New Wheels? Nah.Jul 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Jimmy Guignard
“You can come by Tuesday,” says Louisa Stone, who, along with husband David Stone, co-founded Williamsport Bicycle Recycle in 2012. “But we’ll probably have to talk another time. We’re usually pretty busy.”
She was right. On Tuesday, the place is jumping. Around fifteen people of various ages are milling about, looking at bicycles or working on one. David is finishing up a sale to a red-haired child of maybe seven who mentions that the brake doesn’t work. David, who walks with a cane, rolls his office chair over to the bike, tests the brake himself, agrees, and says, “We can fix that.” He does.
“That feel better?” David asks. The kid nods, starts out the door straddling his bike, then stops: “I need a helmet!”
“You’re right,” David says, pulling one off the rack. “How’s that?” Helmet fitted, the boy and his mom say thanks and head outside as another family—two adults and three kids—walk in. David welcomes them. The kids, understandably, zero in on the kid bikes.
“I like that one!” a boy exclaims as he starts to pull it from the others.
“Hold on a second,” his dad says. “Let me help.”
The kid needs the assistance. Bicycle Recycle, at 1307 Park Avenue, is a big space, and it is jammed with bikes, bike parts, bike stands, bikes for sale, and bikes waiting to be “recycled” for sale. The main work space includes a desk, a table for checking donated parts, rows of bins holding spare parts, a work bench, and three repair stands. A framed Sports Illustrated signed by none other than three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond hangs on the wall. Past the work space is another room packed with more than sixty bikes waiting for new life. A mezzanine running the length of the lower rooms and looking out on the parking lot through five storefront windows completes the shop and holds over forty bikes for sale, ranging from kid-size to cruisers to road bikes to mountain bikes. Art created from old bike wheels hangs in the center window. New bike parts acquired from local bike shops collect in one corner. Nearby is a table covered with a map of Williamsport cycling routes.
As Louisa recalls, Bicycle Recycle started over a glass of wine with David back in 2012 as they discussed a bike shop they had visited in Harrisburg. They wanted a bike vibe in Williamsport, and they needed to get people on bikes to make it happen. To hear Louisa tell it, people on bikes build community and experience freedom, but not everyone can go out and buy the latest carbon fiber gravel bike (the cost of a high-end bike can be ten grand). With assistance from the Williamsport YMCA, David and Louisa started collecting bikes and parts, then asking volunteers to help repair landfill-bound bikes, which they then distributed to people in the community. After moving the operation several times, they rolled their bikes into rooms in the Pajama Factory, itself a building recycled from being the world’s largest pajama factory in the 1950s into an arts-and-community-based space with over 130 tenants. Bicycle Recycle has since grown and sells bikes—typically from forty to a hundred bucks. In addition to sales, Bicycle Recycle offers the Build-a-Bike program and the Earn-a-Bike program. Both programs teach people to work on brakes, wheels, gears, etc.
Like the young woman with black hair wearing a burnt-orange jersey and bike shorts who clamps a bronze-colored Trek mountain bike from the donated bikes section onto a bike stand. It’s her “project bike” and her goal is to repair it and take it home. Earn-a-Bike in action. She works on the rear wheel while Mike, a volunteer mechanic, guides her. He shows her how the wheel is not spinning smoothly and suggests she remove it from the rear triangle and check the bearings. Wheel removed, she and Mike look at it, and Mike realizes the rear axle is broken. He recommends a course of action and scoots away to help somebody else.
Another professorial-looking volunteer, clad in a white Bicycle Recycle T-shirt and apron-covered jeans, checks a donated bike’s tires and tubes. An incurable tinkerer, Steve volunteers his time in trade for parts for the semi-recumbent tricycle he is building at home out of car exhaust pipes and old bike frames. “I’ve been doing this for two years,” he says. “Louisa talked me into it. And I like to help.”
For over an hour, a steady stream of people make their way into Bicycle Recycle. Given the pandemic, this is not surprising. In 2019, Americans spent $6.1 billion on bicycles. After gyms closed and public transportation slowed, Americans spent close to $8 billion on bikes in 2021. Throw in supply chain disruptions, and bike shops couldn’t keep up. The Stones’ shop provided an option for people wanting bikes. And even though spending on bikes has slowed, the desire for them—as the stream of people showed—has not. Nor did the pandemic slow down Bicycle Recycle. Following Williamsport guidelines, the owners and volunteers masked and moved their work outside for a day each week so they could get and keep people on two wheels.
For Louisa and David, riding bikes comes down to freedom, self-sufficiency, and affordability. Louisa defined the two as “discovery cyclists”—people who ride to explore and meet others. This kind of mobility opens up the community in many ways. Since 2012, “more people know about us and more people are on bikes,” Louisa notes. It would be nice, she admits, if it was a bit easier to navigate Williamsport on bikes, but those changes take time. “We feel it’s worth it, so we keep at it,” she adds.
Like the woman earning her Trek mountain bike, riders know the independence of pedaling is well-worth the elbow grease.
Contact Bicycle Recycle at (570) 916-2940 or visit williamsportbicyclerecycle.org.