The average family earning minimum wage spends 141 percent of their income struggling to meet basic needs – food, shelter, clothing. 

Sherrod Brown

We met Labbonti today. He was a bit late but he said that he has had a busy night last night. We patiently listened to his story. He lived in Wales in a flat belonging to his sister. She passed away and he, unable to meet the financial expectations, had to leave. He came to Leeds a while a go and slept rough since. We met him today but we already met before too.

His person, especially the state of his bike, was brought to our attention by a message on our social media page. A random passer-by was touched and brought to tears by his bicycle. We browsed the area to meet him and arrange the meet up. When we met him his bike was indeed in a bit of a state…

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We talked to him and arranged for the weekend visit to make his ride ride again. His front wheel did not have a tyre on. Nor an inner tube. The brakes did not work, the brake pads were missing, gears did not work, cables and outers were broken. The bottom bracket and the headset were all over the place as well. The bike was a death trap.

Labbonti met us exactly where and when agreed. He came on his bike; you could hear him from the distance- the front rim making the metal grinding against the tarmac sound. We replaced the front wheel, put an inner tube on, put a tyre on, fixed his brakes, adjusted gears, replaced the outers and cables, tightened the bottom bracket, tightened the handlebars, tightened the saddle, tightened the seatpost… All this for a fist pump. And a massive smile.

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When he rode away we saw him grinning like a kid, swerving from one side to another, keeping his feet off the pedals… He enjoyed his bike. He acted like we all did at once- that day when we received a new bike- he enjoyed the ability to travel freely, the happiness, the wind in the hair…

You see this is the time when you give someone something more than a bicycle.

We gave him freedom…

Louder than words

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Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.

Dr. Seuss

Leeds is such a big place. It is mentioned as a capital of the North on numerous occasions. With every great story comes an untold tale of things that often get omitted by the mainstream media: the social isolation, the lack of access to alternative transport, transport dependence, etc.

On Saturday 28th June we had a pleasure to be a part of a Swinnow Family Fun Day where we set up our tent and provided bicycle check up service for anyone who felt their bike needed some TLC. The turn out was amazing and we are glad to announce that we serviced almost a dozen of bikes, we replaced a couple of cables, adjusted a few brakes, discussed the tyre pressure on a few occasions and even explained the basic physics behind the bearings once. We discovered exactly the same problems occur wherever we go- the bikes are neglected, the brakes are too spongy, tyres are bold, the bottom brackets are loose… What we are currently discussing with our constantly growing list of friends are opportunities to deliver our services to the wider audience- we want to teach everyone how to look after their bikes.

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What we also did during this amazing day was raffling the donated Kona Hahanna. It was won by Louise from Leeds who bought a lucky pink 38 ticket.

This is how we respond to all these untold stories- this is the only way we can address the issues we mentioned. By actions. Nothing else.

It is fine not to know

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Common sense is not so common.

Voltaire

It gets extremely difficult to impose imagination and aspiration onto people. It is arduous to emphasise the importance of remaining imaginative while maintaining a helpful and cooperative approach.

The teaching is a long process and it takes a lot of patience. It also consumes your time and energy but the potential you create is astonishing. The productive minds will carry on even when the tuitions stop for the knowledge hunger is impossible to feed. There are an astonishing number of people who used our services and started visiting regularly ever since. They do come over, they help, they ask, they do want to know more. The variety of things we do is like a magnet for their curiosity. The specific repairs we carry out sometimes do attract attention; the attention to the things never to be seen otherwise. It must be an amazing experience to be able to learn how to repair the puncture or how to set up your brakes on your bike where the same day you can service  an air sprung suspension fork.IMG_20140615_144830

It must be an amazing feeling to be able to witness and assist a process that was unknown. Dismantle things you have never held in your hands and discover things inside that you have never even heard of; name them, clean them, put back together- it has to be an amazing feeling to do that.

That is what happens around our workshop daily. We let them discover things they never heard of. They ask, they learn, they remember.

