Don’t let the Chain of Love end with you

Corn doggy dog title credit to Clay Walker

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The above slide show features the bikes completed by Chain Reaction graduates since the last time I wrote about this. Each of these bikes represents a person who joined us for four hours every Tuesday to lovingly restore these previously unwanted freedom machines until they were ready to roll. Each person has a unique story and personality and I’d like to share a few thoughts about them.

B’s Giant Suede

Truth be told, the clientele at Chain Reaction is not very diverse on gender lines, and B is our first female graduate since 2015. I wish that weren’t the case, but I’m proud of B for joining us through personal and mechanical setbacks and now she has a beautiful, crank-forward cruiser ~ WITH A BASKET ~ and she’s set for leisurely rides around the Portland waterfront with her kids.

D’s Schwinn Le Tour

D is among the 6 graduates who just finished this past Tuesday. He was basically done a week prior but, when he asked for my help with getting performance out of his vintage, inappropriately named “safety levers,” I informed him that they are never going to work very well and set him up with a pair of cross tops and some Shimano brifters that don’t shift so well anymore but still pull a brake cable as well as the day they came out of their bright blue box. It was a pretty big project for a first-time mechanic shortly before a deadline, but he brought it together beautifully and he has a safer, more practical bike for it.

J’s Diamond Back Sorrento

J was one of the more difficult clients for me to serve so far this year. He didn’t like me, did not mask his displeasure, and said several rude things to me. I can put on a resilient front, but I’m a person too and I’m hurt by hurtful things. He also had little patience for the actual work of the program, ignored my instruction, and quit after a frustrating cantilever brake adjustment and traumatic tube explosion. I stared at his bike hanging on the wall for damn near the 60-day forfeiture deadline and called him twice, making it clear that he’s very close to finished with the bike and we’d love to have him back. HE CAME BACK, finished the bike within the first hour, and helped others for the remainder of the class before taking his bike home. You never saw a rude dude smile so wide. I wish him well and hope it’s holding up.

J’s Univega Super Ten

J was the last of last Tuesday’s graduates to finish his bike. His stress was palpable throughout 3.5 heavy hours in our allotted 4. I believe his bike to be a Miyata Univega – based on it’s era and serial number – a truly solid thing that could easily outlive me if cared for, but it has steel wheels and center-pull caliper brakes and the adjustment just isn’t that easy. But he had help – Myself, Andrew, and another recent graduate who has been back to volunteer every single week – and we got him through. We all felt lighter. Teamwork. Dreamwork. It’s what I believe in now.

M’s Schwinn Le Tour III

This was a sentimental one for me. I bought a used blue Schwinn Le Tour III from Cycle Circle in Lancaster, PA, in 2007 and it changed my life. I rode the ever-loving heck out of it until 2015, when I bought a red Schwinn Le Tour II that was 5 cm smaller, my actual size, for $11 from my neighbor’s scrap trailer and transferred all the parts over. It’s still my main whip and it has the same shop badge as M’s Le Tour III! This was the second bike M started, but the first he finished. The other was a sweet Fuji with a stuck seat post, which I’ve used as a cautionary tale for other students since; “follow the order of the checklist,” I warn, “or waste a lot of time and realize you can’t adjust the bike to fit you.” I’ve never actually said that exact sentence, but that’s the idea. M was really nice guy and he volunteered with us outside of class. I haven’t seen him since, but I hope he’s doing great and racing around on that perfect dream bike.

M’s Silver Schwinn

I don’t remember the model name of this one and I can’t tell from the photo, but it’s a late 70’s or early 80’s Schwinn road bike, pretty much the same as the Le Tour II/III. M had a series of early frustrations, including an entire class lost to truing a wheel that we ultimately decided was too far gone. I worried he would quit, but he stuck to it, and has been really excellent at helping others finished their projects as well. I hope we see him again!

