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Zen and The Art of Bicycle Maintenance


You used to want flash. A BMW or a Ferrari was the best way to get around town. (Or, in an earlier time, a new Packard driven by a handsome chauffeur.) A secondhand ride was as cool as secondhand smoke, and the easiest way to cause a girl to “accidentally” delete your telephone number.

Now, flash is trash. Hipsters will tell you: if you really want to be cool in a place like Boulder County, ditch your car and get a bike. A used bike. Preferably with a lot of feel-good, big-picture, do-the-right-thing motives behind it. In other words, get a bike from Community Cycles. Better yet, build it yourself.

Now in its eighth year, Community Cycles is one of the hippest, most beloved, most enduring parts of the Boulder bicycle world. It takes old, donated bikes and turns them into new, cool rides—about 2,500 bikes a year. This is done by volunteers, paid staff and participants in the Earn-a-Bike program. In the Earn-a-Bike program, you volunteer 15 hours learning how to fix bikes, then fix other people’s bikes, or bikes for kids. Then you get to build your own bike out of used parts, for free. Last year, about 250 bikes were earned.

There are other programs like it in the country. Some programs on the East Coast have been around for decades; Atlanta has had an Earn-a-Bike program since 2005. Dallas started a similar program this spring. But Community Cycles’ program is still among the largest and healthiest in the country, with 1,100 members, 100 active volunteers, and a $500,000 annual budget. The Earn-a-Bike program has had a waiting list since the beginning.

Community Cycles caters to a certain kind of bike lover. “This is not for the road bikers in spandex,” said Archer Sully, an Earn-a-Bike instructor. These are bikes for grocery-getting, cruising and styling. The other day, a man named Bob Krumwiede was standing in Community Cycles’ showroom, sizing up a retro Peugeot from the disco era. He had just moved to Boulder from the Bay Area, and he wanted a cool bike. “Old bikes just have more panache,” he said.

He’s right. Community Cycles doesn’t have bikes make of the kind of slick metal alloys featured in “Terminator 2.” Parts of Community Cycles look like an episode of “Hoarders, Bike Lovers Edition.” The storage room is overflowing. Outside the bland beige building, in the alley, donated bikes are piled on each other like wounded soldiers, chains hanging off like guts. Most of these will be fixed up and sold. Others will be shipped to Africa, through a program called Bikes for Humanity.

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