Breaking Old Chains

Last Saturday the 6th day of April was the first warm day of spring – a mix of sun and cloud and 14°C.  When I arrived just before 3pm, the shop was busy with all the stands occupied. First things first though, I poured in some water and put the kettle on. Sam and John were busy helping out people at the stands. Brad had just arrived to take over from John. Kathleen was up at the front desk, answering questions about parts and accessories, and cashing people out with their purchases and donations. It had been busy – the racks at the front of the shop had empty spaces and Kathleen said three bikes had been sold since noon.

The coffee was brewed so I poured myself a cup and went up to the front of the shop. Just then someone came in with a bike. Her name was Nora and she’d never been to bikeSauce before. I pointed out the signs hanging down from the roof. “That’s the lowdown.” I explained that bikeSauce is a DIY bike shop, 100% volunteer run and we would do what can to help her, but that she was the mechanic. She was fine with that.

A couple of stands had just come free so we got her bike up onto one of them. She was from out west – west Toronto that is (Yonge Street being the marker of what marks east & west) and had somehow heard of bikeSauce after looking up Bike Pirates, a west end bike collective similar but not identical in scope to bikeSauce. Nora didn’t have a specific issue she needed to address, but wanted to get her bike back in shape after the winter. 

I suggested that she check the wear on her chain. Often I find that people don’t realise the significance of taking care of their bicycle chain, of keeping it clean and lubed and what it means for the good functioning of their bike and the enjoyment of their ride. Replacing the chain when it reaches 75% wear extends the life of the cassette and the chain rings (crankset) of your bike – which is good because those are more expensive to replace than the chain.

I handed her the chain wear tool from the tool board, and the reading she got from the tool was 100% wear – time for an immediate replacement. Nora had a 7 speed system and her new chain – in stock – came in at just under $14. I handed her the chain breaker tool and showed her how to use it. “Keep the old chain so you can measure out the length your new one should be alongside it”, I said.

There was a new visitor to the shop so I went to say hello and see how she was doing. Evelyn had been to bikeSauce and wanted to get some feedback on her brakes and do some general maintenance. We got her bike on the stand, a green 9 speed Norco hybrid bike with disc brakes. Both Sam and Brad came over when they had a chance and checked out her brakes. Avoid touching the rotors, Brad suggested. Apparently the oil from our skin, if transferred to the rotors, can contaminate the brake pads. Otherwise, her braking system got the green light. 

With that established, I handed Evelyn the chain wear tool and she mentioned that her bike had been serviced in bike shop in the last couple of years. She dropped the tool into her chain and the reading was an immediate replacement too. In a typical bike shop, she could hand her bike to the shop staff, who would check the wear for her, install the replacement and charge for the parts and service. But here at bikeSauce Nora and Evelyn were the mechanics of their own bikes, and we the volunteers, are more like facilitators and guides, giving suggestions for where the visitors to the shop can find tools and parts, or how to go about dealing with an issue on their bike, to other suggestions beyond what we do at bikeSauce ourselves.

This different way of being can feel a little bit strange at first, especially in a society where we are so used to being served and paying for it and not being encouraged to question things beyond just the surface. The only real considerations we might have are whether the service provider is competent, and that they are not ripping us off.

But at bikeSauce there is a certain bravery involved – since you the patron are the one who decides what you are going to donate – if anything – while the volunteers are coming in and giving of their time and life to help you. Why would they do that? Perhaps when we really come face to face with each other, there is the subversive implication that a different world is possible, and each person responds to that uniquely.

It was past four thirty and the shop was still busy, with Brad and Sam continuing to make the rounds. Somebody was trying to pry loose a tight bolt. A courier who had come in with a kickstand issue was looking for degreaser and some rags. A lady had come in with a bike without a front brake, ripped cable housing and frayed cable. A couple of people were in looking to buy a bike. There were other people in doing repairs and I never got to find out what their bicycle issues were.