M’s Sherpa Trail

I spent the “reception” portion of the Chain Reaction Pedalpalooza ride helping M finish this bike so he could ride with us. He was the only graduate to hang in for the whole thing, and has since been a valuable volunteer; I think he’s been back every week since he graduated and has particularly taken to helping teach wheel truing. He’s great! He’s riding the hell out of his bike and has modified it considerably since this photo was taken. I like it in this configuration. I like how it is now. A bike is never done. It goes with you and grows with you until you give it to somebody else, and then it goes and grows with them. 🌽

M’s Versato Riviera

Chain Reaction clients are entitled to build a bike once a year. So far, M is only the second graduate to return and build a second bike. His first was stolen 😤. M is a really nice guy. He finished this one a while back and when I saw him more recently he was riding a different, less safe bicycle. He wanted to buy parts from us but we didn’t have them. Not sure how to deal with the fact that some of our clients want newer bikes (i.e. those with disc brakes) and the simultaneous fact that we don’t have the parts to support them, as our inventory comes from donations and we get what we get and it’s mostly old (i.e. rim brakes). Something to think on.

O’s Single Speed Triple Brake Nishiki

O is a character and, appropriately, he has a fairly unique bike, one with only one speed but 3 brakes, two rim-brake calipers and a coaster brake in the rear hub. He was the first to finish his bike among his cohort and was excellent about attending every week afterwards to help others. He showed a particular penchant for cleaning, and every bike he touched sparkles in a way my own neglected beasts of burden never quite do. He graduated last Tuesday and immediately went on a ride. I saw him coming back into the building as I was leaving about an hour later. I asked him how it it was. Joyously, he was practically shouting, “Dude, I LOVE IT!”

P’s Schwinn S-25

P is a calm, quiet, respectable man who graduated with our last cohort. I’m straining for a lot to say about this one, but it’s all good. He was a total pleasure to have in class, he was dutiful in servicing this bicycle as well as helping others, and it all went along smoothly. Full Suspension; No Drama.

S’s GT Outpost

Similar to the above, this was a pretty smooth project completed by an excellent student. In fact, S has written us a blog post that I’m going to put up shortly, so I’ll leave it at that and let him tell you all about it.

The numbers: These 11, plus the 3 I posted before, brings us to 14 completed student bikes so far this year. We’re well on our way towards the goal of at least 24 (last year’s number, plus 1). We’ve also sold at least this many bikes, some fully refurbished, some not. Those might not carry the same weight, but they’re abandoned bikes we put back into the world, and that’s worth something if you care about reducing the waste stream and facilitating bike life, as I do. I saw one of our customers, on his bike, at WinCo yesterday. He said he’s been taking it all over the place, riding it every day. We’re living the dream. Keep striving✌️

💪Teamwork makes the dream work💪

Students finished 3 bikes last Tuesday at Chain Reaction. Check Them Out!

C's Red Motiv D's Black Raleigh
L's White Raleigh

Photo Credit: Andrew Shaw-Kitch via iphone via gmail

These three bikes are super righteous radical movement machines built by students in the Tuesday night Earn-a-bike program. These individuals performed repairs ranging from more or less a standard tune-up on the Red Motiv, to a total overhaul on the Black Raleigh – I believe this bike has been to Burning Man; it was coated in white dust and rusty; now it sparkles and pops with bright red accents – to a build from a largely parted-out frame in the case of the White Raleigh. Looking at each of these bikes makes me think of the unique, kind, patient individuals who put in 4 hours more or less every Tuesday for 8 weeks. It makes me feel great. These are happy pictures 😊

Even happier still! Last Thursday, 2 of those individuals, along with 3 more who haven’t even gotten their bikes yet, came to Chain Reaction just to volunteer with me on working through some of the piles and disorder that accumulates in a place like a free bike program. We didn’t completely eliminate the piles, but we made considerable dents in the mountain of dead bikes, the river of dead wheels, and the unsorted sloppy jungle of tubes. It was the first time I organized a concentrated volunteer effort in this particular venture; previously I would have spent a day like this by myself and gotten less done and had less fun. It was a great day and it carries the lesson I’m trying to learn and demonstrate: Ask for a hand and people will offer it! So far it’s proving true🤞

Well I’m going, I’m going


Photo credit Josh Roppo via Facebook

That’s a photo of *me* 😬  at last Saturday’s Second First Annual Ladd’s 500 with a lyric from Soul Coughing’s “Circles”. I just wanted to have a photo for my blog post because I think a blog post is improved by a photograph and this is a recent picture of me and it shows me in motion and that’s important and that’s what this blog post is going to be about: the value of staying in motion, of having something to do and doing it.

