Working Bikes Cooperative
“Tu Basura Es Mi Tesoro.” — “Your Trash Is My Treasure.”
I once saw these words tagged on a decaying wall turned street-art mural in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This Spanish phrase reverberated in my head as I walked through the labyrinth of recycled bikes at the Working Bikes Cooperative on the Southside of Chicago. Working Bikes Cooperative is a non-profit organization that repairs land-fill bound bicycles to sell locally and donate to impoverished countries. The organization not only reinvents ‘junk’, but also redefines the way we think of it.
Working Bikes Mechanic Michael Bush explains it like this: “We tend to think of urban economics only in terms of consumption, but the world of waste and scrap is fascinating…there is something beautiful about giving new life to things which were destined for the dump.”
HOW IT WORKS:
Working Bikes is hugely popular with Chicagoans. In summer months, hundreds of people line up outside the shop every *Wednesday and Saturday to buy recycled bicycles that average around $150 (*the shop is typically only open for business 2 days a week). The funds from storefront bike sales cover the cost of mass bicycle shipments to countries where access to bicycles can mean the difference between work and unemployment.
“What is wasted in our country is very useful in other places in the world,” Bush said.
According to the website, each year Working Bikes gives away over 5,000 bicycles locally and internationally. It’s this idea of bringing trash to life, along with Working Bike’s large volunteer base, that allows the organization to operate without government or foundation funding.
So where does Working Bikes get their bicycles? Ten years ago, volunteers like Bush would surf scrap yards to collect and barter with ‘scrappers’ for junked bicycles. Today, now more organized, most of the bikes are donated from local organizations and schools and local Chicagoans.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED:
There are several opportunities to volunteer with Working Bikes, both inside and outside the shop. Inside the shop volunteers help repair bikes and load containers for overseas “shipping parties.” Working Bikes also teaches bicycle repair classes for the aspiring mechanic looking to learn a trade. Volunteers outside the shop can set up ‘bike drives’ to generate large donations. Check out their website for more opportunities.
WORKING BIKES: WHAT’S NEXT?:
Working Bikes has plans in the near future to expand its bike shop operations. The shop intends to open to the public an additional two days, allowing bike sales to take place a total of four days a week. Working Bikes would also like to expand to include a service department, so bike owners can take their rides back to get tune-ups and repairs. (Currently, Working Bikes does not have a service department for returning bike owners.) Bush is excited for the creation of a service department, as he believes it will facilitate a more personal relationship with the cycling community and ultimately keep bicycles from the waste stream.
Keep an eye on this one, folks. Working Bikes Cooperative is only getting better.
*Full disclosure: Dan Bush (the author of this article) is the brother of Michael Bush (the subject of the article). Oddly enough, they share the same last name — and the same passion for Chicago and the Working Bike Cooperative. Check it out.