Used bicycles as far as the eye can see.
I met a friend in Pilsen Wednesday to have lunch and then visit Working Bikes Cooperative (2434 S Western Avenue), a non-profit organization that repairs bicycles to sell to Chicagoans and also to send to people in Africa, Cuba, Guatemala, Peru and even the Gulf Coast. Volunteers and some paid staff take in donated bikes – from individuals, from collection drives, and even from the Chicago Department of Transportation’s own abandoned bicycle pickup program – organize, repair, and then sell or ship them. I asked manager Raul Gonzalez for a quick tour. I came in knowing the warehouse held a lot of bicycles, but I couldn’t imagine how many.
After showing me the shelves holding bicycles that will be donated to local individuals and organizations and those that will be sold when there’s room on the sales floor, he took me to the back room shipping area. What I saw was shocking. There was one enormous, undulating pile of bicycles that reached higher than I (I’m 6’4″ tall).
A pile of bikes. From the Working Bikes website: “Due to wage differences, a bicycle worth $20 in Chicago can be worth the equivalent of $1,000 in Africa.”
What was more shocking was what Gonzalez told me: “This room was empty a week ago“. The bikes, including a few abandoned ones the City of Chicago dropped off, had been collected from Earth Day-related activities from around Chicagoland. Gonzalez hopes to have these shipped next week to a country in Africa.
I’m very curious to know why these usable bicycles are no longer being ridden.
In somewhat related news, the American Bicycling Consumer research study by the Gluskin Townley Group says that people who bought used bikes “ride more, buy more, and visit bike shops more often than owners of bikes they bought new”. The full results will be released in May (which happens to be National Bike Month).
An old Worksman Cycles cycle truck cargo bike in the shop holds a sign that reads, “A global shipment of 500 bikes costs $4,000”.
If you would like to donate your bicycle, Working Bikes Cooperative will gladly take it. There are several other organizations that accept donated bicycles. If you would like to get an affordable bicycle for you or a family member, Working Bikes will gladly sell you one.