Give Them Bikes! is a name I thought once while daydreaming in a UBI class in 2014. As of 2017, our main activity is Chain Reaction, an Earn-a-Bike Cooperative housed in the basement of a Central City Concern residential building. We have a staff of two – myself and Andrew – and a meager but growing number of program participants, beneficiaries, and contributors. It is currently the space where I most consistently give to my community, and I am realizing recently how important it has become to me, how much I personally benefit through my work there.

I’m from Pennsylvania and I feel like that makes me an expert on cynical people and I know there is a suspicion of those of us who devote ourselves to projects of charity, that we are inherently dishonest by proposing to serve to others, as we get something out of it – perhaps a paycheck or a smug sense of superiority – and that makes our cause somehow less righteous. I hear those criticisms in the back of my head when explaining my dream public benefit business to a bicycle cynicist I may know or meet or imagine, but I need to get over that. There’s no reason to be embarrassed about the fact that I have actively looked for meaningful work in my life, or that I have had some success in this search and get to do a super cool bikey feel good thing, or that I am someone who needs reasons to live.

All things considered, I’ve had a fairly cozy experience of being a human being, but that hasn’t stopped me from being scattered and crazy, from feeling intense sadness at the knowledge that everyone will die, or just sometimes being a motionless depression slug binge-eating sour brite crawlers in bed through a long, gray winter while I wonder if there’s any value to this life I chose.

I don’t know if I have diagnosable seasonal affective disorder, or what that really means, but I know that it’s easier to feel good being outside when the weather is nice, and the weather was real nice for that super silly bike race on Saturday where the picture above was taken and I got to go as fast as I could and after the race a really nice man named Mike who never met me but read my email on the Shift list lent me a trailer and I was able to accept a large donation that will go a long way towards improving the quality of both the bikes we sell and the bikes we provide for our students. True facts: bikes make the world a better place and better bikes make it more better.

This past Tuesday, I woke up in a bad mood and spent the morning’s ride complaining about how I work too much – more or less 7 days a week in some capacity – and it feels like a drag, but then I got to Chain Reaction and a light fixture that’s been burnt out all year in our humble basement bike shop was finally repaired and in the new light our tool bench shone and it felt better to be there then than it had before and I was pleased find myself again moving from this darkness, back to the light, back to feeling joy at the privilege of serving others, back to the value of activity and community.

Next week will be our 8th class of the season and I expect us to finish 4 bicycles, more or less right on schedule. I love the day when people take bikes home. There are always last minute setbacks and much fretting, human drama, and wringing of hands, and then we get it all sorted out and bikes go out the door and everyone smiles. I have that to look forward to very shortly.

Today I met Tom of Rosewood Bikes, a place I’d been hearing about for a long time but had yet to visit. They’re still on hiatus for renovation – like my forever friends at B4H – but the renovations are well on their way and I feel completely inspired by our visit, by a sense that things are happening, that other people are also working to get bikes to people just because they too think it’s a thing worth doing.

Sometimes, all I see are the obstacles, or I look at a thing that is good and bemoan that it is not better, and when I think about Chain Reaction I tend to think about how much there is to do and how I can’t do it myself, but what I’m realizing or remembering is that I don’t have to. There is a whole community of engaged, hardworking people in this city, and if I stop hiding and just keep myself in motion, we can push this thing forward together, because it’s just good and I’m not the only one who wants to get right with what’s good. ✌️