At some point during the rush Arnault had come in to help. Now it was approaching five and the shop was quieter and more relaxed and he was sitting on a stool by the door. Sam had gone and I was about to follow. I fetched my Raleigh and the sunlight was flooding the inside of the shop. I stood there and faced it.  It felt good to be able to take in the April sunlight with that angle. Though Nora had gone, Evelyn was still cleaning off her drivetrain. I knew she’d be in good hands with Brad and Arnault. She said bye as I made my way to the door. I never got to tell her that she should wipe that new chain with degreaser to get the shipping grease off it, or to keep her new chain clean and lube it regularly. Maybe there’s only so much you can say in a given period of time else it might be overwhelming. 

bikeSauce to me seems more like a process than an event. That becomes apparent when you come back again and again. I think it’s worth it. I hope that by starting up this blog again you’ll feel inspired to come visit and experience it like a process too. There’s something special about growing in community and the great thing is we do that every time we invite each other and maybe even more when we accept.

Mandeep.

 

The Power of Volunteering Commitment

On Thursday night (March 28th) we had the second strategy meeting at bikeSauce. I had a feeling that the turnout was going to be something of a challenge; the novelty of a first meeting had brought together ten of us, but with a second meeting novelty begins to turn into commitment and commitment isn’t perceived to be easy – either too hard or too scary.

As it turned out, there were three of who turned up – Ned, Geoff and I – and that was pretty good as far as I was concerned. It made the meeting go faster – we even finished early – and we touched the core of what the meeting was about; improving communications within and outside bikeSauce, and winning new volunteers for the cause who stay the distance.

Most people think of bikeSauce as being a bike shop, and it often flies under the radar that it is as much of a volunteer shop as it is a bike shop. Everyone at bikeSauce is a volunteer and is there because they want to be – it’s a 100 volunteer run organisation. There are some really dedicated people who keep the enterprise running – but the fact is, every organisation needs new people, new ideas, new challenges. It’s a two way street.

Artists, graphic designers, screen printers, writers, computer systems developers, advocates, strategists, people creating the magical experience of communal eating would all be welcomed with open arms. I see so many tremendous opportunities but it amazes me at times how the people who could make a meaningful difference have not connected yet.

But as the saying goes, if it was so easy, everyone would be doing it. Maybe because it’s hard to spot the opportunity is what makes the people who do stand out – after all, it says a lot about a person’s character that they’re going to do something even though they’re not being told and/or paid to do it. Solidarity still exists as does sacrifice. Both of those have mattered tremendously in our leaps in humanity and they matter tremendously now. As much as we may need it, radical change is rarely ever wanted or funded. Stand out now.

Unconditional Lovers

It’s been over a week since I met Greg at The Sanctuary. I said I was going to email him a response to our conversation, but I haven’t yet. I’ve tried to write one. I’ve started a couple of times but it didn’t seem like the considered response I want to send. I guess I’ve still been processing what we spoke about.

I know that I want to listen rather than tell. So maybe that’s what’s been happening – I’ve been listening on the ether. It seems challenging to consider an issue from a strategy perspective – asking what’s at the root of it all? Especially when you know the pressures a person is under just dealing with the day to day – the actions, not the theories that might work, but never seem to.

I came across this quote on Monday;

The challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers.

Can you imagine waking up each day and looking in the mirror and saying to yourself? – The challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers. Going to work and saying it to your colleagues, or to your classmates at school, or when you’re looking to buy a house or rent a room or tax your billionaire citizens 99% of their income or introducing a unity income – or maybe we could call it a diversity income (basic income is such a terrible moniker) – and saying The challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers. Not parroting it, not saying it like the automated way we say Hey how are you? – but saying it with real meaning, with our whole heart.

Civilisation took a leap with that reminder that the challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers.

We’re introducing a liveable unity income because the challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers. We ended homelessness because the challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers.

We were born to meet the challenge and we did it!

Remember the challenge?

Mandeep.