Soft music and conversation fill the interior of BikeAthens, already cluttered with bicycles and miscellaneous parts. Among the scattered parts are people staring intently at bike spokes or taking the time to chat with other volunteers. Everyone in the room is brought together by a passion for bikes and a desire to learn more about fixing them.
BikeAthens, a nonprofit with several programs for the cycling community in Athens, is dedicated to fixing and donating bikes to people who need transportation through their bike recycle program. The clients are often homeless or on the verge of homelessness. Each client also receives a helmet, a light and repairs for the lifetime of the bike.
BikeAthens also offers classes to learn how to ride a bike, classes about traffic laws and joy rides for getting comfortable riding in traffic. Once a week, volunteers, supporters and community members come together to share knowledge and learn about repairing bicycles.
“It’s kind of the most fun night of the week for us,” Scott Long, BikeAthens' program director, said.
Long started the weekly event in January of 2016 after he heard fellow bike enthusiasts talking about how they missed a similar event. Long began hosting the event every Thursday, which became more popular when BikeAthens moved to their current, larger location on West Broad Street in May 2016.
“People come and hang out even if they’re not working on their bikes,” Long said. “It’s just a bunch of people sitting around and talking about bikes.”
Joshua Lane, a staff member at the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, attended the event on Jan. 17 as a way to get a bike he wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford. He was fixing up a bike to make it usable so he could ride to work. The event was Lane’s first time repairing a bike, but he was excited for the opportunity to learn how to maintain a bike so he could help maintain bikes at the homeless shelter.
Part of the reason Long enjoys this night is the variety of challenges it presents. Long said it’s fun to have the resource of people who know about bikes who can jump in and help people with their respective challenges.
“You never know who is going to come in the door,” Long said. “It’s always kind of fun to see what people have, what problems they're dealing with.”
Fix Your Own Bike night is a way for the community to take advantage of the bike shop in town. The shop has space, tools and expertise to help people who want to fix their bike but may not have those resources available at home. BikeAthens’s website suggests a $10 donation which goes toward keeping the bills paid, but people donate more or less depending on what they can spare.
University of Georgia assistant biology professor John Wares enjoys the opportunity to hang out with fellow bicycle enthusiasts and geek out about rides. Wares drops in on Thursdays because it gives him the opportunity to chill and work on wacky bike problems. Wares said he appreciates the opportunity to get a break from university life and hang out with people dedicated to keeping people rolling on bikes in Athens.
“The people are what always brings me here,” Wares said.
Long said working on the bikes with their owners has made him a better mechanic. Having to explain what he does helps him become better at doing it.
While there are always volunteer mechanics at the shop, Fix Your Own Bike night is about learning about your own bike and how to fix its specific problems. Long said most problems they deal with in the shop take little time to fix, so they teach basic maintenance to those who are interested. Long sees this as a way to help people be more confident in riding their bikes and to see how easy it can be to repair common problems.