If you live in Fort Collins and want or need a bike, you are in luck. Even if you don’t have two pennies to rub together, you can have a bicycle built especially for you, as long as you are willing to put in a few hours of labor for a local non-profit organization.
That’s because a dedicated manager, several part-time employees and a corps of loyal volunteers at the Fort Collins Bike Co-op will make it possible. “We couldn’t do this if Fort Collins weren’t the bike friendly community that it is,” said general manager Justin Mohar.
The Co-op got its start in 2003 when Rafael Cletero began repairing bikes in his garage. A few friends and neighbors got curious and asked him for help. Before he knew it, his garage was overflowing with bikes and parts, and he had to put a sign on his door in order to limit his working hours. Soon he moved to larger quarters and named his enterprise the Bike Against Collective. Soon the city began to wonder whether or not he was an official business and solved that problem by becoming involved and encouraging his work by suggesting he become a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
The Collective became the Fort Collins Bicycle Co-op. It was located at 331 N. College Avenue until they acquired the property at 1501 N. College, formerly a recycling operation. With two buildings covering 4,000 square feet and a large outdoor area, the Co-op has plenty of room for bike and parts storage, a spacious and well-lighted work area, and an inviting retail space at the front of the shop.
Between 80 and 120 volunteers give their time in the course of a year, according to Mohar. They range from newbies who have no knowledge of bike mechanics to “bike geeks” who spend time at the shop three or four days every week. Most are retired and have loved bikes all their lives. Several were bike racers. On one visit, a retired software engineer was working away in the back room, and a couple of dentists were still enjoying precise tinkering, just not in people’s mouths. They were obviously enjoying the camaraderie as they worked to make a contribution to the welfare of the biking community.
Mohar, who has ridden a bike since college days at the University of Wisconsin, admits that if he had to give up either riding or working on bikes, he’d quit riding. He began as a volunteer at the Bike Co-op in 2007 and has been managing the place for the last six years.
He calls the shop’s Earn-a-Bike option its flagship program. A person in need of a bike can earn one by devoting between 10 and 20 hours of labor to a local non-profit. An alternative “midway” program makes it possible for someone to receive an “as is” bike and then tune it up by paying an hourly fee and working with a volunteer mechanic to do the necessary repairs on their bike. Other customers choose to acquire a bike and pay it off by doing chores at the shop.
A “mechanic service” offers anyone in the community a course in bicycle repairs as they work on their own bikes supervised by a mechanic. Fee for this service is $12 an hour.
The retail arm of the business supports these programs. Used bicycles are repaired, refurbished, tuned up and offered for sale. All bikes in the shop have been donated by members of the community. The shop never buys a bike or even makes a trade; they only take donations. The retail portion of the business also carries a complete line of bicycle parts and accessories, shoes and clothing.
“Because we have a different clientele and business model, we are no threat to the traditional bike shops in the community,” Mohar explained. “Sometimes they send us customers, and we send customers to them. Some of our employees and volunteers have worked in local bike shops, so we have friendly relations with them.”
About four years ago, a “Women’s Wrenching Night “ was instituted at the shop. It is a class in bicycle repair and maintenance conducted by women and only open to women and the LGBTQ community. “It’s a chance for people to learn about bike mechanics in a safe and comfortable environment,” Mohar said. “It has been very popular.”
Recycling is an important aspect of the business. They break down hundreds of bikes every year, salvaging the useable parts and sending damaged wheels and frames to a metal recycling business conveniently located next door to them on College Avenue. They take donations of any bikes and parts and do their best to reuse and/or recycle them.
The business is responsible to an active and supportive board of directors. The shop does not advertise but welcomes customers and volunteers even if they have no experience with bicycle repair. Their new quarters will allow them to expand this summer in order to provide more mechanic services. Sometimes, in the busy summer months, there is a waiting line for help.
The Bike Co-op has an important and expanding role in contributing to Fort Collins’s reputation as a bike friendly community.