Why Every Town Needs A Bike Library

Prairie Dog

From the spring 2023 issue of  The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter. The PP is  funded entirely by reader subscription, delivered to your door for $15/year and available online at theprairieprogressive.com. Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244. Click here for archived issues.

Bikes Create Community

by Clarity Guerra

Recently, I was talking to my therapist and told her I was feeling irritable and pessimistic and felt a touch of despair creeping in. I asked her, “How do I get back to the light-heartedness I’ve felt the past few months?” She said, “I don’t know, but how about going to the Bike Library? You always seem happier after you’ve hung out there.”

I took her advice and went to Women/Trans/Femme Night, or “open-wrenching” hours on
Tuesday nights reserved for women identified, gender non-conforming, and femme folks. A W/T/F mechanic will help coach you through repairs or upgrades on your bike. All the
tools, lubes, and new and salvaged parts to do quick fixes or major overhauls are there. If you don’t have a specific bike project, you can just come and hang out, drink a beverage,
and be in community.

I left W/T/F Night with a smile on my face and a warm glow in my chest. Thanks to these open wrenching hours, my 15-year-old bike is running smoother than the year I bought it, and the ride home felt like flying. Talking with folks at W/T/F night and the sense of accomplishment from repairing my steed is guaranteed to lift my mood.

Years ago, my entry point into the Bike Library was FarmCycle, an annual ride to sample delicious food at local farms. I knew the Bike Library as an inclusive hub for people who love bikes. Since becoming a board member last December, I have come to see it as an activist organization having considerable impact in the community around its main values of equity and sustainability.

Located at 1222 S. Gilbert Court in Iowa City, the Bike Library is a nonprofit community bike shop with the mission of getting more people on bikes. At its inviting, 7,000-square-foot building, donated bikes are repaired and checked out the way a library checks out
books, sold at low cost, or donated to community members through voucher programs.

The Bike Library has extensive programming that focuses on education. It hosts beginner-friendly rides that help build confidence on two wheels and workshops focused on bike repair and maintenance. Based on staff estimates, three out of every four people looking to get bikes at the Bike Library don’t knowthe basics of properly setting seat height, shifting, and braking. Staff or volunteers often work one-on-one to provide this knowledge.

In addition to hosting events at its space, the Bike Library has made a push to get out into the community where bikes are most needed. It hosted 10 Mobile Bike Safety Clinics in low-income neighborhoods and handed out kids’ bikes at the South District’s Diversity Markets at Pepperwood Plaza. During the summer, it teams up with Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County and the Injury Prevention Center at the University of Iowa to host Bike Safety Camp, where kids who participate in a week-long program get their own
bike, helmet, and t-shirt. In 2022, 170 repaired bikes were given out to kids, teens, and other folks who couldn’t otherwise afford them.

Who comes to mind when people think about a cyclist? Contrary to stereotypes of LYCRA-clad white people on high-end racing bikes, the largest share of bike rides in the U.S. are taken by lowest-income Americans. Though bikes are a relatively low-cost form of transportation, buying and maintaining a bike can beprohibitively expensive for families
who need them the most. The Bike Library provides a social service by reducing the barriers to bikes and bike skills.

The Bike Library helps people of all backgrounds make bikes a bigger part of their lives, whether it is for recreation or commuting, physical or mental health, human connection
or a sense of accomplishment. In this way, it is part of a movement to democratize wellness.

Audrey Wiedemeier, Director of the Bike Library, emphasizes how the organization benefits from the relationships it builds in the community. She says, “Connecting
with people and organizations with different perspectives provides the creativity and innovation needed to drive healthy change in our community.”

The Bike Library lifts my spirits because it gives me hope for the future. It’s a place where you might find out you can do something you didn’t think you could do, and that in and of itself is a form of liberation. It has developed a model for keeping bikes out of the landfill
and putting them in the hands of people who need them the most. It is helping to foster a stronger, more resilient community.

We accept any and all bikes and financial donations!

—Clarity Guerra is a Climate Action Ambassador for the City of Iowa City.

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