There seems to be nothing bad that can be said about biking. At every level, no matter what facet you consider, biking seems to be an extraordinarily good thing: it’s a good form of exercise, there’s no gas involved and no pollution created, it’s a fairly inexpensive form of transportation, and it’s fun. What’s the drawback?
For myself, coming from a middle-class background, biking is a choice I make in terms of simple living, health and having a low impact on the environment. But for many of the folks with whom we work closely with at the Catholic Worker, having a bike is less about any of these things and more about opportunities for work, access to healthcare and social services, and finding a secluded and therefore safer place to live.
In Gainesville, we’re fortunate to have “The Kickstand,” a community bicycle project that provides free or inexpensive bicycle-related services to all persons without discrimination. The Kickstand’s mission statement reads:
“Since we believe that the bicycle represents the most affordable, healthy, and environmentally sound form of transportation and recreation, we seek to encourage people to learn to maintain a bicycle themselves and to use it in a responsible manner. We will provide assistance in acquiring a reliable bicycle and scheduled access to knowledgeable volunteers and quality tools. It is our belief that by providing these services we can help build neighborhood involvement and create greater paths for communication and cooperation.”
We’ve had occasion to refer some of our guests who don’t have the means to pay for repairs to their bikes to the Kickstand over the past year. This past weekend, a group of students, recent grads and others who have volunteered at the Catholic Worker over the past few years, arranged with the Kickstand to host a project aimed at refurbishing several dozen bicycles which they had obtained and wanted to make road-worthy for people who could really use a bike. For several hours, the skilled and the unskilled worked together with help from the Kickstand’s regular staff and volunteers to fix up the bikes. Six bikes were completed and more on the way. When Nam and Jacqueline brought the first group of bikes to the GCW, we already had two new owners waiting—one person who especially needed a bike to get to doctor’s appointments and another whose last bike had been stolen several weeks ago.
Sharon Astyk, the author of Depletion and Abundance, makes a strong case that the best thing everyone could do to make the world a better place is to plant and tend a garden. For good health—individually, communally and globally—I’m guessing that biking has to be up there at the top of the list as well. If you can, scope out an area within which any trip you make will be via bike. It doesn’t have to be big. My area is just about 10-12 blocks in any direction from my house. It’s good for me (health- and money-wise) and it’s good for us (environment-wise).
And if you have a bike you’re not using, whether it is in working condition or not, consider giving it to the good folks over at The Kickstand. They’ll find someone who needs a bike to work with them in fixing it up or using the parts to get another bike working. And someone who needs it will have a little more freedom and a little more opportunity.