Because it is still fine not to know.

In it all together?

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Many activities and team play participation will give you a training that will prove invaluable later on in life.

Walter Annenberg

It is busy at The Bikes College. People are calling from as far as Yeadon to donate bikes. Kids need bikes in Pudsey. If we were honest it got slightly overwhelming lately…

But what never changed is the impact of what we do. And we do it everyday. We are also happy to expand our standard services. We swapped bikes with few people recently- they donate theirs and we give them something more suitable or simply what they fancied more. We did that with S. recently- he was desperate for a new bike; he was helping out with J. a lot lately and we promised to keep an eye out for him.

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So when S. appeared at our door one day with a half a bike to ‘build it’ we made a deal with him- he surrenders whatever he brought (too big, half of it missing, etc.) and we will get him a BMX; 3 days later here he is- with his brand new ride. After a prompt confirmation with his parents that it is all fine to exchange we got another smiling kid. On a bike…

IMG_20140530_154449hhhhhHhhHere is (from right) S., J. and their friend C. C. has heard about us from J. and S. and came around a few times to fix a few minor things on his bike. He is quite obviously too big for his bike and we agreed that when we have something for him we will swap with him too- C. will be back in a couple of days (he does not know yet).

 

They keep coming back. Bringing more friends that are willing to chat, to repair, to learn, to participate. You know- after all we are all in it together, right?

Too much for a few

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Strive not to be a success but rather of a value.

Albert Einstein

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.

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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.

Behaviour breeds behaviour

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A teacher affects eternity as he can never tell where his influence stops.

Henry Adams

Remember J. from few days ago; J. who was taught by C. how to repair a puncture? He came back again with a friend of his. S. is 8 years old and he knows J. as they live closeby. This time again we sat back and let J. take initiative and deliver a quick tuition in puncture repairs.

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Initially we were keen to help all the way but shortly realised that J. is a comfortable leader. He took over immediately and explained to S. how to repair a puncture step by step.

TBC always encourages team work and learning together- be it big groups or just a couple of friends. We emphasise the need to work on solutions together, putting age barriers and any other differences aside, to deliver what is simply an astonishing result. It is extremely inspirational where we witness local kids learning one day and teaching what they learnt the day after. Meet J., 11 years old, who was struggling to repair his puncture just a couple of days ago and today he was teaching his own sister A. who is 6 years old. The impact of that kind of interactions, in a family or amongst friends or even strangers, is impossible to explain.

Kids, interacting at the basic social levels, learning and teaching at the same time, looking after each other and each others’ property, understanding the importance of teamwork and helping…

This is the message we want to spread. In Leeds to start with. And beyond…

What would you do with this gift?

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Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.

Confucius

We give an astonishing number of bikes away for free. We get them refurbished to safe standards and simply seek kids in the area that need a bicycle. For numerous reasons there are plenty of children around Leeds (and beyond we believe) that simply do not have a bicycle.

A bicycle is a childhood related gift, an attachment to your childhood; when you think about your adolescence there is a bike somewhere, sometime there… You get a bicycle and it changes everything- you discover ‘distant’ lands, be a 4 miles away city centre or 1 mile away next estate. You discover and you travel, you become independent and the bike is responsible for it. It fills us up with a great sadness when people do not treat that privilege with all due respect.

When you get a gift of freedom it is an extreme selfishness to simply let it disappear; to contribute towards is even a greater sin.

rust

We realised that our gifts are sometimes simply abused and it gets us truly sad. It is an extremely heartbreaking experience; it gets us feeling regretful and low-spirited. We expect the kids we help to simply ride the bikes they have been given and to enjoy themselves; we do not want anyone taking us and our gifts for granted. It is truly a sorrowful happening.

Dear people of Leeds and beyond- this is to make you aware that there are people who care and who are passionate about these little gems you have been given- please look after them for this will make us as happy as we can get. Then we rest assured that what we do is a great cause and is indeed appreciated. Thank you.

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How to talk to strangers

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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.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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…