Bicyclists band together for safer riding habits

December 20, 2010
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LANSING — Competing in a Halloween-themed bicycle race and teaching other cyclists how to maintain their bikes are only two of the duties shared by members of the Mount Pleasant Bike Cooperative.

“I live without a car, so I bike almost everywhere,” said Colin Hodo, the co-op’s unofficial shop manager. “My life is generally more fun, slightly more dangerous, healthier and far cheaper than it would be with a car.”

The co-op has a basement workshop at Justice Records in the city’s downtown. It’s littered with shattered records from the store above it, bike grease, tools, tires, and the sweat of members striving to make biking more affordable and accessible.

Hundreds of similar cooperatives exist across the nation, although many community residents are unaware of them. These nonprofit groups provide affordable access to cycling and to tools to repair and maintain members’ bikes. They also host seminars and workshops, surviving through donations, grants and fundraisers.

Cooperatives are often based in larger cities or college towns, including Lansing, which last year became the first Michigan city to pass a pro-bike “Complete Streets” ordinance. Lansing’s action was followed by a statewide Complete Streets law that established a Michigan transportation fund to support additional bike lanes and overall roadway safety.

Michigan was the fifth state in the Great Lakes region to pass statewide legislation. Illinois was first in 2007, followed by Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Such legislation aims to provide safe, comprehensive streets for all types of transit.

The increasing popularity of cycling could escalate the growth of bicycle cooperatives, according to the Complete Streets Coalition, a national organization dedicated to safe access to streets for all users, including bicyclists.

Among the other Michigan co-ops are Back Alley Bikes in Detroit, MSU Bikes in East Lansing and Boston Square Community Bikes in Grand Rapids, according to the International Bicycle Fund.

“Communities tend to pass Complete Streets ordinances before a state does. It is sort of a trickle-up effect,” said Rory Neuner, who manages the Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s network for Michigan and nine other states.

Like many bike co-ops, the one in Mount Pleasant hosts free workshops and events to educate area residents and raise funds. For example, a seminar in August showed attendees how to create bike seat locks using old drive chains and inner tubes.

Joe Roggenbuck, who was among the group’s founders in 2009, said, “We try to reuse everything in one way or another.

“Whole bikes can be given to someone, and parts can be used to upgrade or replace broken parts on someone’s bike. Broken parts can be repurposed and turned into art, or the scrap metal can be sold,” Roggenbuck said.

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