I recently graduated as a math major, but if there were a major called “Problem Solving,” that’s what I would prefer. I love to fix things. If they don’t need fixing, I just like knowing how they work. Bicycles are fixable, and I am good at fixing them.
When I was eight, I received my first bicycle. I was ecstatic when my parents told me my present did not fit in a stocking and that I should check the basement. One of the most vivid memories of my childhood was that slow and anxious walk down the stairs to a place I usually feared.
I noticed right away that this bike was special: it had an array of lights that would dance back and forth in a manner fearsome enough to scare away the worst of bad guys. I used that bike to explore the basement — previously a dark, dank place, but now I had lights and for all intents and purposes was a knight upon his steed — and I used it to explore the neighborhood, even after sundown. That bike made me a much more confident eight-year old. For months we were inseparable; since then, there has always been a bike in my life.
Thirteen years later, I saw this empowerment again in a young Hispanic boy. His pedals had been stolen the night before and he could not afford the twenty dollar pairs offered by Tacoma’s three local, but expensive, bicycle shops. Fortunately, the motto of the cooperative bike project where I currently volunteer is this: “We give some people good deals so we can give other people great deals.” I sold him a pair of donated pedals for three dollars, leaving him an extra dollar to put in the bank.
This exchange was based on need and not profit. I like the idea that through trade and cooperation, people can become more self-sustaining than if they work independently towards separate goals. By using our resources effectively, we can focus more of our energy and efforts closer to our desires — and the bicycle can help us do just that. At the co-op, I have discovered the usefulness of various attachments to bicycles. With racks, panniers, generators, and more, I’ve seen bicycles used as free methods for commuting or taking picnics to the park.
I have helped customers determine how to carry a month’s worth of groceries without even using a backpack. I once saw a homeless man on a bicycle he probably found in the dump, with a cargo net of crushed pop cans swaying twice his height over the back wheel, spending nothing on travel cost and going twice as far to the metal deposit center as most others could walk to work. When I look back at all the uses I’ve seen and all the times I’ve helped a bike empower someone, I can’t help but wonder what the bicycle will allow us to do next.
The bicycle also embodies my deep-seated belief in sustainable living. I truly believe that by being able to support ourselves and by relying less on large corporations, we can live richer and fuller lives. I regularly sew my own clothing and eat from my garden. I am a problem solver and I would rather rely on this skill than on an expensive technician from a large company.
I try to live out my commitment to sustainability in everyday life. I built from recycled parts one of the two bikes I currently ride, keeping it for free in exchange for my volunteer work at the co-op. Working as a bike mechanic allows me to problem solve, to help others, and to re-use parts that would otherwise be wastefully disposed of. I enjoy this lifestyle and plan never to own a car. Bicycles provide cost benefits, they are easy to use, and they offer self-sufficiency.
Before I left for India, I volunteered as a mechanic at The Grease Pit in Minneapolis, MN. When I’m not solving math problems or fixing bikes, I’m sewing, gardening, or blues dancing. What do I want to do with my life? Well first, I’d like to do 90 bikes, 90 days. If it doesn’t become perpetual, I will continue to promote and teach in the non-profit cycling industry. In short, I want to do my part in making the world a better and more sustainable place.
When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle