Calgary’s underground bike shop

BikeAlberta’s friendly Alberta Cycling Blogger Sean Carter sent this fine piece of a feel good bike article. Check it out:

Drop-In Centre’s program puts more bicycles on the road

Standing under a ceiling lined with bicycle rims — many marked with red tape to indicate they’ve been trued — Paul Woloshansky scans a pile of bicycles and parts and plucks out a frame. “These,” he explains, “were all donated by a local bike shop.” He hands the frame to his volunteer, Nathan Coates, who sets it on a couple of chains hanging from the ceiling. Soon this dusty frame will be a fully functional bicycle that someone can use year-round to get to and from work.

Woloshansky’s shop is distinct from any other in town. Not only is it spotless and orderly — cleaner, he boasts, than most shops — but it’s in an unlikely location: tucked beside the Drop-In Centre in the homeless shelter’s old building. You could call it the city’s underground bike shop. “We’re building up quite a clientele of people for whom this is a very valuable service,” says 53-year-old Woloshansky, himself an avid cyclist. “This is my passion,” he says.

The shop is a Drop-In program called Wheels of Self-Reliance. The idea is simple: people who need bicycles, parts or repairs come to Woloshansky’s shop and get what they need, and learn mechanical and employment skills in the process. Many of the shop’s clients come from the Drop-In Centre.

“When people make the transition from the street, we provide them with stuff they need,” says Woloshansky. Those needs almost always include transportation, and bicycles from the shop allow people to commute easily and at no cost. “A lot of people depend on this,” says Coates, who describes his daily bicycle commute from Bridgeland to the Foothills Industrial Park as a “contact sport.”

However, the bicycles — most of which are donated — aren’t free per se. To get a bike from Woloshansky’s shop, a person has to don a tool apron and repair two bikes first. Once they fix a third, it’s theirs to keep. Or they can fix six wheels, which counts as fixing a bike.

Wrenches, pliers and other tools are all neatly arranged on the shop’s white walls. Woloshansky directs people to the correct tools and gently instructs them on how to replace their cables or fix their brakes or true a wheel. “The person does the work,” says Woloshansky. “I show them what to do, with the idea that they become more independent…. They learn a lot of skills, and a lot of them are transferable [to other jobs].”

Woloshansky has overseen the refurbishment of more than 340 bikes since the shop’s inception in 2006. Over one-third of the bikes repaired in the shop are children’s bikes, and these are eventually distributed to schools and youth groups like the Boys and Girls Club.

Bikes (and bike parts) come into the shop from all sources: random donors, other bike shops, the City. They go out a variety of ways as well. Drop-In Clients use the shop, but so do university students and others. “It’s not just something for homeless people,” says Woloshanksy, who’s worked in bike shops since the 1960s. “[You’ll see] one guy who’s a bottle-picker working next to an engineer.” That close proximity is an important part of the program’s employment training. “You get eight people in here rubbing elbows, and you have to get along with each other,” says Woloshansky. Coates puts it this way: “Everyone is just eye to eye here.”

The bikes that come out of the shop are mostly built with simple, rigid frames — “easy to maintain, simple to fix,” says Woloshansky. The shop doesn’t have tools or parts for suspension or disc brakes, but other than that, “we’re as full-service as most shops.”

I recently brought my winter mountain bike into the shop after a winter of hard riding in road salt and sludge. My gears wouldn’t shift. Being mechanically incompetent, I needed help. In the past, I’ve taken my bike to a shop and paid upwards of $60 for a tune-up. At Woloshansky’s shop, I learned how to restring my cables. When I went in at 6 p.m. I had absolutely no idea how to repair the cables; by 8 p.m., I could do it myself, and my bike now rides smoother than it ever has.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. After (or before) someone uses the shop to repair their bicycle, they’re expected to contribute back by volunteering in the shop — cleaning floors, truing wheels or whatever other job Woloshansky throws at them. “It’s a reciprocal thing,” he says.


One Response to “Calgary’s underground bike shop”

  1. I have to say, I could not agree with you in 100%, but that’s just my opinion, which could be wrong.
    p.s. You have a very good template . Where did you find it?

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