Catherine Hartzell ’02 works a weekend drop-in session at the Bike Kitchen in San Francisco.
In contrast, another bike co-op started by members of the Class of 2002 is based in the San Francisco Bay area, a region that trails only New York and Boston in its population of 2002 Oberlinians. The Bike Kitchen is based in the Mission District, a historically Latino neighborhood undergoing rapid gentrification by a largely white, 20-something hipster crowd. The neighborhood is decidedly different from the Houston inner city, but the organization’s goals are similar to those of Third Ward.
“It’s all about teaching people to do things themselves and fostering a do-it-yourself mentality,” says Catherine Hartzell, who founded the center with Josh Adler, Forrest Crawford, and Jesse Basbaum. “It’s very powerful when someone comes in and realizes they don’t need to be intimidated about fixing their own bike.”
Like its Houston counterpart, the Bike Kitchen has drop-in hours, an Earn-a-Bike Program, and classes that teach residents how to repair bikes or build “art bikes.” Bikes fixed by volunteers are donated to a day labor program and distributed to local immigrant workers.
The Bike Kitchen began humbly, when the alumni realized there were no such programs in their new city. “We had no resources, no bikes, and no money, so we thought, ‘Let’s have a bake sale!’” laughs Hartzell. With the $200 they earned, they set up shop in a warehouse donated by a local arts organization. “At first, we were open just one day a week. Slowly, people began hearing about us, and excitement built.”
These days, the center is open three days a week and serves nearly 200 people per month. Operating on a yearly budget of $5,000, the Bike Kitchen is run entirely by volunteers, half of whom are Oberlin alumni. The center stays afloat by using bike parts donated by local shops and by suggesting small fees. Widely recognized as leaders of the San Francisco bike community, the four founders received the San Francisco Bike Coalition’s annual Golden Wheel award in April.
In Cleveland, the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op
is a four-year-old organization that also drew inspiration from Oberlin.
Sadhu Johnston ’98, who was running Cleveland’s Green
Building Coalition at the time, helped organize the co-op and find
space to open shop. “My whole idea for how it should operate
was born out of the the Oberlin Bike Co-op,” says Johnston,
who now works in Chicago as Mayor Richard Daley’s assistant
for green initiatives.
Each of the centers maintains relationships with the Oberlin Bike Co-op. Third Ward regularly hosts winter-term interns; the Bike Kitchen draws volunteers from an ever-expanding pool of local Oberlin alums; and the Cleveland center holds a 70-mile “co-op to co-op” ride with Oberlin students.
Current students, in turn, draw inspiration from the work of graduates. “Our mechanics are always excited to learn about creative twists the Houston or San Francisco crews have made to our basic bike co-op programs,” says Oberlin Co-op Co-president Thomas Anderson-Monterosso ’06. “It’s comforting to know that life after graduation can be fun and bike-filled.”
Peter Meredith is a research assistant at Mother
Jones. He lives in San Francisco.