.Two-Wheeled Transport

Understanding the DIY ethic and falling in love—with a bike


A couple of weeks ago, I found myself confused by the acronym DIY. The fact that it appeared in reference to one of my own articles did nothing to clarify matters. I puzzled over this for some time. Dogs in Yard? Drinking in Yurts? Clearly not cool enough to understand hip acronyms, it wasn’t until I visited Community Bikes on Sebastopol Road in Santa Rosa and saw their bulletin board that I finally got it. A sign there reads, “DIY—Fix a Bike,” and at last the words fell into place.

Obviously, I’m not much of a punk rocker or a do-it-yourself kind of gal. Not that I don’t try; it’s just that my efforts never seem to amount to much. I can’t cut straight, I can’t sew, I can’t draw, paint or grow things, and I definitely cannot fix a bike.

There is one thing I can do, however: imagine things. I can imagine myself with a bike. A pink German beauty of a road bike, to be precise, with a white seat covered in daisies and a bell on the handlebars. One of the volunteers at Community Bikes is currently working on what I quickly begin to think of as “my” bike, the Pink German Beauty.

My PGB, once a rigorous check-list of repairs have been meticulously executed, will join the others at the front of the patched-together building that serves as headquarters, volunteer center, donation station and repair shop for the nonprofit Community Bikes. There my Pink German Beauty will sit until it is sadly snatched out of the row by some other discerning individual with more money than I.

LITE Initiatives, Community Bikes’ mother ship, was founded in 2000 by Sammy Nasr and Portia Sinnott as a way of promoting and supporting communities to live “lightly and more efficiently.” Nasr and I recently met at Community Bikes so he could give me a tour and tell me about this fantastic little rustic shop where people donate hours of their time to taking apart, repairing and teaching others to fix their own bikes.

Nasr stresses the fact that Community Bikes is not a place where others will fix your bike for you; this is a place where volunteers will help you to DIY. The walls are lined with boxes and boxes of well-organized bike parts; just about anything a bike enthusiast could need is available, including spare helmets, extra water bottles and lots of tools and devices that look very important.

Like a bicycle, LITE Initiatives is made up of a number of spokes. Each of these spokes is an endeavor meant to inspire public awareness, car-lite behavior, do-it-yourself capabilities and zero-waste activism. When we meet, Nasr tells me that he and Sinnott have shared a car for years (they live five miles apart), and that it was their car-sharing that initially inspired them to start the nonprofit.

Bicycling can be liberating, Nasr tells me, a way to feel empowered, healthy and strong. Though he puts in over 20 hours a week just to keep the nonprofit running, he is in love with the work, and this love shows not just in the welcoming atmosphere of the place, but in the sheer, impressive nature of this selfless endeavor.

The bikes for sale may not be shiny, they may not meet conventional standards of beauty, but they are quality bikes just the same. Nasr assures me that nonquality donations, of which there are many, never make it into the lineup. What he terms “department store” bikes will be scrapped for a small fee of $10. All other bicycle and part donations are welcomed and painstakingly rehabilitated.

I speak briefly with the volunteer who is working on my Pink German Beauty. He tells me that he spends about 12 hours a week at Community Bikes doing exactly what he is doing now: making sure that every bike, not just mine, is safe, oiled and running smoothly. I admire his handiwork, and run my hand over the shiny chrome thing that is covering the front tire.

In order to give the appearance of a purpose other than just staring at my PGB, I ask a vague question about bicycling. What’s with the clip-on shoes? Am I the only one who gets freaked out by that? I’m assured that though this method of riding does serve a purpose, clip-on shoes are not necessary for the kind of riding I will probably be doing on my PGB.

As I’m leaving, I pause to scan the bulletin board one more time. My eyes land on a “We Need You” list: bike repairing, fundraising, hosting workshops and donating time and work on graphics, videos and the website—almost anything DYI. I wonder if writing articles counts. From deep within, I can feel my inner barterer begin to stir. Pink German beauty, you will be mine. Oh yes, you will be mine.

Community Bikes is open for donations, sales and volunteers, on Thursdays from 5pm to 9pm, and on Sundays, from 1pm to 5pm. 4009 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa. For more information, call 707.579.5811. For bicycle safety tips and to find out about street skills seminars in Sonoma County, go to the www.bikesonoma.org; in Marin County, check out www.bikemarin.org. In Napa, the Napa Bike Coalition is supported by the Eagle Cycling Club, www.eaglecyclingclub.org.


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