Student Cooperative Helps Fix Bikes for Free

Volunteer-Run Group Offers Free Resources, Education for Bicycle Repair on Sproul Plaza

Photo: The Berkeley Student Bicycle Cooperative, open three days a week on Sproul, provides bicyclists with services free of charge.
Simone Anne Lang/Staff
The Berkeley Student Bicycle Cooperative, open three days a week on Sproul, provides bicyclists with services free of charge.

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BicyCal is a quickly growing student-led co-op organization that aims to provide free bicycle repair service and education to Berkeley students.

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With two flat tires, UC Berkeley freshman Erick Mahood pulled up to the Berkeley Student Bicycle Cooperative, BicyCAL, last Friday and knew he would not only be helped but also would not have to pay a dime.

As of about two weeks ago, the co-op - run by volunteer UC Berkeley students and recent graduates and located at a staircase connecting Lower and Upper Sproul Plaza - is open three days a week for bikers to receive free education and resources for repairs.

"Instead of fixing their bike, we get the wrench in their hands," said junior Timmy Bolton, BicyCAL's head of outreach. "If people know how to work on their bikes, it makes it easier for them to fix them in the future."

About 15 students, faculty and staff receive help and use the co-op's resources each day it is open. The group also sells $5 helmets for bikers "to get their craniums protected," Bolton said.

BicyCAL began three years ago as a bike share, which allowed students to rent bikes for $15 to $20 a semester, according to UC Berkeley alumnus Justin Wiley, who founded the co-op after winning $10,000 from UC Berkeley's annual campuswide "Big Ideas" competition in 2008 for "improving student life."

Yet after running the bike share for two years, Wiley said the group realized there was a need for a bicycle maintenance program on campus, which resulted in a shift in the group's focus.

The co-op is currently able to provide free resources because of a $12,000 grant from The Green Initiative Fund - a campus program supported by student fees that provides money for projects that make the campus more sustainable - which it received from the ASUC last spring.

The group was allowed to move to its new location, owned by the ASUC Auxiliary, in November rent-free after members proposed using the space to the fund, according to Auxiliary Director Nadesan Permaul. He added that because the space was unused, and because the co-op is a student group rather than a business, the auxiliary was able to recommend its use with the approval of the campus.

"We took something that wasn't being used and activated the space to affect the campus and community," said UC Berkeley alumnus Taylor Ferry, who volunteers at BicyCAL. "It's not necessarily that I'm a big biker or big mechanic - I believe in the idea that a space can change a place."

Mahood put air in his bike's tires Friday and said that after spending nearly $60 at other bicycle shops last semester, he will continue coming to the co-op in the future.

"If there's a free resource, you've got to take them up on it," Mahood said. "Other places take your money ... It's very fulfilling to me that people just want to help and are willing to teach you."

Although the group was formed to make resources free and accessible on campus as an alternative to other shops in the area, Jon Suzuki, co-owner of the Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative on Shattuck Avenue, said he supports BicyCAL and does not think it will hurt his business.

"Anything about bikes or a cooperative is a good thing - I would much rather see that than a big-box store," he said. "We can have a reciprocal relationship with other bike shops."

Suzuki added that The Missing Link started in 1971 as a bicycle cooperative on the UC Berkeley campus before opening its Shattuck location in 1978.

BicyCAL plans to pilot another bike share on campus within the next two years and will expand services by offering workshops, according to Wiley.

"I just want other people to be stoked on bikes," Bolton said.


Contact Kelsey Clark and Mary Susman at [email protected]

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