Last Saturday a cohort of Groupon cyclists volunteered at one of our favorite charities, Working Bikes, where Chicagoans’ unwanted bikes become cheap and efficient vehicles for those who need them here and abroad. This storefront in Pilsen conceals a mind-boggling number of used bicycles on its three floors: they’ll take whatever rusted piece of junk you want to donate.
Although some of the thousands of bikes brought into the shop every year can be repaired and resold in Chicagoland, the vast majority of them are shipped to Global South countries, where they serve a variety of purposes. During our welcome tour of the expansive property, we learned that these donated bikes serve as hands-on training for bike mechanics in countries like Africa and Peru, after which they provide transportation for professionals who desperately need them–one circuit doctor in Africa was able to cut down his service route from weeks to days with the help of Working Bikes. More impressive still are the ways in which spare parts from these bikes can be reappropriated to construct wells and generators. Projects like these particularly interest founder Lee Ravenscroft, who is constantly designing new machines in the shop–which you, too, can see when paying Working Bikes a visit.
We were given the the task of streamlining bikes to fit into shipping containers, removing pedals and turning handlebars in order to economize precious space. Because of our help, the cooperative will be able to pack 5,000 bikes into containers today for Wheels of Africa.
Working Bikes regularly opens their doors to volunteers Tuesday 5-9pm and Wednesdays and Saturdays 12-5pm. And if you don’t think you know enough about bikes, don’t worry: the staff is eager to teach all enthusiastic volunteers. Any day you are able to give is not only providing ease of access to medical care, education, and food for whole communities in the Global South, but is also a learning experience for the amateur mechanic (and rumor has it that there’s a burrito in it for you at the end of the day).