A friend who did me a big solid (aka favor) the other day has had a bike in a shed collecting cobwebs for a while. He’s been wanting to fix it up but was a little intimidated by going to the community shop, Austin’s own Yellow Bike Project. So I figured I’d help him out by assessing the situation and then get him going on repairs while I paid some attention to the neglected brakes of Sophie, my Fairdale. He’s shy and didn’t want his photograph or name mentioned, but I can still talk about the evening.
The Community That Sweats Together
I’m an irregular visitor but I go often enough that I was recognized by two Coordinators, Molly and Zach, and to say hi to an apprentice Elyssa and Juan, one of the daytime mechanics. I also like to chat with new people, if they’re not in the zone of whatever they’re doing. Sometimes they help me, and sometimes I’m help them. There was a young woman who was kind of overwhelmed but getting her hands dirty nonetheless. A couple recently relocated from Virginia working on their old tandem bike with the drum brake assist. A grad student. Some young guys doing the Earn A Bike program. People come and go. It’s a peaceful but busy place.
The big warehouse has no air conditioning despite the Texas heat. But it’s also open to the elements with fans blowing, and it’s open during the evening hours, so it’s somewhat comfortable. The shop is littered with parts, from tubes needing patching, to buckets of screws, brakes, and everything else you can imagine that goes into a bike. Out back there are trailers full of frames in various sizes, shapes and colors and in different states of repair. The for sale bikes are lined up on racks by the counter, where the new tubes and lights are, and upstairs there are more bikes. Bikes everywhere.
People work at their stands, toiling away, raising their hands to ask for help, We are sweaty, our hands get greasy, repairs go well (or they don’t). Usually there’s some music playing, but tonight there is just the hum of the shared space, where everyone working on making their bike, or one that’s for a kid or donation, better. And though I really just know my friend, and not even him that well, I can’t help but feel like there’s an invisible thread that binds us together: the love of bikes.
Sexy Sexy Bicycle
After working with the friend to explain the basics of what he needs, and showing him what I know, we need to call for help. A Dude knows some things, but is no mechanic. A new Coordinator is there named Claudia. I guess her accent is from Ireland and she says that it’s not, but doesn’t offer where. I actually think it’s the Netherlands. Later, I hear she’s from northern Germany. She’s tall, with some tattoos, with a mop of dark hair and kind, intelligent eyes peering out from behind some stylish glasses. There is a large metal scorpion necklace covering part of her t-shirt, which in turn has an image of a bicycle. Above it are the words Sexy Sexy Bicycle.
After a number of times of raising my hand and asking her, Zach and Molly for help with my disk brakes, I ask Claudia if she minds me taking a photo and she says it’s fine. So I do, and then take more with her posing and then actually helping my friend. She says that my method of running a tire tool around the wheel before inflating a newly installed inner tube will not ensure the prevention of a pinch flat. (When the tube gets stuck between the metal rim and the rubber tire.)
In fact, pulling on the valve stem and then pushing it out from the bottom through the hole will move the tube so it’s in the correct position. Learnin’ stuff ain’t too bad! Shortly thereafter the tube just spontaneously deflated and head to be replaced. Brains, brawn, nice, and knows her way around a bicycle. In Texas we have a saying for people like her: “She’s good people.”
We Leave as Happy Customers
The friend got most of the parts he needed (new chain and inner tube) and his repairs made so that his bike is rideable. It still needs some work, and I’d like to think I guided him through the process so that he’s comfortable going back to YBP on his own. I only got one half of Sophie’s disk brakes sanded and adjusted, since they were a little trickier this time for some reason, but that’s ok.
We cleaned up our areas, he paid for supplies, and walked to his car. Helping load it in, I thought back to my experience, about learning and teaching can be both gratufying and frustrating. and wondered if he felt similarly. Maybe he was too caught up in his repairs to just take a moment to look around and take it all in, and to notice what a gem of Austin thatbYellow Bike has been for many years. It’s just a very cool amd mellow place. Getting up off of the couch and biking over, even though I had a headache, was well worth the initial discomfort
There is a sublime beauty all around us if we would only open our eyes and hearts to notice this ephemeral thing we call community. It’s in the spaces we share with other people of common cause. We’re alone and yet together, the sum being greater than the parts. . Maybe you’ll try something like this soon, too. If you don’t have a Yellow Bike Project in your town, maybe it’s time to start one!? You may find it hanging out in your local bike shop – many mechanics love it when you tip them with beer. You’ll help create community by going on a group ride or just with friends who bike. Even those of us who may be shy and who aren’t the most extroverted like me can benefit from being in community spaces. We are human, who are still social animals, after all.
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